Saturday, December 27, 2008

Feast of St. Stephen

One of the side-benefits to learning is getting the jokes.

Στέφανος means "crown". The "martyr's crown" is a common image, so I had never paid much attention to its use in the liturgy for St. Stephen. This year, however, my still rather limited Greek vocabulary couldn't help but delight in noticing the plays on the word throughout.

Of course, the reading from Fulgentius of Ruspe in the Office of Readings lays it out for us:

Stephanus ergo, ut nominis sui coronam meruisset accipere, caritatem pro armis habebat et per ipsam ubique vincebat.
Therefore Stephen, that he might merit to recieve the crown of his name, had charity for arms, and through it, he conquered all.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Ero Cras

A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to stumble upon a copy of the Liber Usualis at a used bookstore. Reprints that I've seen cost more than $100, but Musica Sacra has been kind enough to put a pdf of the whole thing online here. The Liber Usualis contains all the chants for the major liturgies of the Roman calendar, along with a brief introduction to how to read and interpret the notation Gregorian Chant is written in: a four-line staff with square notes, which is the predecessor of our modern notation.

Thus far, my aspirations to learn more of the chants for the office and mass haven't amounted to much--aside from chanting the gradual for the nuptial mass, "Uxor Tua", in the prelude to my wedding.

However, as part of our Advent preparation, my wife and I have been praying vespers together, so for the final week, we are learning and chanting the great "O Antiphons" together. These antiphons, each invoking Christ under a different title, are used with the Magnificat at vespers for December 17-23. According to Wikipedia, Boethius makes a slight reference to them, indicating that they date from at least the 5th century. They were in use in Roman liturgy by the eighth century, and, one may presume, spread from there.

December 17
O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti,
attingens a fine usque ad finem,
fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia:
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

December 18
O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel,
qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti,
et ei in Sina legem dedisti:
veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.

December 19
O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum,
super quem continebunt reges os suum,
quem Gentes deprecabuntur:
veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.

December 20
O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel;
qui aperis, et nemo claudit;
claudis, et nemo aperit:
veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris,
sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

December 21
O Oriens,
splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae:
veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

December 22
O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum,
lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum:
veni, et salva hominem,
quem de limo formasti.

December 23
O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster,
exspectatio Gentium, et Salvator earum:
veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster.

Read the first letters of the titles of Christ, and you'll discover that those clever monks arranged them to spell "Ero cras": "I will be (i.e. arrive) tomorrow".

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Ratio Blogendi

I am a Catholic Christian seeking deeper understanding of God's work in the life, history and tradition of the Church. This blog is intended to serve as a log of this quest, consisting primarily of reactions to books I read in the course of it.

My perspective is that of a Catholic generalist. My bachelor's degree is in Mathematics, but I earned a minor in philosophy and participated in a "Great Books" Honors curriculum that exposed me to a wide range of the most important history, literature, philosophy and theology of Western Civilization. Since then, I've been a bit of an omnivore, reading widely in philosophy, theology and history, but seldom deeply anywhere. This is, in part, an attempt to remedy that, by focusing on a particular area and forcing myself to pull out the most important ideas and put down my own thoughts.

The title (in Latin, following well-established Catholic blog cliché) is from Mary's Magnificat, as recorded in St. Luke's Gospel (Lk 1:46-55), which the Church has sung at Vespers since the first millennium. Mary witnessed the fulfillment of the Lord's promise, a promise she knew of because the Lord had spoken to our fathers (Lk 1:55, "ἐλάλησεν πρὸς τοὺς πατέρας ἡμῶν", "locutus est ad patres nostros"). We, like her, await the coming of the Lord, and, in the face of the modern temptation to regard history as bunk and pretend to re-invent culture and faith de novo every generation, we too must remember that we have only recieved this promise because the Lord spoke to our fathers. We have recieved that promise from the Lord through their diligent efforts to keep and hand on the faith. If we are to grasp its richness and understand its context, we would do well to get to know them.