Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Feast of St Joseph the worker

The Gospel for today's feast is St Matthew 13:54-58:

54 Et veniens in patriam suam, docebat eos in synagogis eorum, ita ut mirarentur, et dicerent: Unde huic sapientia hæc, et virtutes? 55 Nonne hic est fabri filius? nonne mater ejus dicitur Maria, et fratres ejus, Jacobus, et Joseph, et Simon, et Judas? 56 et sorores ejus, nonne omnes apud nos sunt? unde ergo huic omnia ista? 57 Et scandalizabantur in eo. Jesus autem dixit eis: Non est propheta sine honore, nisi in patria sua, et in domo sua. 58 Et non fecit ibi virtutes multas propter incredulitatem illorum.

54 and came to his own country-side, where he taught them in their synagogue; so that they said in astonishment, How did he come by this wisdom, and these strange powers? 55 Is not this the carpenter’s son, whose mother is called Mary, and his brethren James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56 And do not his sisters, all of them, live near us? How is it that all this has come to him? 57 And they had no confidence in him. But Jesus told them, It is only in his own country, in his own home, that a prophet goes unhonoured. 58 Nor did he do many miracles there, because of their unbelief.


The third Nocturn readings are from St. Albert the Great:

Reading 9: On the Sabbath day he entered the synagogue, where those who came to listen had gathered. And the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were intent upon him. Some indeed with devotion, some out of curiosity, while some watched him that they might trap him in his talk. And the Scribes and Pharisees said to the people, in whom faith and devotion had already made a beginning: "Is not this the son of Joseph?" See this attitude of disparagement toward him whom they did not even deign to call by his name. "The son of Joseph," this little the Evangelist says because he had known that both in Mark and in Matthew a fuller statement would be made: "Is not this the carpenter's son? Is he not a workman, the son of Mary?" All these things were said contemptuously.

Reading 10: Joseph is said to have been a carpenter who earned his living by his skill and the work of his hands, and he did not eat his bread in idleness and indulgence, like the Scribes and Pharisees. Mary also worked for her living with her husband, and with competent hands. And here is the meaning of what they said about him: "This man of ignoble and poverty-stricken birth could not be Christ the Lord, whom God anointed. And thus no credence is to be given to such an uncultivated and low-born man."

Reading 11: Now the Lord was a workman because the prophet said of him: "You fashioned the moon and the sun." A similar contemptuous way of speaking is found in the Book of Kings, where they said of Saul when he became king: "What is this that has happened to the son of Cis? Is Saul also among the prophets?" This slight remark shows great disparagement. 

Reading 12: For the Lord says: "Amen I say to you, that no prophet is acceptable in his own country." Here the Lord calls himself a prophet. For he, to whom all things are known through his divinity, receives no revelation of inspiration from outside himself. Here, however, he definitely calls the place of his birth and upbringing his own country. But he was not acceptable to his fellow townsmen who were incited against him by envy.

Lectio divina: more on reading

In the previous posts in this series I've suggested that the first stage of lectio divina, reading the text, needs to be a very active process, ideally starting by puzzling out the Latin of the text.  In this post I want to say a little more about what the reading stage can usefully involve, including a look at processes such as listening to it and memorization.

 Reading can mean hearing

The techniques of lectio divina originally grew out of an oral culture.

Books were enormously expensive, something to be shared amongst several people, and literacy was often in short supply. Accordingly, as the fourteenth century Cloud of Unknowing puts it:

“All is one in manner, reading and hearing: clerks reading on books, and lewd men reading on clerks when they hear them preach the word of God.”

Moreover, even when people were literate, they remained immersed in a culture that was primarily oral. St Benedict in his Rule, for example, prescribes 2-3 hours a day of individual sacred 'reading'. But he also prescribed reading out loud at meals and in the evening before Compline. And all on top of the several hours in choir for Mass and Divine Office.

Accordingly, after you have read the text through once for yourself, try listening to it read aloud if you can.  You can find recordings of the vulgate (albeit not in an ecclesial Latin accent) here.

Reading meant memorization

A lot of guides to lectio divina stress the importance of trying to memorise the text under consideration.  The consequence of the oral culture of an earlier era is that memorization of texts was the norm.  Books were laid out in a way to aid memorization, and a large part of the aim of set times for lectio divina was to supply the person with a text to chew over during the rest of the day - one of the images used are of a cow chewing her cud.

I do think that is worth trying if you can, but, alas, most of us simply don't have the prodigiously well-trained memories that an oral culture relied on.  Accordingly, I think we need to adapt our efforts to our times.

Fortunately for us though, today text is easily accessible and portable: forget your text for the day and you can look it up on your ipad or, if you are old-fashioned, your pocket sized gospel book.

Associated texts

The other key consequence of the oral culture of St Benedict's era was that a monk of likely had a large store of Scripture already memorized, so when he focused on the text of the day, he was able to draw on many other texts that were related to it.

If he was reading the New Testament, for example, the reader would recognise the citations from the psalms, and if he was reading the psalms he would recognise how a particular line was interpreted by the Gospels.

Our lack of a developed memory, not to mention the general lack of familiarity with the Scriptures of most Catholics in our time, make it a lot harder for us to this: if Christ appear to us, as he did to that group of travellers on the road to Emmaus, or to the group of assembled apostles (Luke 24), and explained all of the references to him in the Old Testament, would we recognise the texts he would cite from the law, the prophets and the psalms as readily as those first hearers did?  Most of us, I think, would struggle.

Similarly, when related texts are placed before us, for example in the Divine Office, will we automatically realise the connections?  I think the answer is generally not, but again we can use tools such as books or online lists of cross-references to Scripture to compensate for our lack of memory.

A nice example of these sort of subtle connections relates to Monday at Lauds in the Benedictine form of the Divine Office.  St Benedict assigns two variable psalms to the hour, Psalms 5 and 35.  He may have inherited Psalm 5 from the older Roman Office of his time, but why Psalm 35?  One possibility is that he is implicitly pointing us to St Paul's interpretation of the two psalms which he links together in Romans 3:

"Of what use is it, then, to be a Jew?... Well then, has either side the advantage? In no way. Jews and Gentiles, as we have before alleged, are alike convicted of sin.10 Thus, it is written, There is not an innocent man among them, no, not one. 11 There is nobody who reflects, and searches for God; 12 all alike are on the wrong course, all are wasted lives; not one of them acts honourably, no, not one. 13 Their mouths are gaping tombs, they use their tongues to flatter. Under their lips the venom of asps is hidden.[Ps 5] 14 Their talk overflows with curses and calumny.15 They run hot-foot to shed blood; 16 havoc and ruin follow in their path;17 the way of peace is unknown to them. 18 They do not keep the fear of God before their eyes.[Ps 35] 19 So the law says, and we know that the words of the law are meant for the law’s own subjects; it is determined that no one shall have anything to say for himself, that the whole world shall own itself liable to God’s judgements. 20 No human creature can become acceptable in his sight by observing the law; what the law does is to give us the full consciousness of sin."

This passage also, of course, draws on several others psalms, including Psalms 49, 9 and 138.  It is an important reminder that the New Testament interprets the Old, and the Old needs to be read in the light of the New.  It should also remind us that the New Testament cannot be properly understood in isolation, but depends on the foreshadowing and preparation of the events and teaching set out in the Old.  Our reading must encompass this.

And for the next part of the series, continue on here.


Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Doing Lectio Divina: the problem of translations

In my previous post I set out some general comments around doing lectio divina, and suggested that there are essential six stages in the process: read - think - study - meditate - pray - contemplate - work.

In this post I want to take start looking at the first of these stages, 'reading' the text, and particularly the vexed question of which translation to use.

In particular I want to make the case for at least taking a look at the Latin text even if you don't actually know any Latin (you will quickly pick it up!).

Reading was hard work

The first point to keep in mind is that reading, in late antiquity and medieval times, was hard work.  The monk was generally working in a second language - Latin - in which he might have varying degrees of fluency.

And the book he had in front of him wasn't easy to read even if he was fluent in the language. We tend to think of the nice clear, beautifully illuminated texts as the norm. In fact, however, deciphering most medieval books was a laborious process, constituting hard physical work.

It is pretty hard for us today to reproduce the effort that a person in earlier times went through to puzzle out the text and its meaning. Curiously, though, the internet does in a way allow us, at least potentially, to get a little closer to that experience than readers in the more recent past.

Take a look at a site like the Blueletter Bible for example. For each verse it offers multiple translations to compare, dictionaries of Biblical terms, a Greek/Hebrew lexicon which enables you to cross-reference word use to other Scriptural citations, background material on the text, maps, and much more. Working through your verse using some of these kinds of tools (taking due care with protestant commentaries however!) is not a bad place to start.

Reading in Latin?

I would also  recommend at least taking a look at (or listening to) the Latin.   If, of course, you attend the traditional Latin Mass, or say the Office in Latin, it is well worth looking at the Latin text as part of your lectio divina, so you can readily recognise it when you come across it used in the liturgy.

Even if you attend Mass in English though, there are still good reasons for at least starting from the Latin in terms of reading in the mind of the Church, in my view, even if your Latin is almost non-existent (at first!).  In particular, a lot of the nuances of meaning depend on the exact word or words being used, which can so easily be lost in translation.

You don't need to try and translate every word - what I'm suggesting is that you read (or listen to) the text in Latin first, and then work with a good translation, picking out key words in the Latin to explore further as necessary using a dictionary or through commentaries (there are some good resources available online, which I'll point you to).

Over time, you'll find you will build up a working knowledge of some key words, which you can then build on more systematically if you want to.

Personally I'd suggest working with (at least) two English translations: one very literal (such as the Douay-Rheims) and one that works harder to convey the meaning of the text.

As an aid to getting at the underlying meaning of the text, I'd particularly recommend the Knox translation, available on the New Advent site, but this is a matter of taste: the Revised Standard Version (Catholic Edition) is also good in my view, and there are others.

Why its worth starting from the Latin (even if you have none!)

Why go to all that effort though?

The answer is that many words in Scripture have rich associations that can be gleaned from them, in part from how they are used elsewhere in Scripture, and in part from their consideration in the tradition.  These associations are all too often lost or obscured in translation.

Let me give an example using Psalm 3, which St Benedict specifies is to be said daily, opening Matins in his Office.  Verse 3 of the psalm reads, in the Latin Vulgate and the current official 'Neo-Vulgate':  Tu autem, Dómine, suscéptor meus es, glória mea, et exáltans caput meum.   The Douay-Rheims' fairly literal translation gives this verse as: But thou, O Lord art my protector, my glory, and the lifter up of my head.  

I want to focus in on just one word here, susceptor.

The word susceptor, from the verb suscipere, is quite difficult to translate into English, but extremely important theologically, attracting extended commentary on it by St Augustine among others.  It comes from the verb suscipere, to guard, protect, uphold, support;  receive, accept; to seize.

The first problem a modern reader faces is the differences between the Septuagint-Greek/Latin Vulgate and Hebrew Masoretic Text tradition: the received Hebrew text for this verse uses the idea of God as a shield rather than sustainer/helper.  Moreover, despite the fact that the official approved text is the Vulgate/neo-Vulgate, which uses the word susceptor, virtually all modern translations used by Catholics follow the received Hebrew text instead, as the following selection illustrates:

But thou, O LORD, art a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.
New American
But you, Lord, are a shield around me; my glory, you keep my head high.
New Jerusalem
But you, Yahweh, the shield at my side, my glory, you hold my head high
Grail Psalter
But you, Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, who lift up my head.

The Greek-Latin tradition on this is not an error or mistranslation though, but rather a systematic choice reflecting the distinctive theology of the Septuagint Greek, a monument of tradition that the Fathers generally viewed as a distinctive stage of revelation particularly meant for the salvation of the Gentiles.  Certainly the translations of the verse that reflect the Septuagint-Vulgate (and Neo-Vulgate) give it a subtly different flavour:

But thou, O Lord art my protector, my glory, and the lifter up of my head.
Yet, Lord, thou art my champion, thou art the pride that keeps my head erect.
But thou, O Lord, art my helper: my glory, and the one that lifts up my head.
New English Translation from the Septuagint
But you, O Lord, you are my supporter, my glory, and the one who lifts up my head.

Even so, if one only looked at the English even of these translations that follow the officially approved text, the underlying Latin or Greek could be anyone of several words.  Yet the particular the concept of God as susceptor is quite important in the tradition.

The theology of God as susceptor

St Augustine's take on the word points to the analogy of the Roman paterfamilias, who 'received' (acknowledged) his child, thus saving it from the fate of exposure.  He also explains it as a word used to mean a powerful man who takes up the cause of someone, or a doctor or lawyer accepting a case.   When God becomes our susceptor, in other words, he acts as a Father or powerful protector of us, someone who has taken our cause on as his own, and will work to sustain, help and heal us.

The monastic commentator Cassian (c. 360 – 435) took the discussion of its meaning a step further, for in Chapter 17 of his Conference 13 he discusses God's intervention in various types of vocation:

 "Hence it comes in our prayers we proclaim God as not only protector and Saviour, but actually as our Helper and Sponsor [adjuitorem et susceptorem] for whereas He first calls us to him, and while we are ignorant and unwilling, draws us towards salvation, he is our Protector and Saviour, but whereas when we are already striving, He is want to bring us help, and to receive and defend those who fly to Him for refuge, He is our Sponsor and Refuge.' "

St Benedict's contemporary Cassiodorus' commentary on the verse puts more emphasis on the idea of God as our 'sustainer', particularly in the ennoblement of the flesh through grace made possible through the Incarnation:

"Sustainer, that is, of the form of slave, since the taking up of human nature is the Word made flesh. So it is the flesh which speaks of its glory and the lifting up of its head, for the all-powerful Word assumed it so that the divine and human substance might be one Person without any admixture. This verse is relevant too to the confounding of the Pelagians, who believe that man can by his own efforts achieve something good; for who, pray, could be self-sufficient for performing good without abundance of divine grace? It is through grace by which it is united to God that human nature has taken its place at the Father's right hand."

St Benedict himself was probably alluding to all of these layers of meaning of the word when he selected the Suscipe verse (Psalm 118:114) for use in the monastic profession ceremony (it is worth noting that the phrase Cassian uses, adjutor et susceptor, appears two verses earlier in the stanza of the Psalm St Benedict drew the Suscipe from).

All of these layers of meaning, however, can be quite hard to glean from the standard translations of this verse, and others that use the same word.

Building up our reading knowledge

The first time you encounter a word such as susceptor, we won't of course, necessarily appreciate its importance.

But if you work with a good commentary, or anthology of commentaries (such as St Thomas' Catena Aurea on the Gospels) you will gradually build up a knowledge of some of these key words and phrases, and recognise them when you see them in another context.

So it is worth at least looking at the Latin in my view, and certainly looking at a few different modern translations rather than just relying on one.

And you can find the next part of this series here.

Monday, 28 April 2014

On doing lectio divina...

Before I go on with any more Lectio Divina notes, I thought it might be useful to post  this week, a few thoughts on how to approach the task of lectio divina, or prayerful spiritual reading.

Accordingly, this is the first of a short series that brings together some material I've previously written on this subject (on my Australia Incognita blog), along with some more recent reflections.

In this post I want to make a few introductory remarks, after that, I'll work through each of the stages of the process.  I won't say a great deal about the latter stages of the process, around meditation and contemplation, as I think the literature that is around on these topics is good and reasonably complete.  Where I think there are more issues is at the front end of the process, in relation to how we approach the text, so that is where I am going to focus my comments.

In essence my comments are directed at the seeming divorce that is constantly reinforced by many sets of instructions on lectio, between study of and theological commentary on Scripture, and the practice of lectio divina.  My own view is that they can and should be closely integrated, and in this I'm following Pope Benedict XVI.  You can find a post summarising his approach to lectio drawn from his Apostolic Exhortation on Scripture here if you want to go back and refresh your memory on what he said.

A little history...

There are lots of Scriptural references on the importance of lectio divina as an aid to conversion and spiritual growth.

Think, for example, of Our Lady 'treasuring all these things in her heart' (Luke 2:51):

A second key reference is to that conversation on the road to Emmaus, when Our Lord explained the meaning of Scripture to some of the disciples, so that their ‘hearts were burning within them’ (Luke 24:32):

25 Then he said to them, Too slow of wit, too dull of heart, to believe all those sayings of the prophets! 26 Was it not to be expected that the Christ should undergo these sufferings, and enter so into his glory? 27 Then, going back to Moses and the whole line of the prophets, he began to interpret the words used of himself by all the scriptures...32 And they said to one another, Were not our hearts burning within us when he spoke to us on the road, and when he made the scriptures plain to us? (Knox translation)

Similarly, consider St Paul preaching to the Thessalonians and Beroeans (Acts 17):

"Over a space of three sabbaths he reasoned with them out of the scriptures, 3 expounding these and bringing proofs from them that the sufferings of Christ and his rising from the dead were fore-ordained; the Christ, he said, is none other than the Jesus whom I am preaching to you. 4 Some of them were convinced, and threw in their lot with Paul and Silas; a great number, too, of those Gentiles who worshipped the true God, and not a few of the leading women....they welcomed the word with all eagerness, and examined the scriptures, day after day, to find out whether all this was true; 12 so that many of them learned to believe..." (Knox)

Lectio, in other words, has been with us from the very beginnings of Christianity.

The systematic practice of lectio in the Western tradition, though, really has its origins in the Patristic tradition, and above all in the monasticism of late antiquity and early middle ages. Its continued use today can arguably be traced primarily to the sixth century Rule of St Benedict, for the saint instructed his monks to devote at least two hours a day (more during Lent) to 'reading or the study of the psalms' (the psalms are probably mentioned separately firstly to emphasise their importance as a source of spiritual nourishment, and secondly because it didn't technically require 'reading' as such, since the monk could be assumed to have memorised them).

There are a lot of useful guides to lectio divina around on the net, but my own, purely personal view is that although many contain useful insights, most of them miss the mark in key ways.  Here's why.

'Reading', in late antiquity and well into the middle ages, meant a much more active process than it does today.  It included puzzling out the grammar and literal meaning of the Latin text, reading it aloud, seeking to set the text the context of the whole of Scripture, and reaching to understand its spiritual meaning.  The commentaries of the Fathers provide wonderful examples of this approach.

My own view is that the writer who comes closest to capturing the stages of this process remains Dom Delatte, who in his classic commentary on the Benedictine Rule suggested that the process has six stages, namely read, think, study, meditate, pray, and contemplate.  Some medieval authors added an additional step, namely putting the lessons learnt from lectio to work.

How not to...key dangers

In our own time, by contrast, reading has become something very passive, done silently without much active engagement with the text.

Worse, even where we do attempt to engage with the text more actively, for example by reading it aloud and attempting to memorise it, most of us lack the tools to reach the spiritual meaning of the text.

If we are well educated theologically, or work with the aid of a modern commentary, we may well be able to come to the text with a good understanding of the text in its historical and cultural context; we may well have been taught something of the supposed authorial and editorial process that lies behind the text as we know it today.

From at least the seventeenth century onwards though, Scriptural exegetes (even including prominent Benedictines such as Dom Augustine Calmet) to favour the literal meaning of the text over its spiritual one, and to reject the importance of the allegorical interpretation of Scripture. The result has been the emergence of a disjunction between exegesis and theology on the one hand, and the reading of Scripture as a means to make progress in the spiritual life.

Yet if we come at the text without the aid of a commentary or other support materials, there are, in my view, two key dangers.  The first is that Scripture is reduced to little more than a mantra, a few words to be repeated without real meaning, but used to induce a kind of zen-like meditation.  The dangers of such techniques have been well set out in a CDF guidance document on Certain Aspects of Christian Meditation (ie dangers of centering prayer and such like techniques).  The second possibility is just as dangerous, namely that we might be embarking on a de facto protectant sola scriptura exercize, in which we fail to interpret Scripture in the mind of the Church, and risk falling into or reinforcing error.

What is lectio divina about?

How then can we avoid these dangers?

The first point is that God gave us brains and expects us to use them! He also gave us the teaching of the Magisterium, the Fathers and the Theologians to guide us. Scripture has to be placed in context, and that means thinking with the Church.  So we should start by using good commentaries and other materials to help our understanding of the text.

As a counter-weight to this point though, reading Scripture must be guided by the Holy Spirit. Lectio is about a personal engagement with God.  So we have to be careful not to get so immersed in the intellectual aspects of our engagement in the task that we block off that inner voice.  And more generally, as with any conversation, there is a danger that we only hear ourselves or what we want to hear, rather than genuinely listening. Active listening is hard.

Thirdly, while the insights gained from lectio can sometimes be useful to others, they are generally meant for ourselves alone. Lectio, I'd suggest, is about facilitating our own inner transformation. My favourite text on this point comes from the Cloud of Unknowing:

"God's word can be likened to a mirror. Spiritually, the 'eye' of your soul is your reason: your conscience is your spiritual 'face'. Just as you cannot see or know that there is a dirty mark on your actual face without the aid or a mirror, or somebody telling you, so spiritually it is impossible for a soul blinded by his frequent sins to see the dirty mark in his conscience, without reading or hearing God's word."

It follows that while a website like this can provide some starting points for your lectio, that can only take you so far, the rest you have to do on your own.

Nonetheless, if start off well, and place ourselves in God's hands, we can expect to see the spiritual benefits, so in the next series of posts in this series, I'll go into a little more detail on how I think lectio should be approached.

Bear in mind though, that this is just my personal view, and I'm happy to discuss or debate it through the comments box.

And you can find the next part in this series here.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Octave Day of Easter (Low Sunday)

Today's Gospel is St John 20:19-31:

19 Cum ergo sero esset die illo, una sabbatorum, et fores essent clausæ, ubi erant discipuli congregati propter metum Judæorum: venit Jesus, et stetit in medio, et dixit eis: Pax vobis. 20 Et cum hoc dixisset, ostendit eis manus et latus. Gavisi sunt ergo discipuli, viso Domino. 21 Dixit ergo eis iterum: Pax vobis. Sicut misit me Pater, et ego mitto vos. 22 Hæc cum dixisset, insufflavit, et dixit eis: Accipite Spiritum Sanctum: 23 quorum remiseritis peccata, remittuntur eis: et quorum retinueritis, retenta sunt.24 Thomas autem unus ex duodecim, qui dicitur Didymus, non erat cum eis quando venit Jesus. 25 Dixerunt ergo ei alii discipuli: Vidimus Dominum. Ille autem dixit eis: Nisi videro in manibus ejus fixuram clavorum, et mittam digitum meum in locum clavorum, et mittam manum meam in latus ejus, non credam. 26 Et post dies octo, iterum erant discipuli ejus intus, et Thomas cum eis. Venit Jesus januis clausis, et stetit in medio, et dixit: Pax vobis. 27 Deinde dicit Thomæ: Infer digitum tuum huc, et vide manus meas, et affer manum tuam, et mitte in latus meum: et noli esse incredulus, sed fidelis. 28 Respondit Thomas, et dixit ei: Dominus meus et Deus meus. 29 Dixit ei Jesus: Quia vidisti me, Thoma, credidisti: beati qui non viderunt, et crediderunt.30 Multa quidem et alia signa fecit Jesus in conspectu discipulorum suorum, quæ non sunt scripta in libro hoc. 31 Hæc autem scripta sunt ut credatis, quia Jesus est Christus Filius Dei: et ut credentes, vitam habeatis in nomine ejus.

[19] Now when it was late that same day, the first of the week, and the doors were shut, where the disciples were gathered together, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them: Peace be to you. [20] And when he had said this, he shewed them his hands and his side. The disciples therefore were glad, when they saw the Lord.[21] He said therefore to them again: Peace be to you. As the Father hath sent me, I also send you. [22] When he had said this, he breathed on them; and he said to them: Receive ye the Holy Ghost. [23] Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained. [24] Now Thomas, one of the twelve, who is called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. [25] The other disciples therefore said to him: We have seen the Lord. But he said to them: Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.[23] Whose sins: See here the commission, stamped by the broad seal of heaven, by virtue of which the pastors of Christ's church absolve repenting sinners upon their confession.[26] And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them. Jesus cometh, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said: Peace be to you. [27] Then he saith to Thomas: Put in thy finger hither, and see my hands; and bring hither thy hand, and put it into my side; and be not faithless, but believing. [28] Thomas answered, and said to him: My Lord, and my God. [29] Jesus saith to him: Because thou hast seen me, Thomas, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and have believed. [30] Many other signs also did Jesus in the sight of his disciples, which are not written in this book.
[31] But these are written, that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God: and that believing, you may have life in his name.

The Matins Readings (from St Gregory the Great)

Reading 9: When we hear this passage of the Gospel read, a question straightway knocketh at the door of our mind. How was it that the Body of the Risen Lord was a real Body, if It was able to pass through closed doors into the assembly of His disciples? But we ought to know that the works of God are no more wonderful when they can be understood by man's reason, and faith has lost her worth when her subject-matter is the subject-matter of human demonstration. Nevertheless, those very works of our Redeemer which are in themselves impossible to be understood, must be thought over in connection with other of His works, that we may be led to believe in things wonderful, by mean of things more wonderful still. 

Reading 10: That Body of the Lord, Which came into the assembly of the disciples through closed doors, was the Same, Which at Its birth, had become manifest to the eyes of men by passing out of the cloister of the Virgin's womb without breaking the seal thereof. What wonder is it if that Body Which had come out of the Virgin's womb, without opening the matrix, albeit It was then on Its way to die, now that It was risen again from the dead and instinct for ever with undying life, what wonder is it, I say, if that Body passed through closed doors?  But since the beholders doubted of the reality of that Body Which they saw, He showed unto them His Hands and His Side, and allowed them to handle that Same Flesh Which had just passed through the closed doors. Luke xxiv. 39. 

Reading 11: In this there were two strange things manifested, yea, things which according to our understanding are contrary the one to the other. His Risen Body was incorruptible and yet palpable. For whatever can be touched, must needs be subject to corruption; and whatever is not subject to corruption, cannot be touched. But, in a way altogether wonderful and incomprehensible, our Redeemer after His Resurrection revealed Himself in a Body at once palpable and incorruptible : revealed Himself in an incorruptible Body, that we might learn to seek a like glorification; and in a palpable Body, for the strengthening of our faith. He revealed Himself in a Body at once incorruptible and palpable, that He might thereby make manifest the fact that His Risen Body was unaltered in nature, albeit transfigured in glory.

Reading 12: Then said Jesus to them again : Peace be unto you. As My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you that is, as My Father, Who is God, hath sent Me, Who am God, even so do I, Who am Man, send you, who are men. The Father sent the Son, Whom He appointed to be made Man for the redemption of man. Him He willed to send into the world to suffer, albeit He Whom He sent to suffer was the Son of His love. The Lord sendeth His chosen Apostles into the world, not to be happy in the world, but, as He had been Himself sent, to suffer. As the Father loveth the Son and yet sendeth Him to suffer, even so doth the Lord love His disciples, albeit He sendeth them into the world, to suffer therein; and therefore it is well said: As My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you that is, while I send you into the wild storm of persecution, I love you all the same, I love you, yea, I love you with a love like that wherewith the Father loveth Me, Who sent Me into the world to bear agony therein.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Happy Easter!

The Gospel for the Mass of Easter Day is St Mark 16:1-7:

 Et cum transisset sabbatum, Maria Magdalene, et Maria Jacobi, et Salome emerunt aromata ut venientes ungerent Jesum. 2 Et valde mane una sabbatorum, veniunt ad monumentum, orto jam sole. 3 Et dicebant ad invicem: Quis revolvet nobis lapidem ab ostio monumenti? 4 Et respicientes viderunt revolutum lapidem. Erat quippe magnus valde. 5 Et introëuntes in monumentum viderunt juvenem sedentem in dextris, coopertum stola candida, et obstupuerunt. 6 Qui dicit illis: Nolite expavescere: Jesum quæritis Nazarenum, crucifixum: surrexit, non est hic, ecce locus ubi posuerunt eum. 7 Sed ite, dicite discipulis ejus, et Petro, quia præcedit vos in Galilæam: ibi eum videbitis, sicut dixit vobis.

And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalen, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought sweet spices, that coming, they might anoint Jesus. [2] And very early in the morning, the first day of the week, they come to the sepulchre, the sun being now risen. [3] And they said one to another: Who shall roll us back the stone from the door of the sepulchre? [4] And looking, they saw the stone rolled back. For it was very great. [5] And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed with a white robe: and they were astonished. [6] Who saith to them: Be not affrighted; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified: he is risen, he is not here, behold the place where they laid him. [7] But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee; there you shall see him, as he told you.

The Matins readings (from St Gregory)

Reading 9: Dearly beloved brethren, ye have heard the deed of the holy women which had followed the Lord; how that they brought sweet spices to His sepulchre, and, now that He was dead, having loved Him while He was yet alive, they followed Him with careful tenderness still. But the deed of these holy women doth point to somewhat which must needs be done in the holy Church. And it behoveth us well to give ear to what they did, that we may afterward consider with ourselves what we must do likewise after their ensample. We also, who believe in Him That was dead, do come to His sepulchre bearing sweet spices, when we seek the Lord with the savour of good living, and the fragrant report of good works. 

Reading 10: Those women, when they brought their spices, saw a vision of Angels, and, in sooth, those souls whose godly desires do move them to seek the Lord with the savour of good lives, do see the countrymen of our Fatherland which is above.  It behoveth us to mark what this meaneth, that they saw the Angel sitting on the right side. For what signifieth the left, but this life which now is? or the right, but life everlasting? Whence also it is written in the Song of Songs (ii. 6) : His left hand is under my head, and His right hand doth embrace me. 

Reading 11: Since, therefore, our Redeemer had passed from the corruption of this life which now is, the Angel which told that His undying life was come, sat, as became him, on the right side. They saw him clothed in a white garment, for he was herald of the joy of this our great solemnity, and the glistering whiteness of his raiment told of the brightness of this holy Festival of ours. Of ours, said I? or of his? But if we will speak the truth, we must acknowledge that it is both his and ours. The Again-rising of our Redeemer is a Festival of gladness for us, for us it biddeth know that we shall not die for ever; and for Angels also it is a festival of gladness, for it biddeth them know that we are called to fulfil their number in heaven.

Reading 12: See this glad Festival then, which is both his and ours, the Angel appeared in white raiment. For as the Lord, rising again from the dead, leadeth us unto the mansions above, He. repaireth the breaches of the heavenly Fatherland. But what meaneth this, that the Angel said unto the women which came to the sepulchre : Fear not? Is it not as though he had said openly : Let them fear which love not the coming of the heavenly countrymen; let them be afraid who are so laden by fleshly lusts, that they have lost all hope ever to be joined to their company. But as for you, why fear ye, who, when ye see us, see but your fellow - countrymen? Hence also Matthew, writing of the guise of the Angel, saith xxviii. 3 : His countenance was like lightning, and His raiment white as snow. The lightning speaketh of fear and great dread, the snow of the soft brilliancy of rejoicing.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Psalm Sunday

Today's Gospel at Mass is the reading of the Passion according to St Matthew, Matthew 26:36-75 and Matthew 27:1-66.  As this is very long indeed, I won't reproduce it here in full here, but will let you read it on the New Advent pages (if you prefer the Douay-Rheims to the Knox translation, you can find it starting here).

At Matins in the older forms of the Benedictine and Roman Office, however, the Gospel is St Matthew 21:1-9 (used in the blessing of palms ceremony, or as last Gospel at a Mass without the ceremony):

Et cum appropinquassent Jerosolymis, et venissent Bethphage ad montem Oliveti: tunc Jesus misit duos discipulos, 2 dicens eis: Ite in castellum, quod contra vos est, et statim invenietis asinam alligatam, et pullum cum ea: solvite, et adducite mihi: 3 et si quis vobis aliquid dixerit, dicite quia Dominus his opus habet: et confestim dimittet eos. 4 Hoc autem totum factum est, ut adimpleretur quod dictum est per prophetam dicentem: 5 Dicite filiæ Sion: Ecce rex tuus venit tibi mansuetus, sedens super asinam, et pullum filium subjugalis. 6 Euntes autem discipuli fecerunt sicut præcepit illis Jesus. 7 Et adduxerunt asinam, et pullum: et imposuerunt super eos vestimenta sua, et eum desuper sedere fecerunt. 8 Plurima autem turba straverunt vestimenta sua in via: alii autem cædebant ramos de arboribus, et sternebant in via: 9 turbæ autem, quæ præcedebant, et quæ sequebantur, clamabant, dicentes: Hosanna filio David: benedictus, qui venit in nomine Domini: hosanna in altissimis. 

And when they drew nigh to Jerusalem, and were come to Bethphage, unto mount Olivet, then Jesus sent two disciples, [2] Saying to them: Go ye into the village that is over against you, and immediately you shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them and bring them to me. [3] And if any man shall say anything to you, say ye, that the Lord hath need of them: and forthwith he will let them go. [4] Now all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: [5] Tell ye the daughter of Sion: Behold thy king cometh to thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of her that is used to the yoke.[6] And the disciples going, did as Jesus commanded them. [7] And they brought the ass and the colt, and laid their garments upon them, and made him sit thereon. [8] And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way: and others cut boughs from the trees, and strewed them in the way: [9] And the multitudes that went before and that followed, cried, saying: Hosanna to the son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest.

The Patristic readings

The Matins readings on the Gospel are from St Ambrose:

Reading 9: Beautiful is the type, when the Lord, about to leave the Jews, and to take up His abode in the hearts of the Gentiles, goeth up into the Temple; a figure of His going to the true Temple wherein He is worshipped, not in the deadness of the letter, but in spirit and in truth, even that Temple of God whereof the foundations are laid, not in buildings of stone, but in faith. He leaveth behind Him such as hate Him, and getteth Him to such as will love Him. And therefore cometh He unto the Mount of Olives that He may plant upon the heights of grace those young olive-branches, whose Mother is the Jerusalem which is above. 

Reading 10: Upon this mountain standeth He, the Heavenly Husbandman, that all they which be planted in the House of the Lord may be able each one to say: "But I am like a fruitful olive-tree in the House of God.And perchance that mountain doth signify Christ Himself. For what other is there that beareth such fruit of olives as He doth, not rich with store of loaded branches, but spiritually fruitful with the fulness of the Gentiles? He also it is on Whom we go up, and unto Whom we go up; He is the Door; He is the Way; He is He Which is opened and Which openeth; He is He upon Whom knocketh whosoever entereth in, and to Whom they that have entered in, do worship. 

Reading 11: A figure also was it that the disciples went into a village, and that there they found an ass tied and a colt with her neither could they be loosed, save at the command of the Lord. It was the hand of His Apostles which loosed them. He whose work and life are like theirs will have such grace as was theirs. Be thou also such as they, if thou wouldest loose them that are bound.Now, let us consider who they were, who, being convicted of transgression, were banished from their home in the Garden of Eden into a village, and in this thou wilt see how Life called back again them whom death had cast out. 

Reading 12: For this reason, we read in Matthew that there were tied both an ass and her colt; thus, as man was banished from Eden in a member of either sex, so is it in animals of both sexes that his re-call is figured. The she-ass is a type of our sinful Mother Eve, and the colt of the multitude of the Gentiles; and it was upon the colt that Christ took His seat. And thus it is well written of the colt, Luke xix. 30, that thereon never yet had man sat, for no man before Christ ever called the Gentiles into the Church which statement thou hast in Mark also xi. 2: Whereon never man sat.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

(First) Passion Sunday

The Gospel for Passion Sunday is St John 8: 46-59:

46 Quis ex vobis arguet me de peccato? si veritatem dico vobis, quare non creditis mihi? 47 Qui ex Deo est, verba Dei audit. Propterea vos non auditis, quia ex Deo non estis.48 Responderunt ergo Judæi, et dixerunt ei: Nonne bene dicimus nos quia Samaritanus es tu, et dæmonium habes? 49 Respondit Jesus: Ego dæmonium non habeo: sed honorifico Patrem meum, et vos inhonorastis me. 50 Ego autem non quæro gloriam meam: est qui quærat, et judicet.51 Amen, amen dico vobis: si quis sermonem meum servaverit, mortem non videbit in æternum. 52 Dixerunt ergo Judæi: Nunc cognovimus quia dæmonium habes. Abraham mortuus est, et prophetæ; et tu dicis: Si quis sermonem meum servaverit, non gustabit mortem in æternum. 53 Numquid tu major es patre nostro Abraham, qui mortuus est? et prophetæ mortui sunt. Quem teipsum facis? 54 Respondit Jesus: Si ego glorifico meipsum, gloria mea nihil est: est Pater meus, qui glorificat me, quem vos dicitis quia Deus vester est, 55 et non cognovistis eum: ego autem novi eum. Et si dixero quia non scio eum, ero similis vobis, mendax. Sed scio eum, et sermonem ejus servo. 56 Abraham pater vester exsultavit ut videret diem meum: vidit, et gavisus est. 57 Dixerunt ergo Judæi ad eum: Quinquaginta annos nondum habes, et Abraham vidisti? 58 Dixit eis Jesus: Amen, amen dico vobis, antequam Abraham fieret, ego sum. 59 Tulerunt ergo lapides, ut jacerent in eum: Jesus autem abscondit se, et exivit de templo.

[46] Which of you shall convince me of sin? If I say the truth to you, why do you not believe me? [47] He that is of God, heareth the words of God. Therefore you hear them not, because you are not of God. [48] The Jews therefore answered, and said to him: Do not we say well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil? [49] Jesus answered: I have not a devil: but I honour my Father, and you have dishonoured me. [50] But I seek not my own glory: there is one that seeketh and judgeth. [51] Amen, amen I say to you: If any man keep my word, he shall not see death for ever. [52] The Jews therefore said: Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest: If any man keep my word, he shall not taste death for ever. [53] Art thou greater than our father Abraham, who is dead? and the prophets are dead. Whom dost thou make thyself? [54] Jesus answered: If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father that glorifieth me, of whom you say that he is your God. [55] And you have not known him, but I know him. And if I shall say that I know him not, I shall be like to you, a liar. But I do know him, and do keep his word. [56] Abraham your father rejoiced that he might see my day: he saw it, and was glad. [57] The Jews therefore said to him: Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham? [58] Jesus said to them: Amen, amen I say to you, before Abraham was made, I am. [59] They took up stones therefore to cast at him. But Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple.

The Matins readings (from St Gregory)

Reading 9: Dearly beloved brethren, consider the gentleness of God. He came to take away sins, and He saith Which of you convinceth Me of sin? He Who, through the might of His Godhead, was able to justify sinners, was contented to show by argument that He was not Himself a sinner. But exceeding dread is that which followeth. He that is of God heareth God's words; ye, therefore, hear them not, because ye are not of God. If, then, whosoever is of God heareth God's words, and whosoever is not of Him cannot hear His words, let each one ask himself if he, in the ear of his heart, heareth God's words, and understandeth Whose words they are? 

Reading 10: The Truth commandeth us to long for a Fatherland in heaven, to bridle the lusts of the flesh, to turn away from the glory of the world, to seek no man's goods, and to give away our ownLet each of you, therefore, think within himself if this voice of God is heard in the ear of his heart, and if he knoweth already if he is of God. For some there be, whom it pleaseth not to hear the commandments of God even with their bodily ears. And some there be, who receive the same with their bodily ears, but whose heart is far from them. And some also there be, who hear the words of God with joy, so that they are moved thereby even to tears; but when their fit of weeping is past they turn again to iniquity. 

Reading 11: They hear not the words of God, who despise to do them. Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, call up your own life before your mind's eye, and then ponder with trembling those awful words which the mouth of the Truth spake Ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God.The Truth speaketh these words concerning the reprobate; but the reprobate make manifest the same thing concerning themselves, by their evil works. Thus immediately followeth Then answered the Jews, and said unto Him Say we not well that Thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil? 

Reading 12: But let us hear what the Lord said to this insult. I have not a devil, but I honour My Father, and ye do dishonour Me. The Lord said I have not a devil, but He did not say I am not a Samaritan, for in a sense a Samaritan He was indeed, since the word Samaritan, in the Hebrew tongue, signifieth, being interpreted, a Watcher, and the Lord is that Watcher, of Whom the Psalmist saith that unless He keep the city, other watchman waketh but in vain. He also is that Watchman unto Whom crieth Isaiah: Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night? Therefore the Lord said I have not a devil, but not I am not a Samaritan. Of the two things brought against Him He denied one; but by His silence, admitted the other.