Johan's Blog

Lenten banners hung above sanctuary

Lent is an Invitation

This coming week, on Wednesday February 17, we mark Ash Wednesday and thus begins our annual Lenten journey. The symbolic act commonly associated with Ash Wednesday is the Imposition of Ashes. And although Ash Wednesday is not a Holy Day of Obligation, many people flock to our churches to receive ashes.

The custom of imposing ashes on Ash Wednesday has Biblical roots. Job, for instance used ashes as a sign of repentance: “Therefore I disown what I have said, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6). The Gospels of Matthew and Luke, too, describe the use of ashes as a sign of repentance. In the description of the sending of the 72, Jesus instructs them to kick the sand of their sandals if they are not welcomed in a given city, and to warn them the Kingdom is at hand. Then Jesus compares the fate of these cities with that of the sinful cities of Tyre and Sidon saying that “if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would long ago have repented in sackcloth and ashes” (Matthew 11:21).

The liturgical custom of sprinkling ashes which is also penitential in nature originates in the Order of Penitents established during the fourth c. This Order or group of people consisted of those Christians who had committed grave sins and had been admitted into the order by the bishop. The Order of Penitents predates the Sacrament of Reconciliation and was the only recourse Christians had to salvation after they broke their baptismal promises. The rite of admission to the Order of Penitents which happened at the beginning of Lent involved the imposition of ashes by the bishop. When this order was superseded by the Sacrament of Reconciliation the imposition of ashes was retained and expanded. Recognizing that all are sinners in need of repentance all Christians started to present themselves for the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday.

The earliest mention of the existence of Ash Wednesday, known as Dies Cinerum or the Day of Ashes dates back to the 10th century. It is believed that the custom itself was observed as early as the eight century. 

The imposition of ashes still has a penitential character, even today. With this public act, we indicate that we are in need of forgiveness and that we are committing ourselves to 40 days of fasting, prayer, and charity in preparation of the celebration of the Sacred Triduum.

The ashes used on Ash Wednesday come from the palms used during the previous year’s celebration of Palm Sunday of Our Lord’s Passion. In the Middle Ages these palms were burned during elaborate ceremonies. Today, this is done in a more simple manner.

In the United States, ashes are usually placed on the forehead in the shape of the cross. In other countries such as Italy they are sprinkled on the crown of a penitent’s head. This is actually the proper way of doing this as the ritual for the Imposition if Ashes calls for the minister to “place ashes on the head” of the people. During the Pandemic, which prevents us from signing the forehead with ashes, we will sprinkle ashes on the crown of people’s head, though not as generously as in Europe. We will just use a pinch.

While imposing the ashes, the minister can use one of two formulas. The second option, which is the more ancient of the two, is inspired by the words God spoke when expelling Adam and Eve from Paradise thus subjecting them to death: "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return" (Genesis 3:19). This option simply reminds us of our sinful nature yet does not invite us to do anything about it.

The first and more recent option is taken from the first chapter of Mark: “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”  After the death of John, Jesus began his public ministry announcing the Kingdom of God inviting people to “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” These words spoken by Jesus and repeated by the minister are a clear invitation to action. Knowing that we are sinners, we are called to repent and to live according to the Gospel. Or in the words of the Prophet Joel in the First Reading on Ash Wednesday, Lent is an invitation to “return to God with all your heart.” 

May this Lenten Season and the entire Paschal Cycle be a blessing for all of us.

 

In our weekly video series "Art That Surrounds Us," Johan van Parys, Ph.D., our Director of Liturgy and Sacred Arts, shares information about a piece from The Basilica of Saint Mary's art collection. This week, Johan discusses our new icon of Saint Josephine Bakhita, by local iconographer Deb Korluka.
 
"If we had no hope in the Lord, what would we do in this world?"
 
- Saint Josephine Bakhita
 
 
 
 
 

In our weekly video series "Art That Surrounds Us," Johan van Parys, Ph.D., our Director of Liturgy and Sacred Arts, shares information about a piece from The Basilica of Saint Mary's art collection. This week, Johan discusses our stained glass windows and specifically highlights the window depicting the Presentation of the Lord.

Forty days after Christmas, on February 2, we celebrate the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple and the Purification of Mary. Both commemorate events in the life of Jesus and Mary related to the observance of Jewish Law as narrated in the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke. The day is also known as Candlemas because on that day, the mid-point of winter, candles are blessed for use in church as well as in our homes.

 

 

 

The feast of the Presentation of the Lord (February 2), also known as Candlemas is one of the lesser known feasts in our church. The Gospel of the day taken from Luke, chapter 2 relays the story of Mary and Joseph taking Jesus to the temple 40 days after his birth in order to fulfill the prescriptions of the law as noted in Leviticus chapter 2. However, even more important than fulfilling the law by offering two turtle doves was their enlightening encounter with Simeon, a righteous and devout man and Anna, a prophetess. Simeon called Jesus a “light for revelation to the nations” while Anna saw Jesus as the redeemer.

The history of this feast is complex and rich. At one time it marked the end of the 40 day long Christmas Season as it sits on the cusp between the celebration of Jesus’ mysterious birth into humanity and his salvific death for humanity. Yet because February 2 most often falls on a weekday very few people even are aware of it. Nevertheless, I have very fond memories of this feast which go back all the way to my childhood.

Our family would attend early morning Mass on that day. Upon entering the church we received a thin, tall candle, one per family. After the priest said a prayer and sprinkled Holy Water we walked around the church in procession. As the oldest child I was tasked with carrying our family’s candle. My current fondness of processions probably dates back to those Candlemas celebrations when I carried the candle under the watchful eye of my parents and the envious glances of my siblings. After Mass we were encouraged to take our candle home and to care for it with reverence. The priest told us to light the candle in times of need. I distinctly remember lighting our candle when my great-grandfather was mortally ill while we prayed for his recovery. We also found some solace in this candle once he died. We even would light the candle and huddle around it during bad storms. It made us less afraid.

Many years later, when living in a Benedictine abbey we celebrated the day with even greater ceremony as the candles were bigger, the procession was longer and the psalms sung were more numerous. We started the celebration in the chapter room. After the lighting and blessing of our candles we processed through the entire cloister into the church while singing Lumen ad revelationem gentium or A light of revelation to the Nations. I can still hear the sounds, see the sights and smell the burning wax which even overpowered the copious amounts of incense used for the procession.

Memories are great yet they need to be interpreted carefully. My childhood experience of the feast reveals profound truths but maybe there was a hint of superstition which tainted the use of the candles at home. Or was it the result of a more generous and less complicated faith?  My monastic memories, though revelatory of deep faith undoubtedly suffer from some liturgical romanticism.

The essence of the feast is this: year after year we are called to be the new Simeon and the new Anna who proclaim Jesus as the Light to the Nations and the Savior of the world. The candles are a tangible affirmation that Christ is indeed the Light. And the procession is not just a pretty parade rather it symbolizes and rehearses us in our calling to bring Christ’s light to the world. 

As a child I always wished we could keep the candle burning throughout the liturgy and even on our way home. I did not quite know why but I thought it made sense. Today I know what I sensed then as I dream of this grand procession of all Christians leaving their respective churches on the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord with lit candle in hand, proclaiming to the world that Christ is the Light to whom we bear witness in word and deed.

At The Basilica we will bless candles for Candlemas on Sunday, January 31 during the 9:30am and 11:30am celebration of the Eucharist. You are welcome to take them while you if you attend the liturgy. Or you can come to The Basilica between 10:30-11:00am or 12:30am-1:00pm and pick them up while staying in your car. You will receive a prayer card outside the Rectory and the candles outside the school. We invite you to light these candles and say the prayer when you find yourself in any kind of need.

Blessed Feast of the Presentation of the Lord.

 

 

In our weekly video series "Art That Surrounds Us," Johan van Parys, Ph.D., our Director of Liturgy and Sacred Arts, shares information about a piece from The Basilica of Saint Mary's art collection.

This week's video is the second installment about the four carvings in The Basilica walls near our chapels. Why is there a wall carving with a clover and a snake, symbols of Saint Patrick, near the recently restored chapel of Saint Anthony?

 

 

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Our Prayer Today

Ever-loving God,
fount of harmony and source of unity,
      we ask for the grace to face the sin of division in our society;
      we beg for mercy and forgiveness for the harm we have done,
we implore that you open our hearts and minds to ways that will bring about justice, equality, healing, harmony and peace,
and we pray for the conversion of heart of all those who perpetuate fear, promote supremacy and cultivate hatred.  
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Amen.

 

In our weekly video series "Art That Surrounds Us," Johan van Parys, Ph.D., our Director of Liturgy and Sacred Arts, shares information about a piece from The Basilica of Saint Mary's art collection. This week, Johan discusses our late 15th Century painting Adoration of the Magi, which was donated to The Basilica by the Lahiff family in the 1970s from the art collection of their family member Elizabeth Quinlan, founder of the Young-Quinlan companies.

 

In our weekly video series "Art That Surrounds Us," Johan van Parys, Ph.D., our Director of Liturgy and Sacred Arts, shares information about a piece from The Basilica of Saint Mary's art collection.

This week we are on location at Johan's home, and he shares information and anecdotes about his personal nativity collection, acquired over a number of years, which spans many countries, ethnicities, mediums and artistic styles. "The wonderful thing about nativities," he says, "is that throughout the world people have depicted the nativity scene in their own image."

Our next episode of Art That Surrounds Us will be available the week of January 4.

 

 

In our weekly video series "Art That Surrounds Us," Johan van Parys, Ph.D., our Director of Liturgy and Sacred Arts, shares information about a piece from The Basilica of Saint Mary's art collection. Johan tells us about one of the most intriguing pieces of art in our collection, our Madonna quilt. It was made by Lynn Zetzman in 1988, during a time when she was grieving the passing of her mother and also journeying toward Catholicism.

 

 

 

Nativity of Our Lord

Emmanuel, God-with-us

Every Christmas I marvel at God’s surprising choices. Who would have ever expected a young unwed girl to become the Mother of God? Who could have guessed that uneducated and poor shepherds would hear the songs of angels? Who would have imagined a poor infant born in a stable to be Emmanuel, God-with-us? And yet, it is precisely in the unexpected that God chose to be revealed to us. 

This year as we approach Christmas I have been wondering how God might be present to us today, given everything that is happening in our world, our nation, our cities and our personal lives. I found comfort in a cherished song we sing during Lent: O Come, O Come Emmanuel. This song makes clear that the simple and profound answer we received 2000 years ago holds even today: Emmanuel, God is with us here and now, always and forever even and most especially in these most extra-ordinary times. 

We are all wondering how we might celebrate Christmas this year. Surely it will not be the same as in years past. However we can and must make it meaningful and memorable, both in church and at home, because Christmas is such an important reminder of the fact that God is with us. That is the very essence of Christmas. It is the message we so desperately need to hear and embrace today.

Our goal, at The Basilica of Saint Mary is to make sure that those of you who will be with us for Mass in-person as well as those who join us via livestream will have a great Basilica Christmas experience. To that end we have creatively re-imagined our Christmas décor, our musical offerings and we came up with some new initiatives that hopefully will lift us up as we contemplate the promise of a better world brought to us by the Christ Child. 

One of the new initiatives is our drive-by Blessing of the Bambinelli. As you prepare your nativity scene in your home, please join us for a drive by blessing of the Christ Child from your home nativity on Sunday, December 20 between 12:30-1:30pm. At that time you will also receive a Home Blessing Kit to be used on Epiphany for the traditional Epiphany blessing of your home. 

This kit will include Holy water, a prayer and a piece of chalk. As part of the blessing you are to draw the following on the lintel above the main door into your home: 
+ 20 C B M 21 + .  C M B stands for Christus Benedicat Mansionem or May Christ Bless this Home. Of note is that the letters C M B are the initials of the traditional names of the Magi: Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar whose visit to the Baby Jesus we celebrate on epiphany.

I know this Christmas will not be the same, but I am convinced that we can still celebrate the mystery of the birth of Jesus in meaningful and moving ways. We, the staff at The Basilica of Saint Mary are committed do to our part to make it so.

May the Christ Child bring you many blessings, even and especially during these extra-ordinary times. And may you discover Emmanuel, God-with-us in the most unexpected places.

 

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