Maronite Easter Vigil

At Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Catholic Church in Shepherd’s Park (Washington, DC)  the Easter Vigil begins at midnight.

 The interior of the church reflects the austere monastic sensibilities of St. Maroun, the 5th Century Syriac  monk  who shaped this Syriac-Antiochian rite Catholic Church that profoundly influenced Lebanon.

Prior to the accent lights being turned on, the design was stark and aesthetically challenging for me.  Even with the lights on, the altar is surprisingly barren for the most important feast of the liturgical year for Christians.  There were a few lillies at the foot of the main altar and there was a floral display on the East Apse which also served as the Empty Tomb for the Easter Vigil. Note the tree stump at the foot of the altar, that is used as a stand for the veneration of the Cross.  Perhaps it harkens back to the Cedars of Lebanon, which is an important symbol amongst Maronite Catholics.

  

This is the Clergy approaching the altar for the beginning of the Qurbono (Divine Liturgy).  Note the Chorbishop in the center who’s vestment has a cross with the Cedar of Lebanon. The Liturgy was conducted in Syriac as well as English.  The hymns that were sung were in Aramaic which was impossible for me to read.  Aramaic was Jesus’ native tongue so it sounded like what  the followers of “The Way” would have sung in the 1st Century A.D.

There were some unusual aspects of this Easter Vigil.  There was incense but no use of Holy Water or candles.  The Maronite Church tends to baptize their Catachumens on the Feast of the Epiphany in January.  Candles are not as import of an symbol at the Easter Vigil, as the Maronite Church breaks fast on noon of Great Saturday during the simple “Awaited Light” ceremony.  This may explain why there is not pent up anticipation for the Easter Vigil as observed amongst the Maronites.

 It was remarkable how much this Liturgy celebrating the Resurrection emphasized the Glorious Cross.  The Chorbishop made prayers on the four corners of the altar with the processional cross, as if to proclaim the hope of the resurrection to all the Earth.  The faithful were invited to venerate the Glorified Cross as they received Communion. Another interesting Easter feature of this vigil Qurbono was the emphasis on the Empty Tomb.  As the faithful departed from the Divine Liturgy, they were given flowers from the Empty Tomb as well as an Easter Egg.

  

Despite the alternating languages during the Liturgy, it was not challenging to follow.  The order of the Liturgy is different, as the Prayers of the Faithful are offered in the middle of the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  In addition, the sign of peace is passed along from the altar to the congregation by youthful altar servers. For me, the Maronite Qurbono was the most exotic of my Holy Week experiences.  Unfortunately, I found  the Easter Vigil at Our Lady of Lebanon to be anti-climatic and personally unsatisfying.  That being said, I was intrigued by proclaiming the glory of the cross to the four corners of the Earth. In addition, I was touched by the post resurrection highlighting of the Empty Tomb as well as receiving the Easter souvenirs.

Sound the Strepitus

An Obituary and Eulogistic Meditation of Yeshua bar Yahosef bar Yaqub

The Strepitus is the sudden loud clatter that symbolizes how the Earth convulsed at the physical death of the only begotten Son of our Lord.   In Matthew 27:46-53, when Christ gave up His spirit on the Crucifix, there was a tumultuous earthquake.   It is the jarring closing of a Tenebae Service, which is done in preparation for the Paschal Triduum.

Some churches have the Tenebrae on Spy Wednesday.  Others choose to extinguish the lights after celebrating the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday or even Great and Holy Friday.  Regardless of the time, it is a ritual that reminds us of how the Light of the World was briefly extinguished to fulfill scripture as an expiation for mankind’s sinfulness.

While it is difficult to watch Mel Gibson’s cinematic masterpiece The Passion of the Christ (2004) for its depiction of the savage brutality inflicted by the Roman overlords on a political prisoner who challenged the religious practices and expectations of the Jewish hierachy.   The teardrop from heaven is incredibly moving.

When Salvador Dali painted Christ of Saint John of the Cross (1951), Jesus was depicted without wounds on a Cross that floated above the Earth. Dali listened to the color of his dream that indicated that depicting the nails, blood and crown of thorns would mar the image.  Dali wanted the emphasize the Trinity with the positioning of Jesus hanging on the Cross to represent the nucleus of the atom.  Clearly, the cross hovering over the Earth shows the cosmic significance of the passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. In a modern manner, Dali celebrates Eastern Christian Church’s emphasis mystagogy of Jesus’ Divine Sacrifice by death on the cross.

But during a Tenebrae service, the faithful were reminded that unlike even in classical depictions of Golgatha (the place of the skull) where Jesus was crucified, the crosses of Calvary were not necessarily hung that high in the air.  Since those being executed had their feet nailed bound to prevent them from moving as they slowly suffocated on their crosses, they may have been only a couple of feet above the ground.

Such crosses would serve the Roman overlords as tangible examples of what happens to brigands, rabble rousers and revolutionaries. The low positioning would allow most passers-by to look into the eyes of the executed. This makes the taunts from the crowd and Jesus’ words of forgiveness all the more remarkable.

It is easy to gloss over how the expiation of mans’ sins required a blood sacrifice to seal the New Covenant. By cognitively sounding the Strepitus over Christ’s crucifixion, we may “Ecce homo”.

While some ears may find it as painful as the Stepitus, the Christ’s Passion has been told by Glenn Beck using a motif of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon  (1973).  Whether we use pop parables, cinematic accounts, scriptural studies, communal worship or prayerful personal reflections, it is worthy to reflect on how God’s only begotten Son chose to be the suffering servant to right the relationship between God and mankind.
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Spy Wednesday Tenebrae with the Suspcious Cheese Lords

Mount St. Sepulchre in Washington, DC is a Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America. The Church itself neo-Byzantine design by Roman architect Aristide Leonari in 1899.  The church looks akin to  St. Sophia (Hagia  Sophia) in Constantinople (Istanbul).

The interior of the church resembles a five fold Crusader Cross of Jerusalem. The large bronze baldachin is is supported by columns which depicts the twelve Apostles. The interior is decorated with the Ave Maria and scenes from the life of Mary.

The Friary is the home of Franciscan Commissariat in the nation’s capital, and they continue their 800 year tradition of supporting the Holy Land. Part of the charism of the Commissariat seems to be a special celebration of Passiontide.

The Tenebrae service which is celebrated on Spy Wednesday is is resplendent in faith and history, as is incorporates a cappella medieval pieces sung by the Suspicious Cheese Lords (Suscipe Domine Queso).

While they are a consummate choir, the Suspicious Cheese Lords need to practice their polyphonic songs in situ at the Franciscan Monastery.

The Suspicious Cheese Lords in rehearsal for the Tenebrae Service.

Even though the Suspicious Cheese Lords ordinarily sing early music works, one year they chose to perform Arvo Part’s De Profundis (1980).

Lighting the Candelabra for the Tenebrae Service.

Extinguishing the candles during the Tenebrae Service.

 The closing of the Tenebrae service is marked by a retreat of the single candle into the crypt.  As the vault to the catacombs is slammed, it sets off an unnerving Strepitus, meant to symbolize the earth convulsing at the death of the the Messiah, Jesus the Christ.

Prayer for the Petrine Ministry

Lord Jesus, through the one sacrifice of the New Covenant, you have truly become the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls. But unto us you have given shepherds to teach, guide, sanctify and lead.
You had chosen Simon-Peter as your Vicar and Governor of the apostles, therefore, may his successors grow in love and submission to you, O Lord, and may they continue to guide your Church in steadfast faith over any stormy waters which lie ahead.
– Amen.

~ Rachel M. Gohlman is a convert to the Catholic faith from Evangelical Protestantism. She has a Bachelor’s degree from Bradley University, Peoria and is the author of the “Misadventures of Cardinal Fratelli” book series.

Checking Out Pope Francis

After paying respects to the Salvation of the Roman People icon at the Papal Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore  (a.k.a. Our Lady of the Snows), Pope Francis’ ecclesiastical entourage took an unexpected detour.  
The newly elected Argentine pope asked his driver to circle back to the Domus Internationalis Paulus VI,  so that Pope Francis could collect his luggage.  After he collected his things, the prelate went to the front desk of the Vatican run boarding house to thank the staff.  Then Pope Francis insisted upon paying his bill. 

Most people might have understood had the Pope had.left the Church pick up the 85 Euro a night tab for a complete pension,  he insisted on trying to pay his way to set a good  example of  what priests and bishops should do.  It is unclear how much Pope Francis actually paid. Moreover, it is humorous but dubious that he claimed that he checked in under a different name. 
This pied-de-terre episode certainly solidifies Pope Francis’ reputation for frugality and fraternity with common folks.  But it may symbolize some of the new Pontiff’s ambitions to challenge the comfortable situations of the Curia and dispel the anti-clerical slight that the Church lives high on the hog on their parishioners’ tithes. 
The early trip to Santa Maria Maggiore may also herald another important aspect of Pope Francis’s papacy.  New Popes are expected to visit all five of Rome’s patriarchal basilicas early in their reign.  Moreover, many recent pontiffs, especially Pope Blessed John Paul II, have major Marian devotions.     
                                                
It is telling, however,  the on the morning of his first full day in the chair of St. Peter that Pope Francis visits  Salus Populi Romani and also brings flowers.  This icon is of particular significance to Romans. For example, when Rome was going to fall from Axis control in World War II, Adolph Hitler vowed to bomb the Eternal City to smithereens.  Pope Pius XII arranged a procession of the Byzantine Salus Populi Romani through the streets and miraculously a fog enveloped the city, so the angry Nazi bombs only fell on a Roman cemetery.  This humble act continues Pope Francis identification with his new Roman Diocese.  

A Sunday Reflection

“In this age, turning our backs on traditional Christianity is seen as original and a sign of free-thinking. What is truly original and a sign of free-thought is embracing tradition and love of Christ which stands in the face of this world and its idea of “values”.
The so-called Enlightenment of prior centuries has badly harmed Christians. One looks at the French Revolution and other revolutions that grew out of this movement and see how they have mocked and injured Christ. Brothers and sisters, we cannot free ourselves by breaking away from God’s hands, when we break away from God, we subject ourselves to the darkest form of slavery.
 Oh that we would give ourselves back to God! We were made for him to love Him and serve Him. When our service turns back on ourselves and becomes self satisfying, it is indeed slavery. But it is reward and preventable to be of service to Something greater. We are foolish to think we can ever break “free” of God. It is written in the Psalms “Where can I go from your Spirit. Where can I flee from your presence?” And the prophet Jeremiah did write “Shall a man be hid in secret places, and I not see him, saith the Lord? do not I fill heaven and earth, saith the Lord?”
He who made us will always be with us and any ideology which excludes Him seeks to take away our humanity and often does. Where else do we get our humanity but from Him. As did say Augustine of Hippo “Our hearts are restless, O God, untill they rest in you.”

from: http://thoughtsoflightinthedark.blogspot.com/2012/10/sunday-sermon.html

Rachel M. Gohlman is a convert to Catholicism from Evangelical Protestantism. She is the author of the “Misadventures of Cardinal Fratelli” series and is known on facebook for her apologetics work. She is a graduate from Bradley University in Peoria.

What Young Catholics Truly Want

Attention Pastors, Youth Pastors, Music Directors, Deacons and Catechists:

I have oft heard the complaint from you that “The young people aren’t interested in Catholic faith, they don’t come to Mass and they don’t volunteer to sing, lector or help with ministries…it seems there is little hope these days!”
I’ve come to tell you, there is hope! The young people can be drawn to Catholic faith, Mass, choir and any church-related ministry. You can get them interested!
The Problem:

Frequently, young Catholics feel ignored, not that they aren’t being pampered or praised or given special attention, I mean they are trying to tell you exactly what they like, what they expect from the Church, what they are yearning for deep in their souls… but you simply aren’t listening.
I am in my twenties, part of the tail end of what they call “the John Paul II generation” I came into the Catholic Church just as John Paul II went out. My RCIA class was on fire for faith, for learning and for yearning. We did homework, read our catechism, got on the internet, immersed ourselves in it all! The parish that nurtured this crop of oncoming-converts was steeped in reverence and awe for tradition. Not just going through motions and singing empty songs. On Ash-Wednesday, we proudly explained the odd mark on our heads, we debated Protestants on the Bible, we learned basic prayers- in Latin AND English. Sunday night Mass ensued in candlelit splendor, amidst clouds of incense and to the tune of Laudate Dominum. You could never look at these young people and say “They just don’t care”.
After RCIA and graduation, I returned home and attended what you’d call your average parish church. I descended from a world of splendor to bare walls, hurried Masses and barebones hymns. Still fervent in the sacraments, the Eucharist and the Early Church Fathers, I lived on. Come 2012, I attend a parish in central Florida. Art covered the walls, thank God, but it was rather bare art. Mass was still hurried and hymns still barebones. Something however was very familiar: no Latin during Ordinary time, nor during Advent, nor during Lent, no incense, no Laudate Dominum.
I spoke up once during choir practice (I’d since then joined the choir because I enjoyed singing and praising the Lord). I said “You know, I’d really like some Latin hymns…Maybe we can have some silence after Mass during Lent- you know for reverence…” I suggested to our priest once: “I think a Eucharistic procession around Christmas to celebrate the incarnation would be cool…” Deaf ears in reply. I was told by the music director: “We don’t do that anymore…Silence bores the congregation…” and by the priest “A procession would be inconvenient…”
What I gave was the opinion of a young Catholic- a real, live young Catholic. They didn’t want it.
The problem is all these pastors, youth pastors and music directors keep telling us young folk what bores us, what we really like, what we find interesting. And guess what, THEY’RE WRONG! If one listens to the young Catholic voice, one would find we are yearning for beauty, for tradition and for truth. Traditional Catholicism honestly fascinates us! We go all week hearing perky pop-songs, jumping techno and chatter that doesn’t leave a minute of silence. We go to church and we get exposed to the same exact things. Thus, of course we find it boring! Why should we go to Mass when we can stay home and sing “Gather us in”, listen to a preacher on tv and fill our rooms with noise? Young people are sick of the world. We long for a safe habitat where we can bow before God and think. We crave contact with ancientness, with a strong grounding, with strong Catholic identity. God’s people are chosen out of the world, set apart, destined for a heavenly home. We want a taste of that!!
What young Catholics want:

First, we wouldn’t mind if you listened… Stop telling us what we think and what we like.  Look at traditional Catholic parishes, they are overflowing with young people and traditional seminaries are crowded with young aspirants. The next generation wants precisely what your generation has put away and tried to hide from us. There’s a proverb: “The son longs to remember what the father longs to forget!” Remember it! We hate guitar Masses. We hate bare hymns and Masses that must be kept under 45 minutes. We want the red meat that is the 2,000 year old Catholic faith and not only that, we want to sink out teeth into it!
When young people see that Mass is not like the rest of the week, that it’s not like the world, that it requires us to think and act differently- as if we’re present when heaven touches earth, we will be interested. We will wander in with curiosity, saying “what glorious thing is this?” and we will stay there.
And this is not a dilemma that has gone unnoticed either.  An article on Catholicculture.org states: “The Roman rite was always different from all of the eastern rites, of course, but the sense of the transcendence of God, which once marked our liturgy strongly, seems rarely to find expression in our worship today. And we trashed, just trashed, a glorious tradition of liturgical music which the council fathers at Vatican II explicitly commanded be fostered. We replaced it with . . . On Eagles’ Wings.” I can tell you that many of our young people agree with this! Our generation is immensely attracted to the statements of Pope Benedict XVI that ask for a return to tradition in liturgy.  I hear countless, young Catholic college students, facebook-ers and bloggers begging: “Please, give this back to us.”
People can pretend that worship is a strictly spiritual matter, pretend that it does not involve shallow, physical things but the Mass is precisely opposite. It is very physical just like the union of two lovers is very physical. No sane person declares love is just a spiritual thing, that saying “My dear” doesn’t matter, that singing a serenade or reciting a sonnet doesn’t matter or that a candlelit banquet makes no difference. Our worship became VERY physical the moment Christ assumed human flesh. Catholics are people of the incarnation. We don’t go to Mass to philosophize and have Bible study- no, we go to Mass to taste and see the goodness of the Lord! Mass isn’t about social gathering- no, it’s about each soul receiving perfect union with God! Shouldn’t our pastors and music directors be showing us that? Shouldn’t our priests be saying with their actions and words and prayers: “Hey, this isn’t part of the world that bombards you with noise and ugliness, that constantly seeks to entertain you, this is heaven!”
Jesus Christ came to give the hungry world that which they were so long deprived of. He came to give meaning, to give mystery, to give us the awesome presence and tender love which is God. Jesus didn’t say “Let’s get the young people interested.” He said “Feed my Lambs.” So, I sincerely ask our pastors, youth pastors, deacons and music directors to give young Catholics a taste of heaven, give us mystery, give us that presence and awesome love of God. Hit us with a meaty Catholicism that makes us stop and think, that makes us truly perceive the miraculous thing that is happening at every Eucharist, and causes us to bow down and say “Truly this is the Son of God” “Truly this is the New Covenant” “Truly this is the Promised Land- our heavenly home”!
If you just listen, maybe you will hear…
Young people are crying out- answer them.
They are hungry- feed them.
They are burdened down- lift them up.
“O taste and see that the LORD is good: blessed is the man that trusts in him.”
-Psalm 34:8

Pro-life Corner: SUNDAY, March 25, 2012

BULLETIN INSERT:

Wisdom of the Ages…

Tertullian, a Christian writer who died in the third century, wrote the following: ‘Thus, you read the word of God, spoken to Jeremias: “Before I formed thee in the womb, I knew thee.” If God forms us in the womb, He also breathes on us as He did in the beginning: “And God formed man and breathed into him the breath of life.” Nor could God have known man in the womb unless he were a whole man. “And before thou camest forth from the womb, I sanctified thee.” Was it, then, a dead body at that stage? Surely it was not, for “God is the God of the living and not the dead.”’- De Anima 26.5 

For General Intercessions and Scripture reflections go to DesignsByBirgit.com

Fishing for the 12 Apostles

One day while teaching the kids about the 12 Apostles, I decided to come up with a fun and easy way for them to learn the names of the twelve apostles. I know grown adults that stumble with the names of Jesus’ twelve followers. I figured it might help them remember better if they could play a game.
So I came up with the game Fishing for the Apostles.

I figured the fishing game was perfect since some of the apostles were fisherman.

To learn more about the game and for the free printable CLICK HERE

Blessings,
Monique

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My Lenten Journey for Kids

I posted EGG-straordinary Lenten Rosary Project for your Family – a tutorial for a Lenten activity for families – over at Catholic Sistas. As I was revamping this post from one I did last year, I came across many great additions. While I won’t go into the specifics of the Easter Egg Rosary Project here, I will show you the booklet that evolved from it’s transformation from a post that was original to Designs by Birgit last year. I simply used links to various ideas for coloring pages, Stations of the Cross carousels, and other ideas and created a Lenten Journey Book for Kids.

My links are here: My Lenten Journey for Kids