Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Culinary Piety

On a recent trawl of the internet I came across this gastronomic aid: 'Cooking with the Saints'. It promises 'a variety of 170 recipes and inspiring biographies of 73 Saints' and enables you to 'Celebrate the Catholic tradition of honoring Saints with special meals and recipes on their feast days.'
Sadly there's no recipe for St. Thomas Aquinas. Instead, here's an example from the recipe for St.Agnes' day: 'Agnesenplätzchen', little biscuit sandwiches filled with apricot jam. The recipe is accompanied by the story of St. Agnes' life and a reproduction of a 6th century mosaic depicting the saint.

This strikes me as a splendid way to follow the liturgical calendar and to broaden one's culinary horizons! You can have a good look at the contents here on the amazon website.


Sunday, 25 January 2009

From Saul to Paul

'O glorious St. Paul, who from a persecutor of Christianity, didst become a most ardent Apostle of zeal; and who to make known the Savior Jesus Christ unto the ends of the world didst suffer with joy imprisonment, scourgings, stonings, shipwrecks and persecutions of every kind, and in the end didst shed thy blood to the last drop, obtain for us the grace to receive, as favors of the Divine mercy, infirmities, tribulations, and misfortunes of the present life, so that the vicissitudes of this our exile will not render us cold in the service of God, but will render us always more faithful and more fervent.'

Friday, 23 January 2009

Blessing of Lambs

With thanks to Theodosius the Cenobiarch and the Vatican's new youtube channel, here is the Holy Father blessing lambs on Wednesday for the feast of St Agnes -if you listen very carefully gentle bleating can be heard under the voiceover:

More about St Agnes and the lambs may be found here and Fr Hunwicke on St Ambrose's office hymn and Euripides here (which reminds me how much less I find myself afflicted by the curse of knowing dead languages than I once did!).

Monday, 19 January 2009

"Telling it like it is"

For those who have been introduced to the Catholic faith rather too late in life to have undergone catechesis, it’s quite possible that they will find certain things rather strange, possibly uncomfortable and often down-right odd. It’s reminiscent of a scene in Brideshead Revisited in which the young Cordelia convinces the unsuspecting Rex that there are ‘sacred monkeys in the Vatican’. His credulity is entirely forgivable – given that Christians believe that a man died and was resurrected, sacred monkeys seem pretty plausible (perhaps the crew of massinformation can confirm or deny the monkeys’ existence…).

I’ve often found myself being asked such apparently self-evident questions as ‘why do you go to church on Sundays?’ and ‘what’s a rosary actually for?’ and found I couldn’t give a snappy answer, at least not without thinking about it. Access to helpful tracts or pamphlets, such as the Tufton tracts, or those produced by individual churches, has been of tremendous importance in providing clear and brief initial ideas as well as guidance for further reading.

The Basilica of Saint Ambrose and Saint Charles in Rome (as well as hosting a relic of St. Charles Boromeo’s heart…) has a number of stands at the entrance to the church which hold a good thirty or so different tracts, entitled ‘Current Topics’ which have been translated (very well indeed) into various European languages. Topics include ‘How to Pray’, ‘Why go to Mass every Sunday?’, ‘Marriage and Family in the Christian Faith’ and ‘Our Lady: how do we venerate her?’. They provide straightforward instruction as well as links and references for further reading. They are available online in English (there’s a menu at the top, right-hand corner of the screen to select the different languages). You can also obtain paper copies from the Basilica itself in return for a donation (of whatever you can afford) to cover printing costs. I hope readers will find them an interesting and useful resource.

What I find so appealing about these pamphlets, aside from their brevity (!) is that they provide a helpful balance between theory and practice. They explain concepts and the history of traditions and ideas, yet they also offer practical guidance on how to live out these creeds in one’s everyday life. They cover a range of topics, some of which may prove highly problematic and difficult to confront: examination of conscience, priestly celibacy, homosexuality, death, illness, sexual intercourse before marriage to name but a few. Yet they face these topics accessibly and unapologetically. They promote obedience, but simultaneously place the importance of reason and reasoning alongside that obedience.

I hope they make for interesting reading…

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Excellent Women: St Geneviève

While we may blog about whatever acts of religious devotion we have most recently attended, in the 17th century, Madame de Sévigné could only write letters, and being unable to provide photos from every possible angle, she had to rely on extremely detailed description. She writes to her daughter about the procession of the relics of St Geneviève held yearly in Paris to protect the city from harm:

"Do you know that this procession is considered a very fine sight. It is attended by all the religious orders, in their respective habits, the curates of the several parishes, and all the canons of Notre-Dame, preceded by the archbishop of Paris in his pontificals, and on foot, giving his benediction to the right and left as he goes, till he comes to the cathedral; I should have said to the left only, for the Abbe de St. Geneviève marches on the right, barefoot, and preceded by a hundred and fifty monks, barefoot also; the cross and mitre are borne before him, like the archbishop, and he gives his benedictions in the same manner, but with great apparent devotion, humility, and fasting, and an air of penitence, which show that he is to say mass at Notre-Dame. The parliament, in their red robes, and the principal companies follow the shrine of the saint, which glitters with precious stones, and is carried by twenty men clad in white, and barefoot. The provost of the merchants, and four counselors, are left as hostages at the Church of St. Geneviève, for the return of this precious treasure. You will ask me, perhaps, why the shrine was exposed. It was to put a stop to the continual rains we have had, and to obtain warm and dry weather, which happened at the very time they were making preparations for the procession, which, as it was intended to obtain for us all kinds of blessings, I presume we owe his majesty's return, who is expected here on Sunday next." Letter XLIII 19 July 1675.

St Geneviève is considered to be one of the patron saints of the city of Paris. As a child, St Germain picked her out as someone who would lead a life of great sanctity. At the age of 16, she went to live with her godmother in Paris where she attracted a great deal of criticism for her austerity, works of charity and claims of visions and prophecies. But St Germain refused to believe her detractors, and as Bishop of Paris, he appointed her to look after the welfare of virgins dedicated to God in the city.
But, of course, she didn't confine her activities solely to protecting virgins: she saved Paris from destruction at least twice while alive. When Attila the Hun was preparing to attack, she exhorted the citizens to trust in God and do penance. Attila and his forces turned away towards Orleans and so Paris was spared. Thirteen years later, the city was again besieged, this time by Childeric. Geneviève passed through the enemy lines in a boat to Troyes to fetch grain and save the inhabitants from starvation, as well as negotiating with Childeric for the welfare of prisoners of war.

And while dead, it seems she still protects the city. She was credited with saving Paris from flooding in 834 and an epidemic of ergot poisoning in 1129, which actually ceased during a procession of her relics. Many other miracles were recorded at her tomb in the Church of St Geneviève. Unfortunately, the relics were burnt by revolutionaries in 1793 so the procession that Madame de Sévigné describes can no longer take place.

The church however was spared. Louis XV had vowed to rebuild it with an edifice worthy of the patron saint of Paris, and the work was finished just in time for the revolution. So, the revolutionary government decided that the spectacular building was the perfect location for their "temple to the great intellectuals of France" and it became the Panthéon. Quite possibly they never noticed the irony of creating a shrine to the leading men of the new regime next to the desecrated tomb of the patron saint and saviour of the city. In 1995, Marie Curie became the first woman to be buried in the Panthéon in her own right and, as far as I can discover, remains the only one. But it gives me some satisfaction to think that, actually, St Geneviève got there first of all!

Sainte Geneviève, qui rétablissiez la paix entre les ennemis, priez pour nous.