Blessed be the chalk!

Epiphany ChalkYesterday Natalie wrote a little recalling some Epiphany posts of the past. It sparked me to review some ideas and practices for the liturgical feast.  Today Epiphany is celebrated at the mass on the Sunday between January 2 and 6, but the actual feast day is the 6th (or the 5th if you stick to the strict Julian calendar dates of old- but that’s a whole other post).  The feast combines the major points that showed the new baby Jesus being recognized as man and God’s flesh on earth- the adoration of the Magi, the baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan, and the 1st miracle of the wedding feast in Cana.  The importance and level of recognition of the feast varies around the world today.  It is relatively unnoticed in the US but continues to be a national holiday in places like Finland, where all but a few essential services are closed.  Traditions of the day include activities like the baking of the king’s cake, community carols, and gifts for the children to represent the gifts of the Magi. Did you remember to replace your shepherds with the wise men in your nativity scene?

The formal mass for the feast includes the blessing of the gifts the Magi brought- the gold, the Frankincense, and the myrrh.  Also blessed is sone epiphany water and some chalk. Chalk? That’s right chalk.  The chalk is blessed with the prayer: “Bless, O Lord God, this creature chalk to render it helpful to men. Grant that they who use it in faith and with it inscribe upon the entrance of their homes the names of thy saints, Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, may through their merits and intercession enjoy health of body and protection of soul. Through Christ our Lord.”

Epiphany Chalk 2At the end of mass people take some of the epiphany water and the chalk home.  The water is used to bless the rooms of the house for the new year.  The chalk is used to bless the house.  To do the blessing the chalk is used to write above the door to the house like this 20 C + M + B 15.  The 20 signifies the millennium and century and the 15 the decade and year.  The C, M, and B are the initials of the Magi- Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar but also represent the blessing “Christus mansionem benedicat”- Christ bless this house.  The blessing remains above the entryway until Pentecost (May 24th).  As an added little challenge, tradition holds that the first time any enter through the door they should step first with the right foot- maybe the origin of the phrase “starting out on the right foot”.

Epiphany ChalkI didn’t make it mass to get chalk last Sunday but it’s ok for the “father of the house” to do a blessing as the note is made above the door: “Let us pray. Bless, + O Lord God almighty, this home, that in it there may be health, purity, the strength of victory, humility, goodness and mercy, the fulfillment of Thy law, the thanksgiving to God the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. And may this blessing remain upon this home and upon all who dwell herein. Through Christ our Lord.”  A blessed and happy new year to you all!

Podcast #66- One Day to Go!

Vatican Nativity

Podcast #66- One Day to Go!

Click here to listen to our latest podcast- Christmas Eve 2014!

We close out our Countdown to Christmas 2014 with our last podcast of the year. Natalie and Jeremy recap the year in review. Listen in for discussion on the Festival of Trees, big life events, special Christmas happenings, and more. We also touch on the message given this year from Cardinal Wuerl of the Washington archdiocese. Merry Christmas to all of you and may the blessings of the season be with you throughout the year!

O Holy Night- Another Christmas Music Post!

Snowy Holy NightHappy 2014!  I am excited to be writing my first post in the new year.  I’ve been trying to come up with an organizational plan for my weekly posts.  I work much better if I have a plan, or perhaps theme, to guide my actions.  So for my first Thursday post each month I am going to focus on music!  No better place to start than with my absolute favorite Christmas song of all time- O Holy Night.  This song has been at the top of all my lists for years.  It is musically sound and even the worst versions can still prove somewhat enjoyable.  But when it’s good, O yeah!

The song originates in France.  It was written by Adolphe Adam in 1847  for the poem Minuit, Chretiens (Midnight, Christians).  The first performance was in a small french church to celebrate the repair of the organ.  The first singer was a well-known opera singer of the day.  The topic of the poem, and thus the song, is the birth of the savior and our redemption as man.  Check out the opening verse and chorus:

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Saviour’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Til He appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born;
O night divine, O night, O night Divine.

St P crecheThe song has always had great success over the last 150+ years.  It has been recorded by world renown singers, bands, choirs, and orchestras.  It is part of many small church repertoire for the holidays.  Notably it is part of history as well.  In 1906 it was the first live performance on the new AM radio program.  That first broadcast version featured voice and violin.  It is truly timeless.  A recording made in 1916 is still being sold today!

One of the things I resolve to do with Christmas music this year is to find new versions of songs I love.  For O Holy Night I discovered a great version through a post on a friend’s Facebook page with a recording of Auld Lang Syne.  It featured three singers from the Broadway show Spider-man singing acapella.  I went a little further with some Youtube searching and discovered the had a recording of O Holy Night.  Not just their version, a great version.  Give it a listen-

This is my new go to favorite for this tune.  (Bonus is that one of the three guys is a JMU alum- Go Dukes!)   As I sit here watching the snow fall on a cold winter night it definitely fills me with the spirit of Christmas!

Podcast #52- 293 Days to Go!

Pope-ChristmasPodcast #52- Click here to listen to this week’s podcast- Papal Christmas Connections

Natalie & Jeremy are finally back at it!  This wee our discussion centers on the Pope, Vatican City, and Christmas.  LIsten as we discuss all the Papal Christmas facts you need to KNOW.  We also speak a little on making sure you get right to it in this weeks snow for something to DO and PLAN now to plant your holly to have it ready for Christmas 2013.  We get back to regular posts for March too- remember Natalie has days ending in 3 or 8 and Jeremy has the days ending in 5 or 0.  Merry Christmas!!

Human Christmas Tree? Let’s get that project started!

Mona Shores High School Singing Christmas TreeOn Saturday, I was in a store that specializes in wrought iron items, wistfully studying the trellises and other garden decorations, when I came across a selection of wine bottle trees.  None of them, though, come close to the wine bottle Christmas tree that I spent a lot of 2012 Yule Log time wishing to find.

Searching for my elusive metal wine bottle tree online, I stumbled across a much greater curiosity, a human Christmas tree.  Since the 1930’s these “trees” are actually a choir of individuals creating a spectacle of sight and sound.

The Portland Singing Christmas Tree celebrated its 50th anniversary last year.  Their website advertises almost as many performances as the Rockettes, averaging $50 for a ticket.  Community members must audition to perform, and the 2-hour show features guest singers, an orchestra and more.  Their non-profit organization has major corporate sponsors.  It’s an amazing organization with its orgins in a local church in 1962.

The distinction of the oldest outdoor human tree goes to Belhaven University in Mississippi which first performed 80 years ago, but Mona Shores High School seems to be the “darling” of human Christmas Trees, having been featured on the Travel Channel and TLC’s Extreme Christmas as the tallest human tree.  This time-lapsed video shows how it’s put together–that’s really cool!

Once, when my children were little, their grandfather took them to see the human Christmas tree at Arlington Baptist Church in Woodlawn on the outskirts of Baltimore.  I remember it seemed quite spectacular, and the children were mesmerized. I wonder now, by comparison, how spectacular it was?  I found an advertisement from 1995 (which seems about the right time).  The press release detailed a “33-foot-tall singing Christmas tree with 70 singers and 30 actors in five performances. The singers are arranged on a tree-shaped wooden structure fashioned with lights and pine branches.”  I remember that the poinsettias arranged between the choir members were particularly beautiful.

No more recent performances in this area, though.  Jeremy?  Is this a more worthy project than our Bay Bridge Santa Walk?  Let me know–It’s already the end of February, so we need to get started soon!

Make it about Family

Holy FamilyToday was the Feast of the Holy Family.  Well, if you are a regular mass-attending Roman Catholic this wasn’t news to you.  The Sunday between Christmas and Epiphany is designated as a celebration of the Holy Family and all families.  The readings and the lessons today at mass all focused on the family.  The role of father and mother and the relationship to children.  Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were a special and different family for sure.  You might say the original blended family.  The gospel today was about when Mary and Joseph were unable to find the young boy Jesus, who went missing for three days.  They found him, of course, and he had been at his Father’s house.  In his homily Father Kevin talked a great deal about what it means to be a family.  There is no such thing as a perfect family.  Even the Holy Family wasn’t perfect (think about it- a child born out of the wedded relationship, a step-father, an independent child who listened to his own voice).  As families we disagree and argue, find fault with one another, and are most harsh with those we love.  Why?  Because we can be.  We know that family will always be there, they have to.  They are always there, and sometimes we need to take some time apart to be sure we can always love one another fully.

This idea of time apart might seem real appealing to many families right now.  Following the holiday season and a week likely full of meals, visits, and parties with close and extended family you might be thinking of a little solitude.  That’s fine.  Hopefully your holiday was enriched and made better by the time together.  But after a little solitude when will you see your family next?  Will it not be until the holidays in 2013.  Maybe there’s a special anniversary or wedding planned this year.  Perhaps there will be an unexpected illness or funeral to bring family together.  Beyond these types of instances will you be with family this year?  Do you have plans to share, gather, and enjoy one another’s company?  Over and over, the time spent with family and friends is named as the best part of the holiday season.  Why do we not have that same joy throughout the year?  As we wrap up 2012 and lay out our plans and goals for 2013 let’s all try to make family a greater part of what we do for the new year.  Challenge yourself and your family to find ways to connect more regularly.  Think of ways to bring people together, just to be together.  Reach out to family who may have grown distant in recent, or not so recent, years.  Share the stories, traditions, and history of the family with younger members.  Really try to be a holy family all your own!  J, M, J.

The Star of Bethlehem

Star of B2This week we have moved our podcast day to Tuesday.  This is so we can record it at the Earth & Space Science Lab here in Frederick.  We are going to the planetarium show, Mystery of the Christmas Star.  The show description states “Journey back over 2000 years to Bethlehem as we seek to discover a scientific explanation for the star the wise men followed to find the baby Jesus. This modern retelling of the Christmas story is sure to charm and captivate audiences of all ages”.  We are excited to see the show but I thought it might be smart to get a little studying in before the presentation.  I like to have some background information to better enjoy the show.

All of us are familiar with the story of the Star of Bethlehem.  The tale is told through the Gospel of Matthew.  The Star revealed to the Magi the location of the baby Jesus.  The story has been expanded over time to become the center of Christmas celebrations.  The star led those wise men to the manger in Bethlehem where they presented their gifts to the Messiah.  The guiding Star was in the East.  We often see the Star in representations of the Nativity scene, described in the Gospel of Luke.  Curiously the nativity scene is not mentioned in Matthew and the Star is not mentioned in Luke.  Many Christians connect the Star of Bethlehem with the Star Prophecy found in the Book of Numbers.  Christians view and accept the Star as the work of God announcing the arrival of his son, born of Mary, in the town of Bethlehem.  There are some Christian groups that have specific thoughts/views about the Star.  Eastern Orthodox believers know that the Star was a supernatural event that sent an Angel to announce the news.  Mormons see it as an astronomical event that allowed all the world to see the light of God, a symbol of the light he was bringing to the world with the birth of Jesus.  Seventh Day Adventists know the Star was a collection of Angels the lingered after God’s presence.  Jehovah’s Witnesses take a different view on the Star, seen as a product of Satan- leading the Magi to Herod and resulting in his plan to kill the male children in the kingdom.

Star of BThe scientific explanations of the Star of Bethlehem are many.  Since the first telling of the story there have been attempts to explain the star’s appearance using science.  Great attention was given to showing the star was an actual astronomical event.  In 1614 Kepler claimed it was the result of a conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn.  He thought it created a supernova, a theory later disproved).  Others have offered that it might be a comet, maybe even Halley’s Comet.  Chinese astronomers tracked a comet at the time that stayed in the sky with no movement for 70 days.  It was written that it was “hanging over” a city somewhere.  It has even been claimed it was a supernova from the Andromeda Galaxy.   Early translations had the “wise men” as astrologers.  This was altered over time since the early church saw astrology as blasphemy.  Needless to say there is much discussion about the origin and reality of the Star.  A simple Google search will start you on the path of you own exploration.  We’re excited to see what we learn at the planetarium show.  No worries, we’ll be sure to share our new knowledge with all of you!


Saint Francis Xavier, One of the Christmas Saints

Today I decided to do a little reading to find out more about the Saints related to Christmas.  Of course I found most things to be written about the most well-known: St. Mary, St. Joseph, and St. Nicholas.  As I read more and looked to less familiar sites online, I discovered some writings about the “Christmas Saints”.  These are the main Saints with feast days during the advent season.  There are saints for almost every day in the Catholic calendar, but only the “major” saints are considered Christmas Saints.  AS best I can tell, their feasts are celebrated during advent in part because of the important work of these faithful servants.  For today I picked one to find out a little more about, Saint Francis Xavier.

Saint Francis was born in 1506 in Navarre, part of modern-day Spain.  He was the son of an aristocratic family, but much of their wealth and stature was lost when his father died and the Catholic Spanish forces invaded Navarre.  Francis moved to Paris to study and was ready to become an academic as his family had planned.  Instead, he joined with a new friend to devout his life to missionary work.  He was good friends with Ignatius of Loyola and with 5 others they would form the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits. In Paris on Montmartre they took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.  From France he would move first to Venice and then on to Lisbon.  There he would begin his real life’s work as a missionary.  He took out to bring the word to the Peoples of Asia and those Portuguese living in the empire.  He based his work in India and preached to the poorest of the poor.  He lived among them and shared their food and housing.  Much of his work was with lepers and the very sick.  His work moved him into Malaysia and then Japan.  In Japan he would convert the first Japanese Christian.  From Japan he planned to move into mainland China.  Unfortunately he caught fever and died before making the journey.  Saint Francis is said to have converted the most people to Christianity since Saint Paul.  His work with the masses was heavily partnered with music.  Francis put the verses of study to local music to help the indigenous people hear the message.

“What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” (Matthew 16:26)  These words from Jesus are believed to be the ones that caused Saint Francis to devote his life to faithful mission work.  He is included as one of the Christmas Saints because of his tireless efforts to show all people the joy we receive with the arrival of the baby Jesus.  He led a life of pure sacrifice.  Sacrifice is leaving yourself behind at times for a greater good, the good of prayer, the good of helping someone in need, the good of just listening to another. The greatest gift we have is our time. Francis gave his to others.  Pray for his intercession during the advent season if you want your time spent in advent to bear fruit long beyond the season.  He is the patron saint of Japan and of all missionaries.

St. Francis

Misa del Gallo: Roosters and Christmas

Now that our chickens are ranging free in the afternoon, I thought I should check in with my neighbor who also owns a small flock of chickens.  She commented that she often hears our rooster (who doesn’t?) and asked about his size and behaviors.  As I was thinking about Christmas tonight, I was delighted to find that Latinos and other Spanish speaking countries refer to Midnight Mass as “Misa del Gallo” or “Mass of the Rooster.”  This is because the rooster crows the beginning of day, and according to tradition, midnight begins the Christmas day, celebrating the victory of light over darkness. (This is clarified on many websites as 3:00 a.m., but I, for one, am glad that Christmas Mass is not celebrated at 3:00 a.m.!)

Other websites assert that the rooster was present at Jesus’ birth and crowed to all of the other animals to announce the arrival, representing the Christian virtue of watchfulness and readiness.  Another tradition says that the rooster crows all through the the night on Christmas Eve and well into Christmas morning to keep the evil spirits from spoiling the holy time. Protestant churches often feature a rooster to represent several concepts, including both the birth and the Resurrection (reminding the viewer of Peter’s denial of Christ as described in Luke).  In some European traditions, the rooster is on the roof of the nativity scene. The rooster has special significance in many cultures.  Now thatI think about it, I’m certain my mom has a rooster in her nativity set!

According to the description of Misa del Gallo, some people bring roosters to the Mass.  I know that Roger often picks up our rooster, Russell Crow, but I don’t know if he would want to take Russell to Mass!  What a racket that would be!

Traditional O Come All You Faithful

Yesterday Natalie shared some pretty wild and crazy versions of our song of the week.  Being here amongst the tradition and the formal and proper feel of London, I had to share just a couple of more traditional versions.  Please listen to them at your leisure and enjoy.  I have made an Olympic connection to each to tie-in with my trip.  Christmas is alive and well in music here on the other side of the pond,

Luciano Pavarotti– Here the classic tenor sings in Montreal with the Boys Choir.  His version of Adeste Fideles was one that my family always had planning since I was a small child.  Olympic connection:  Pavarotti performed at the Opening Ceremonies for the 2006 Torino Games and I was present for the show.  It turned out to be his last public performance before his death soon after.

St. Paul’s Cathedral– This recording features the musicians and singers from St. Paul’s Cathedral in celebration for Christmas.  It is one of the more formal and traditional versions you might come across.  Olympic Connection: St. Paul’s has been a site of special services to welcome the games and the athletes of the world three times (1908, 1948, 2012).  The Cathedral was also the setting for the 1981 Charles & Diana wedding for all you Royal watchers.

Susan Boyle– This is a recording from the famous British’s Got Talent competition reality show.  Natalie this one is for you!  (No Olympic connection)