Pascha on the Holy Mountain

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Oh blessed body! Whither art thou thrown?
No lodging for thee, but a cold hard stone?
So many hearts on earth, and yet not one
Receive thee?

Sure there is room within our hearts good store;
For they can lodge transgressions by the score:
Thousands of toys dwell there, yet out of door
They leave thee.

But that which shows them large, shows them unfit.
Whatever sin did this pure rock commit,
Which holds thee now? Who hath indicted it
Of murder?

Where our hard hearts have took up stones to brain thee,
And missing this, most falsely did arraign thee;
Only these stones in quiet entertain thee,
And order.

And as of old, the law by heav’nly art,
Was writ in stone; so thou, which also art
The letter of the word, find’st no fit heart
To hold thee.

Yet do we still persist as we began,
And so should perish, but that nothing can,
Though it be cold, hard, foul, from loving man
Withhold thee.

 ~ George Herbert

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“And the cross of Christ become the altar not of the temple, but of the world”

When our Lord was handed over to the will of his cruel foes, they ordered him, in mockery of his royal dignity, to carry the instrument of his own torture. This was done to fulfil the prophecy of Isaiah: “A child is born for as, a son is given to us; sovereignty is laid upon his shoulders.” To the wicked, the sight of the Lord carrying his own cross was indeed an object of derision; but to the faithful a great mystery was revealed, for the cross was destined to become the scepter of his power. Here was the majestic spectacle of a glorious conqueror mightily overthrowing the hostile forces of the devil and nobly bearing the trophy of his victory. On the shoulders of his invincible patience he carried the sign of salvation for all the kingdoms of the earth to worship, as if on that day he would strengthen all his future disciples by the symbol of his work, and say to them: “Anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”

It was not in the temple, whose cult was now at an end, that Christ, as the new and authentic sacrifice of reconciliation, offered himself to the Father; nor was it within the walls of the city doomed to destruction for its crimes. It was beyond the city gates, outside the camp, that he was crucified, in order that when the ancient sacrificial dispensation came to an end a new victim might be laid on a new altar, and the cross of Christ become the altar not of the temple, but of the world.

O the marvelous power of the cross, the glory of the passion! No tongue can fully describe it. Here we see the judgment seat of the Lord, here sentence is passed upon the world, and here the sovereignty of the Crucified is revealed.

You drew all things to yourself, Lord, when you stretched out your hands all the day long to a people that denied and opposed you, until at last the whole world was brought to proclaim your majesty.

You drew all things to yourself, Lord, when all the elements combined to pronounce judgment in execration of that crime; when the lights of heaven were darkened and the day was turned into night; when the land was shaken by unwonted earthquakes, and all creation refused to serve those wicked people.

Yes, Lord, you drew all things to yourself. The veil of the temple was torn in two and the Holy of Holies taken away from those unworthy high priests. Figures gave way to reality, prophecy to manifestation, law to gospel.

You drew all things to yourself in order that the worship of the whole human race could be celebrated everywhere in a sacramental form which would openly fulfil what had been enacted by means of veiled symbols in that single Jewish temple.

Now that the multiplicity of animal sacrifices has ceased, the single offering of your body and blood takes the place of that diversity of victims, since you are the true Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, and in yourself you fulfil all the rites of the old law, so that as there is now a single sacrifice in place of all those victims, so there is a single kingdom formed of all the peoples of the earth.

St Leo the Great

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“He brought forth bread from the earth and changed it into his own body”

One man has died for all, and now in every church in the mystery of bread and wine he heals those for whom he is offered in sacrifice, giving life to those who believe and holiness to those who consecrate the offering. This is the flesh of the Lamb; this is his blood. The bread that came down from heaven declared: The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world. It is significant, too, that his blood should be given to us in the form of wine, for his own words in the gospel, I am the true vine, imply clearly enough that whenever wine is offered as a representation of Christ’s passion, it is offered as his blood. This means that it was of Christ that the blessed patriarch Jacob prophesied when he said: He will wash his tunic in wine and his cloak in the blood of the grape. The tunic was our flesh, which Christ was to put on like a garment and which he was to wash in his own blood.

Creator and Lord of all things, whatever their nature, he brought forth bread from the earth and changed it into his own body. Not only had he the power to do this, but he had promised it; and, as he had changed water into wine, he also changed wine into his own blood. It is the Lord’s passover, Scripture tells us, that is, the Lord’s passing. We are no longer to look upon the bread and wine as earthly substances. They have become heavenly, because Christ has passed into them and changed them into his body and blood. What you receive is the body of him who is the heavenly bread, and the blood of him who is the sacred vine; for when he offered his disciples the consecrated bread and wine, he said: This is my body, this is my blood. We have put our trust in him. I urge you to have faith in him; truth can never deceive.

When Christ told the crowds that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood, they were horrified and began to murmur among themselves: This teaching is too hard; who can be expected to listen to it? As I have already told you, thoughts such as these must be banished. The Lord himself used heavenly fire to drive them away by going on to declare: It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is of no avail. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.

St Gaudentius of Brescia

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Meditating Four Quartets: The Dry Salvages (IV)

Since 1868, the great bell of Nashotah House has rung out the Angelus thrice daily—three triplets, followed by a long pause, concluding with a peal of eighteen strikes. It can be heard for miles. No matter where we were on the seminary grounds, at the first strike we would stop whatever we were doing, make the sign of the cross, and quietly say the appointed prayers. Activity would resume when the peal began. I recall one day sitting in an ethics class taught by Fr Robert Cooper. The Angelus began. We all stood. When the peal began Fr Cooper remarked, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the silence went on forever.”

Lady, whose shrine stands on the promontory, / Pray for all those who are in ships, those / Whose business has to do with fish, and / Those concerned with every lawful traffic / And those who conduct them.

Repeat a prayer also on behalf of / Women who have seen their sons or husbands / Setting forth, and not returning: / Figlia del tuo figlio, / Queen of Heaven.

Also pray for those who were in ships, and / Ended their voyage on the sand, in the sea’s lips / Or in the dark throat which will not reject them / Or wherever cannot reach them the sound of the sea bell’s / Perpetual angelus.

A prayer for humanity—we are those who confront the dangers of the sea and are left behind in fear and doubt and eventually end our journey “on the sand, in the sea’s lips / Or in the dark throat.” This is the inescapable given of our existence. And so, in faith or desperation, we surrender our living and dying to Eternity.

The poet frames his prayer as invocation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, she who “is at the point where land and sea, time and eternity meet” (John Booty, Meditating on Four Quartets, p. 41). Her shrine stands upon the promontory. Years later Eliot would share that he had in mind Notre Dame de la Gard in Marseilles, but surely he also had in mind Our Lady of Good Voyage Church in Gloucester, upon whose roof stands a statue of the Theotokos. She looks over the harbor, her right hand raised in a gesture of blessing. In love and compassion the Holy Mother intercedes for her children. She too journeyed on the sea and knew the bitter sorrows of life and death. Enthroned as Queen of Heaven, she shares in the priestly advocacy of her Son.

The line “Figlia del tuo figlio” comes from Canto 33 of the Paradiso, where St Bernard beseeches the prayers of the Theotokos on behalf of Dante:

Virgin Mother, daughter of your Son,
humbler and loftier past creation’s measure,
the fulcrum of the everlasting plan,
You are she who enobled human nature
so highly, that its Maker did not scorn
to make himself the Creature of His creature.
In your womb was the flame of love reborn,
in the eternal peace of whose warm ray
this flower has sprung and is so richly grown.
For us you are the torch of the noonday
of charity; below, you are the spring
of ever-living hope for men that die.

The lyric of the fourth movement is structured as three stanzas of five lines each. In the background, I am sure, Eliot intends us to hear the ringing of the Angelus, one stanza for each triplet. Contrast the primaeval tolling of the buoy of the first movement, measuring “time not our time, rung by the unhurried / Ground swell, a time / Older than the time of chronometers.” The tolling evokes the deep rhythm of being, ancient and indomitable but also impersonal, pitiless, indifferent. Not so the Angelus.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen. 


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“And how could we ever love, unless we ourselves were loved first?”

“It is my Father’s glory,” Christ said, “that you should bear abundant fruit and become my disciples.” But even when we have glorified the Father by bearing much fruit and becoming Christ’s disciples, we still have no right to claim the credit for it as though the work were ours alone. The grace to carry out the work had first to come to us from God, and so the glory is his, not ours. That is why Christ is recorded in another place as saying: “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works”—and here, lest they be tempted to attribute those good works to themselves, he immediately added: “and may give the glory for them to your heavenly Father.” This, then, is the Father’s glory, that we should bear abundant fruit and become Christ’s disciples, since it is only through God’s mercy in the first place that we can become the disciples of Christ. “We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the performance of good works.”

“As the Father has loved me, Jesus says, so I have loved you. Abide in my love.” There we have the source of every good work of ours. How do they come to be ours? Only because faith is active in love. And how could we ever love, unless we ourselves were loved first? In his first letter John the evangelist made this quite clear. “Let us love God, he wrote, because he first loved us.” The Father does indeed love us, but he does so in his Son; we glorify the Father by bearing fruit as branches of the vine which is his son and becoming his disciples.

“Abide in my love,” he says to us. How may we do that? In the words that follow you have your answer. “If you observe what I command you, then you will truly abide in my love.” But is it love that makes us keep the Lord’s commandments, or is it the keeping of them that makes us love him? There can be no doubt that love comes first. Anyone devoid of love will lack all incentive to keep the commandments. When, therefore, Christ says to us: “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love,” he is telling us that the observance of the commandments is not the source but rather the gauge and touchstone of our love. It is as though he said to us: Do not suppose you are abiding in my love if you are not keeping my commandments, for it is by observing them that you will abide in my love. That is to say, your observance of my commandments is the proof, the outward manifestation, of the fact that you abide in my love.

Let no one, then, who neglects to keep the divine commandments deceive himself by protesting his love for God. It is only to the extent to which we keep the Lord’s commandments that we abide in his love; insofar as we fail to keep them we fail to love. Yet even when we do keep God’s commandments, it is not something we do in order to make God love us, for unless he loved us first we should not be able to keep them. It is the gift of his grace, a grace which is accessible to the humble of heart, but beyond the reach of the proud.

St Augustine of Hippo

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“Whoever knows the mystery of the cross and the tomb …”

The mystery of the incarnation of the Logos holds the power of all the hidden logoi and figures of Scripture as well as the knowledge of visible and intelligible creatures. Whoever knows the mystery of the cross and the tomb knows the logoi of these creatures. And whoever has been initiated in the ineffable power of the resurrection knows the purpose for which God originally made all things.

St Maximus the Confessor

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