Saturday, January 05, 2008


We celebrated on the 29th of December the feast of the "Holy, blissful martyr" St. Thomas Becket, one of the great saints of the middle ages, and one of my favorites as well. He was slain by knights of Henry II who thought they were following orders. It was a martyrdom that shocked Europe and made the cathedral of Canterbury a place of pilgrimage as important as Rome or Compostella. The Archbishop was also the Abbot of the cathedral monastery and as is described by William the monk below:

"He suffered on this day, who was Primate and Legate, in the Church and on behalf of the Church, about the hour of the evening prayer, while the choir of monks sang psalms round about, and the clergy and the company of the people stood by, and while reigned our Lord Jesu Christ to Whom be honour for ever and ever. Amen."

I had the privilege of praying at the place of his murder and in the crown chapel in 2002 (so called because one of the knights sliced off the top of his skull with his sword). The knights wounded him terribly, and after slicing off the top of his skull used their swords to scrape out his brain onto the pavement. One of the monks almost had his arm cut off as he raised it to try to fend off the blows that the Archbishop-Abbot was receiving.

St. Thomas Becket's shrine in the cathedral became one of the most richly endowed. St. Louis of France sent a special stone for it called the "Regale of France" that became part of the shrine for several hundred years, until the heresiarch and fornicator, Henry VIII, destroyed the shrine, taking the votive offerings for himself and destroying the relics of this saint who dared defy his king.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008


This weekend, the Solemnity of the Epiphany falls on a Sunday. Since it is not a holy day of obligation in the US, it used to be celebrated only in monasteries, cathedrals and at daily Mass in parishes. After Vatican II, the American bishops moved it to the closest Sunday. The principle of double-effect is at work here. While moving it to Sunday allowed American Catholics to celebrate this wondrous feast when they would normally be going to church anyway, it also cut the Epiphany from its calendrical mooring of January 6. Thus Twelthnight (Epiphany night) often falls on less or more days than the traditional twelve days of Christmas. This is some cultural loss, except this year when Epiphany and Sunday are the same day. We will truly have the full twelve days of Christmas and Twelthnight on the proper day.

Three things are celebrated at the Epiphany: the visit of the Magi, the Lord's baptism, and the miracle at the wedding feast at Cana. All three are "epiphanies" of Christ: to the gentiles in the person of the Magi; to John the Baptist and the Apostles at the Jordan; and the first miracle of Christ's ministry,recorded by St. John the Divine.

In the Greek Orthodox Church, this feast centers on the Jordan, and usually, wherever possible, the bishop will throw a cross into the nearest river, and young men will dive for it. This can be quite exhilarating, especially in a Russian winter!

The Hurdy-gurdy

For those of you who know not the hurdy-gurdy, then I say "Gentlemen, behold!

Awake My Soul

When I was in college at St. John's to of my friends and I got hooked on the music from William Walker's Southern Harmony, and B.F. White's Sacred Harp, both published in the 1850's The rough-hewn angularity and back-country vitality of these hymns are refreshing. Many of the melodies are quite touching as well. I've loved this music ever since. Even though it is quintessentially Protestant in its scope, I still love it. For those who are interested in the Sacred Harp, this DVD will come in handy and is very interesting.