Tuesday, March 31, 2009

An Honorary Canon

In 2007 the President of the French Republic, Nicolas Sarkozy, was installed as the honorary canon of the Basilica of St. John Lateran. This honor was not bestowed upon President Sarkozy due to his personal merits or personal wealth and power, but solely because he is the French head of state. The first French head of state to receive such an honor was Henri IV in 1604. In gratitude for his conversion to Catholicism, Henri IV had made a substantial donation to the Chapter of canons of the basilica. According to 30Days:

...Specifically to manifest his recognition toward the Church of Rome, whose pardon had allowed this reconciliation, Henry IV made a notable donation to the Lateran Chapter in 1604. And one of the clauses of this donation established that the Chapter would celebrate a mass every year on the day of the King’s birthday (13 December) specifically for the prosperity of France.

Now times are changed, there has been no monarchy in France for more than a hundred and fifty years, but the mass of Saint Lucy continues to be celebrated punctually every year....

In those days, in order to thank a person of means for giving a donation to the Church the ecclesiastical authorities, namely the Pope, would bestow an honorary office. Protestants have always thought such customs to be strange and worldly, although it should be obvious that without monetary patronage there would be no great religious art or architecture.

The Kings of France who followed Henry IV were accorded the same honorary office of canon, as have some of the French presidents, including Sarkozy. It is not because of the personal prestige of any of those men, rather it is clear that the Holy See has seen the importance of emphasizing the tie between the Lateran basilica, the Pope's own Church, and the people of France. France has long been called the "Eldest Daughter of the Church," because in 496 she became one of the first countries of Europe to embrace the Faith. The "Eldest Daughter of the Church" is not a title the French people invented about themselves for some form of self-glorification, rather it has been repeatedly bestowed upon them by the popes, to signify a unique vocation. The tradition of making the French head of state an honorary canon of St. John Lateran may seem to some to be an empty gesture in these times of declining faith. It is more than just a gesture, however, for it symbolizes an ancient pact and a tie which, in spite of revolution and apostasy, has never been entirely severed.

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The Monastic Cellarer

Feminine Genius discusses the duties of the cellarer in the Benedictine Rule and how so much of it is imitable for all walks of life. Share

Monday, March 30, 2009

In Paperback



Mistress of the Revolution by Catherine Delors
has been available in paperback for about a month now. I am glad for Catherine, who has been a great friend to this blog and to me. As every writer knows, it is an immense help to receive encouragement and support from other writers. I am also pleased that some words from my original review have been included among the editorial reviews on both Amazon.com and Penguin.com. It is heartening to share in the success of one's friends! Share

Natasha Remembered

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The Paris Apartment has some lovely photos of actress Natasha Richardson, who died recently in a very strange accident. The photos are from the magnificent film The White Countess, about an exiled Russian noblewoman fallen on hard times. Share

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Passiontide

Today we veil the statues of our home altar with purple cloth, in observance of Passiontide. Although the Fifth Sunday of Lent is not designated as "Passion Sunday" on the new calendar, it is still permissible to cover the statues and sacred images during this week and the next. It really helps to create a spirit of mourning in honor of the sufferings of Our Lord. The Church offers a treasury of beautiful hymns which draw the soul into the mystery of Christ's passion and death.

As Abbot Gueranger writes in The Liturgical Year, Vol VI:
Let us hope that, by God's mercy, the holy time we are now entering upon will work such a happy change in us, that, on the day of judgment, we may confidently fix our eyes on Him we are now about to contemplate crucified in the hands of sinners. The death of Jesus puts the whole of nature in commotion; the midday sun is darkened, the earth is shaken to its very foundations, the rocks are split; may it be that our hearts, too, be moved and pass from indifference to fear, from fear to hope, and, at length from hope to love; so that having gone down with our Crucified to the very depths of sorrow, we may deserve to rise with Him unto light and joy, beaming with the brightness of His Resurrection, and having within ourselves the pledge of new life, which shall then die no more.
During Passiontide, it is good to reflect upon the nature of envy and jealousy, for it is envy and jealousy which killed Jesus.
Envy disrupts social life generally. It sets the child against the father, brother against brother, neighbor against neighbor, and nation against nation. It kills friendship, undermines business relationships, and hinders reconciliation. It is one of the chief sources of misunderstanding, criticism, hatred, vengeance, calumny, detraction, and perverse attacks upon private life.

Envy and greed, the source of the world's unrest and wars, are sins against charity, because they make us seek what belongs to others. Often, even at the cost of harm to our neighbor, we want what does not belong to us....The envious person becomes distrustful, unjust, suspicious. Envy makes its victims ill-tempered, sad, and unapproachable....

Jealousy implies the fear of being displaced by a rival, or of being deprived of that which is rightfully ours or of that which we think ought to be ours. Jealousy is anther form of envy. Jealousy has to do with our own possessions, whereas envy has to do with the possessions of others. We resent an intrusion upon that which belongs to us, and we are prone to become vengeful at this disregard of our rights and claims.

Jealousy goes a step further than envy; it not only tries to lessen the good opinion others enjoy and criticizes those who are praised and rewarded, but is characterized by an excessive love of our own personal good and brings on a fear that we will be deprived of it. Jealousy prefers to see good left undone rather than lose a single degree of praise.
(Excerpt from The Hidden Power of Kindness by Father Lawrence Lovasik, Sophia Institute Press, 1999, pp.62-63) Share

Good Manners Down Under

I always dread being an "ugly American" when traveling abroad and so like to read up on the customs of other countries. Sometimes we take for granted that just because we Americans do things a certain way everyone else does so, too, and of course that is not the case. Every foreign traveler should remember that you are an ambassador of your country. I was delighted to find a page about New Zealand Etiquette Tips which hopefully is accurate. Share

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Redouté

File:Lilium superbum (Lithographie, Pierre-Joseph Redoute).jpg

Since both Marie-Antoinette and Empress Josephine had an interest in gardens it is not surprising that each patronized the botanical artist Pierre-Joseph Redouté. Redouté survived the Revolution to become famous in the Napoleonic era. He is particularly famous for his exquisite roses and lilies. According to Global Gallery.com:
Over his long career, Redouté painted the gardens at the Petit Trianon of Queen Marie-Antoinette as her official court artist and, during the revolution and Reign of Terror, he was appointed to document gardens which became national property. However, during the patronage of the generous Empress Josephine, Redouté's career flourished and he produced his most sumptuous books portraying plants from places as distant as Japan, South Africa and Australia as well as Europe and America.
After Josephine's death, Redouté's significant fortunes fell until appointed as a master of design for the Museum d'Histoire Naturelle in 1822 and awarded a Chevalier of the Legion d'Honneur in 1825. Although particularly renowned for his botanical exploration of roses and lilies, he thereafter produced paintings purely for aesthetic poses including the celebrated "Choix des plus belles Fleurs."

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Truth and Freedom of Expression

Scott Richert discusses the nature of truth and freedom in the light of the ongoing Notre Dame controversy. More HERE. Share

Friday, March 27, 2009

Tess Redux


After having recommended the recent BBC production of Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Parts I and II, I was delighted to receive the following insightful letter from writer Steve LaTulippe, published here with his permission:
Ms. Vidal:

I took your advice the other day and watched BBC's Tess of the d'Urbervilles (although, in some ways, I wish I hadn't).

I agree with you that it was a wonderful production, and the plot was absolutely spellbinding. As the story began its tragic downward spiral, I kept hoping against hope that a man - any man - would step forward and save her from her fate.

Instead, every man in her life failed her. Her father was a gluttonous fool, Alec was a lecherous sleaze, and Angel betrayed her in a truly unbelievable fashion (and let's not forget the sadistic farm manager, who seemed to delight in the misery of downtrodden women).

By the story's end, one thought was foremost in my mind: Tess' world was totally bereft of chivalry.

Many people today (especially feminists) deride chivalry as an archaic and insulting cultural artifact from the Dark Ages. In truth, chivalry is vital to the maintenance of civilization, since it sprang from Christ's message that the strong have the obligation to care for and protect the weak. Christ thus inverted what had been the general practice throughout pagan civilization (where the the young, the strong, and the beautiful were free to trample the weak and the vulnerable.)

In my days as a military officer, I had the occasion to travel to lands where chivalry never came into being. I've seen cultures where young men sit around and drink all day while women and children toil in horrifying filth. I vividly recall one incident when I helped a native woman carry a bucket of water. The mens' responses ranged from laughter (why would I be so stupid as to help a mere woman?) to anger (how dare I break their cultural taboos that defined such work as being only fit for women!)

Such is a world without chivalry, and it isn't pretty.

Tess was a beautiful young woman with a good head and a fierce sense of pride (in the best sense of the term). Any man with half a brain should have been eternally grateful to have such a woman as his wife.

Unfortunately, there were no men in her world with anywhere near half a brain.

In the end, she didn't deserve what she got, which broke my heart.

Steve LaTulippe, MD
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Slander, Calumny, and Detraction

Here is an old but excellent post by Father Jim Tucker about calumny and detraction. If we do nothing else, let us at least work on rooting out such bad habits. I have seen more friendships and relationships in church-related groups destroyed by gossip and slander, as well as unity in extended families. Catholics who are already beleaguered by the unbelieving world often find rejection in the Church due to some careless gossip. Be careful what you say about people, even if you know what you say is true. It is also not good to repeat and spread gossip. Only God knows all the details; only He knows both sides of the story. Those who share beliefs should support each other, not tear each other down. Share

"To Make Bears Dance"

The art of Flaubert in Madame Bovary.
Sometimes we find a novel that uses images in a brilliant and beautiful way, but the poetry of these images almost runs like a counter plot to the book--that is, they run parallel with the story but are not part of it. In Madame Bovary, it is the images that raise the pathetic story of Madame Bovary to the level of art that is concerned with profound matters. His precise and poetic use of language serves to bring out the truth of the psychological moment, to say that which is so difficult "to put into words."
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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette Down Under

In three weeks I will be in New Zealand, called Aotearoa, the "land of the long white cloud," speaking at the Eucharistic Convention about King Louis XVI, Queen Marie-Antoinette and their family. This will be the first time in history (that I am aware of ) that both the King and the Queen will be receiving recognition for their Catholic faith at an official Catholic event. I think this says a great deal for the foresight and innovative spirit of the New Zealanders and their ability to think outside the box.

It is no small coincidence that Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette were fascinated with Oceania, having each heard of the discoveries of Captain James Cook. Captain Cook was the first European to circumnavigate New Zealand. His explorations were acclaimed all over Europe; it is said that when news of his death came to Versailles in 1779, the Queen burst into tears. Later, in her cell in the Conciergerie, one of the few books provided for Marie-Antoinette was The Voyages of Captain Cook, which was said to have been her favorite.

In 1785 Louis XVI commissioned the naval hero La Pérouse to outfit two ships for an expedition to explore the unknown regions of the Pacific Ocean in the wake of Captain Cook. Louis did not want the British to outstrip the French in nautical explorations. The king, who was a skilled amateur cartographer and geographer, painstakingly mapped out the voyage which lasted for three years. The adventurers pinpointed the exact location of previously unknown Pacific Islands. As Catherine Delors has written:
Louis XVI, as I have noted earlier in this blog, was far from the imbecile he is sometimes made to appear. The King was what we would call an intellectual, and had a passion for geography and cartography. He wished to launch a major maritime expedition whose goal would no be not military conquest, but scientific discovery, the correction of existing maps and the establishment of new trade routes, in particular across the Pacific.

















Louis XVI chose Lapérouse to head the expedition (both men are represented in this painting, the King seated, and Lapérouse in his uniform.) The navigator sailed from France in 1785, only four years before the start of the Revolution. He had been entrusted with two merchant ships and a crew of 220 men, including an astronomer, a physician, three biologists, a mathematician and three draftsmen. Even the Catholic priests who were part of the expedition as chaplains were trained as scientists (the two being perfectly compatible.)

The expedition crossed the Atlantic and reached Cape Horn, at the southern tip of South America, in January 1786. It later explored Chile, Easter Island, Hawaii (there is still a place in Maui called Lapérouse Bay,) Alaska, California, where Lapérouse found much to criticize in the treatment of Native Americans, Japan, Russia, the Philippines, Taiwan, Korea, Tonga, Samoa, Australia...

The expedition seems to have floundered off the coast of Vanikoro, in the modern-day Solomon Islands, in 1788. The disappearance of Lapérouse, his crew and his ships caused much speculation at the time.

Louis XVI himself allegedly asked, on the morning of his execution, on January 21, 1793: "Is there any news of Monsieur de Lapérouse?" I make no guarantees as to the accuracy of this quote, but it is emblematic of the deposed King's personal sympathy for the explorer, and the level of public interest in the fate of the expedition. The shipwreck was not traced until decades later and many questions remain about the circumstances of the disaster.
It is interesting that even amid their misfortunes, the thoughts of the King and the Queen went to the mysterious lands on the other side of the world. Marie-Antoinette, other than journeying from Austria to France in 1770, never traveled (it would have cost too much money) and she never saw the ocean. Louis saw the Atlantic ocean once, but never crossed it; as a geographer he probably longed to explore the ends of the earth had it been compatible with his duties as king. His vicarious explorations of Oceania by means of La Pérouse meant a great deal to him. As mentioned above, it is telling that on the morning of his death he asked: "Is there any news of Monsieur de La Pérouse?" Share

Christianity in Ethiopia

Nigra sum sed formosa. Share

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Annunciation

The solemnity of the Annunciation is today. Here is a reflection from Divine Intimacy by Father Gabriel of Saint Mary Magdalen, OCD:

The Angel's explanation does not prevent future events and circumstances from remaining hidden and obscure to Mary. She finds herself face to face with a mystery, a mystery which she knows intuitively to be rich in suffering; for she has learned from the Sacred Scriptures that the Redeemer will be a man of sorrows, sacrificed for the salvation of mankind. Therefore, the ineffable joy of the divine maternity is presented to her wrapped in a mystery of sorrow: to be willing to be the Mother of the Son of God means consenting to be the Mother of one condemned to death. Yet Mary accepts everything in her fiat: in the joy as well as in the sorrow of the mystery, she has but one simple answer: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord."

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A Chance to Live

Kate Wicker on what babies need most.
Since becoming a mother myself, I've encountered many devoted moms...who are vehement defenders of babies, children, and their needs. Some of these same women are also pro-choice. It's a juxtaposition that confounds me: These women often have no problem with shaking their heads over moms who don't breastfeed their babies, or those parents who allow their little ones to "cry it out" alone in their cribs. But they see no reason to give babies in utero any defense whatsoever.
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Trash and More Trash

There are many historical errors in Angels and Demons, some of which are so ridiculous you wonder how anyone with half a brain could read such garbage, much less spend time making a movie about it.
And what are the Illuminati up to? In the book it says that “the Illuminati were hunted ruthlessly by the Catholic Church.” In a trailer for the movie, Tom Hanks, who plays Langdon, says of the secret society that “The Catholic Church ordered a brutal massacre to silence them forever. They’ve come for their revenge.” On pp. 39-40 in the book, it says the Illuminati were founded in the 1500s; the movie says the same. On p. 223, it says that “Word of Galileo’s brotherhood started to spread in the 1630s, and scientists from around the world made secret pilgrimages to Rome hoping to join the Illuminati….”

The film’s director, Ron Howard, concurs: “The Illuminati were formed in the 1600s. They were artists and scientists like Galileo and Bernini, whose progressive ideas threatened the Vatican.” Brown, on his website, hammers this point home: “It is a historical fact that the Illuminati vowed vengeance against the Vatican in the 1600s. The early Illuminati—those of Galileo’s day—were expelled from Rome by the Vatican and hunted mercilessly.”

* Lies about the Illuminati: The truth is that not a single member of the Illuminati was ever hunted, much less killed, by the Catholic Church. Exactly who the Illuminati were shows how bogus Brown’s claims are. The Illuminati were founded by a law professor, Adam Weishaupt, in Bavaria on May 1, 1776. It didn’t last long: it totally collapsed in 1787. This isn’t a matter of dispute, so dragging Galileo into this fable is downright dishonest—he died in 1642, almost a century and a half before the Illuminati was founded. Brown must know all this because on his own website there is a section on the Illuminati that correctly identifies its founding in 1776!
Amid the laughable nonsense are some seriously pejorative statements about the nature and mission of the Church. And I really do not understand why Brown decided to pick on Pius XI in such a grotesque manner. (Via Spirit Daily) Share

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Alone in the Temple

Départ de Madame Elisabeth
On May 9, 1794, Madame Elisabeth of France, sister of Louis XVI, was taken away to her death, leaving her teenage niece Marie-Thérèse alone in the prison. The princess later described her experiences in her Memoirs:
Until the 9th of May nothing extraordinary happened. On that day, at the moment we were going to bed, the outside bolts of the doors were drawn, and a knocking was heard. My aunt begged of them to wait till she had put on her gown; but you answered that they could not wait, and knocked so violently, that they were near bursting open the door. When she was dressed, she opened the door, and they immediately said to her, "Citizen, come down." — "And my niece?" — "We shall take care of her afterwards." She embraced me; and, in order to calm my agitation, promised to return. "No, citizen," said they, "you shall not return:— take your bonnet, and come along." They overwhelmed her with the grossest abuse. She bore it all patiently, and embraced me again, exhorting me to have confidence in Heaven, to follow the principles of religion in which I had been educated, and never to forget the last commands of my father and mother. She then left me....

It is impossible to imagine my distress at finding myself separated from my aunt. I did not know what had become of her, and could not learn. I passed the night in great anxiety, but, though very uneasy, I was far from believing that her death was so near. Sometimes I tried to persuade myself that they would only banish her from France, but, when I considered the manner in which she had been carried off, all my fears revived.

~ Private Memoirs, by Madame Royale, Duchess of Angoulême, translated by John Wilson Croker. London: John Murray, Albemarle Street, 1823, pp. 259-260, 264

Drawing of Madame Royale in prison by a commissary.


The winter passed quietly enough: the keepers were civil, and even lighted my fire for me; they allowed me as much fire-wood as I wanted, which pleased me greatly. They also gave me such books as I wished for. Laurent had already procured me several. My greatest misfortune now was, that I could hear no tidings of my mother and aunt. I did not even venture to ask after my uncles or my great aunt, but I thought constantly of them all.

~Private Memoirs
, by Madame Royale, Duchess of Angoulême, translated by John Wilson Croker. London: John Murray, Albemarle Street, 1823, p. 276

Madame Royale writing her memoirs in the garden of the Temple with Madame de Chantereine, by Edward Matthew Ward.
She did not know why she had been spared. Her inner suffering increased, as her soul discovered it is sometimes more agonizing to live than to die. Meanwhile, the citizens of Paris began to remember her. They stood on the roofs of neighboring houses so they could glimpse their princess when she went for a walk in the garden....It was decided to get her out of the way, by exchanging her with French prisoners of war taken by the Austrians....Kindly Parisians sent her a dog and a baby goat for company. It was only with them that she displayed the glimmer of a smile, as she ran through the garden with her pets, a young girl once more.

~from Trianon by Elena Maria Vidal, Chapter Nine: "The Orphan"

Marie-Thérèse de France was exchanged in October, 1795, for the four commissioners of the Convention delivered up to Austria by Dumouriez in April, 1793. She left the Tower of the Temple during the night of December 18, 1795. That tragic building... was razed to the ground by order of Napoleon in 1811. Until then could be read, scratched upon the wall of the room where the child, Marie-Thérèse, lived her solitary life, these piteous words:–

"Marie-Thérèse is the most unhappy creature in the world. She can obtain no news of her mother; nor be reunited to her, though she has asked it a thousand times."

"Live, my good mother! whom I love well, but of whom I can hear no tidings."

"O my father! watch over me from heaven above."

O my God! forgive those who have made my family die."

~From Ruin of a Princess

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Death of Elizabeth I

Queen Elizabeth I, c. 1600
On March 24, 1603 Queen Elizabeth of England died, after weeks of ill-health, struggling with deep melancholy. She refused to lie down but would remain standing for hours. It is interesting that in spite of her persecution of Catholics out of what she saw to be political expediency, the queen's personal religious inclinations tended to be more Catholic than Protestant. Most Catholic sacramentals, such as relics, agnus deis and medals, were proscribed as being "papist superstitions." It is ironic that the queen in her fear of death took to fingering a gold amulet. It has been alleged that the gold piece was sent to the queen by an old Welsh woman with the promise that as long as Elizabeth wore it she would not die. Agnes Strickland, in her Lives of the Queens of England, claims that although there is no solid proof for the story of the Welsh woman, Elizabeth indeed wore the amulet around her neck. Her physical conditioned worsened, as did her emotional state, although she claimed she "knew of nothing in this world worthy of troubling her." In her last moments, when the Archbishop of Canterbury offered some prayers, she became more peaceful. Share

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Queen's Agony


Her neck never stopped aching from the vise-like grip with which his short arms had locked around her, refusing to let go, as the commissaries began to drag him from her arms. His cries of "Maman! Maman!" echoed within her still. Her heart was not broken, it was gone. ~from Trianon by Elena Maria Vidal, Chapter Seven: "The Sacrifice"

On July 3, 1793, eight year old Louis XVII was forcibly removed from his mother the Queen. His sister Madame Royale later described the scene thus:

On the 3d of July, they read to us a decree of the Convention, that my brother should be separated from us, and placed in the most secure apartment of the tower. As p223soon as he heard this sentence pronounced, he threw himself into the arms of my mother, and entreated, with violent cries, than to be separated from her. My mother was stricken to the earth by this cruel order; she would not part with her son, and she actually defended, against the efforts of the officers, the bed in which she had placed him. But these men would have him, and threatened to call up the guard, and use violence. My mother exclaimed, that they had better kill her than tear the child from her. An hour was spent in resistance on her part, and in prayers and tears on the part of all of us.

At last they threatened even the lives of both him and me, and my mother's maternal tenderness at length forced her to this sacrifice. My aunt and I dressed the child, for my poor mother had no longer strength for any thing. Nevertheless, when he was dressed, she took him and delivered him herself into the hands of the officers, bathing him with her tears, foreseeing that she was never to see him again. The poor little fellow embraced us all tenderly, and was carried off in a flood of tears. My mother charged the officers to ask the council-general for permission to see her son, were it only at meals. They engaged to do so. She was overwhelmed with the sorrow of parting with him, but her horror was extreme when she heard that one Simon62 (a shoemaker by trade, whom she had seen as a municipal officer in the Temple), was the person to whom her unhappy child was confided. She asked continually to be allowed to see him, but in vain. He, on his side, cried for two whole days, and begged without intermission to be permitted to see us.

~Private Memoirs, by Madame Royale, Duchess of Angoulême, translated by John Wilson Croker. London: John Murray, Albemarle Street, 1823, pp 223-225.

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Evening Conversation



How people spent their evenings in Jane Austen's time.
During the regency era, men and women spent the day separately, pursuing their own interests and schedules. It was perfectly permissable to spend a morning alone writing letters, reading to oneself, or riding, but after dinner families and friends were obligated to entertain each other with conversation, musical performances, parlor games and cards, or reading aloud. For most families, candles were considered a luxury, and, except for the richest families, most families could only afford to burn a few at a time. After dinner a family would assemble in one candlelit room to spend an evening together.
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Mike on BlogTalk Radio

Yesterday my husband was on BlogTalk Radio for what was barely a "tweet" but he made the most of it and did a wonderful job. We're so proud of him. (Mike comes on about five minutes into the podcast, right before Tim O'Reilly.) Share

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Laetare Sunday

Laetare Jerusalem: et conventum facite omnes qui diligitis eam: gaudete cum laetitia, qui in tristitia fuistis: ut exsultetis, et satiemini ab uberibus consolationis vestrae. (Psalm) Laetatus sum in his, quae dicta sunt mihi: in domum Domini ibimus. Gloria Patri.

Rejoice, O Jerusalem: and come together all you that love her: rejoice with joy, you that have been in sorrow: that you may exult, and be filled from the breasts of your consolation. (Psalm) I rejoiced at the things that were said to me: we shall go into the house of the Lord. Glory be to the Father.

~Entrance Antiphon for the Fourth Sunday of Lent


It is Laetare Sunday. As Fr. Mark explains so well:
Jerusalem is, according to the psalmist, “the dwelling of all joy” (cf. Ps 86:7). In Rome, where the Lenten liturgy is celebrated in ancient stational churches, the Mass of Laetare Sunday is set in the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem. In that context, the great cry, “Jerusalem!” has a special resonance. You may ask why this basilica came to be called “in Jerusalem” when, in fact, it stands in Rome. In antiquity, it was called simply, “Jerusalem.” To go to the Basilica of the Holy Cross was to go “up to Jerusalem.” When, in the year 326, Saint Helena returned from the Holy Land, laden with relics, she had with her the most astonishing treasure: she had filled the entire hold of a ship with earth excavated from the holy places in Jerusalem. She had this sacred earth from Jerusalem deposited beneath the Sessorian palace that, enriched with relics of Our Lord’s blessed Cross and Passion, was to become her own church. Saint Helena’s church became “Jerusalem come to Rome.”
Here is a meditation from The Liturgical Year by Abbot Gueranger, O.S.B.:
This Sunday, called, from the first word of the Introit, Lætare Sunday, is one of the most solemn of the year. The Church interrupts her lenten mournfulness; the chants of the Mass speak of nothing but joy and consolation; the organ, which has been silent during the preceding three Sundays, now gives forth its melodious voice; the deacon resumes his dalmatic, and the subdeacon his tunic; and instead of purple, rose-coloured vestments are allowed to be used. These same rites were practised in Advent, on the third Sunday, called Gaudete. The Church's motive for introducing this expression of joy into today's liturgy is to encourage her children to persevere fervently to the end of this holy season. The real mid-Lent was last Thursday, as we have already observed; but the Church, fearing lest the joy might lead to some infringement on the spirit of penance, has deferred her own notice of it to this Sunday, when she not only permits, but even bids, her children to rejoice!...

The blessing of the golden rose is one of the ceremonies peculiar to the fourth Sunday of Lent, which is called on this account Rose Sunday. The thoughts suggested by this flower harmonize with the sentiments wherewith the Church would now inspire her children. The joyous time of Easter is soon to give them a spiritual spring, of which that of nature is but a feeble image.

Hence, we cannot be surprised that the institution of this ceremony is of a very ancient date. We find it observed under the pontificate of St. Leo IX (eleventh century); and we have a sermon on the golden rose preached by the glorious Pope Innocent III, on this Sunday, and in the basilica of Holy Cross in Jerusalem. In the middle ages, when the Pope resided in the Lateran palace, having first blessed the rose, he went on horseback to the church of the Station. He wore the mitre, was accompanied by all the Cardinals, and held the blessed flower in his hand. Having reached the basilica, he made a discourse on the mysteries symbolized by the beauty, the colour, and the fragrance of the rose. Mass was then celebrated.

After the Mass, the Pope returned to the Lateran palace. Surrounded by the sacred college, he rode across the immense plain which separates the two basilicas, with the mystic flower still in his hand. We may imagine the joy of the people as they gazed upon the holy symbol. When the procession had reached the palace gates, if there were a prince present, it was his privilege to hold the stirrup, and assist the Pontiff to dismount; for which filial courtesy he received the rose, which had received so much honour and caused such joy. ~ Dom Gueranger's The Liturgical Year, Vol. V

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The Twitter Manifestation

What is it about? Why are we tweeting? (Via Spirit Daily)
And this is why Twitter has become such a sensation. It’s simply a manifestation of our need for relationship. We want people to know who we are and what we’re doing, and we want to know about other people. God designed us with the deep desire to have relationship with Him. And ultimately, fulfilling that desire is the purpose of our existence. We were created for relationship with God.
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Saturday, March 21, 2009

Les Adieux



On January 20, 1793, Louis XVI said farewell to his family. He was taken to the guillotine the next morning. Madame Royale later recorded their last meeting; it is said that she fainted when saying good-bye to her father.
About seven o'clock in the evening we learned the sentence by the newsmen, who came crying it under our windows: a decree of the Convention permitted us to see the King. We ran to his apartment, and found him much altered; he wept for us, not for fear of death; he related his trial to my mother, apologizing for the wretches who had condemned him; he told her, that it was proposed to attempt to save him by having recourse to the primary assemblies, but that he would not consent, lest it should excite confusion in the country. He then gave my brother some religious advice, and desired, him above all, to forgive those who caused his death and he gave him his blessing, as well as to me.

My mother was very desirous that the whole family should pass the night with my father; but he opposed this, observing to her how much he needed some hours of repose and quiet. She asked at least to be allowed to see him next morning, to which he consented. But, when we were gone, he requested that we might not be permitted to return, as our presence afflicted him too much. He then remained with his confessor till midnight, when he went to bed....

Such was the life of my father during his rigorous captivity. In it were displayed piety, greatness of mind, and goodness; — mildness, fortitude, and patience, in bearing the most infamous insults, the most malignant calumnies; — Christian clemency, which heartily forgave even his murderers; — and the love of God, his family, and his people, of which he gave the most affecting proofs, even with his last breath, and of which he went to receive the reward in the bosom of his almighty and all-merciful Creator.

~ Private Memoirs, by Madame Royale, Duchess of Angoulême, translated by John Wilson Croker. London: John Murray, Albemarle Street, 1823, pp. 199-203

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When the House is a Mess

I am at my computer a lot, and when I am not writing, emailing, blogging, tweeting and facebooking, I am on the phone, running errands, at church, cooking and generally busy with my family. Keeping house is not my highest priority. My friends all know this to be true. It is not a virtue, I confess. To be so absorbed in one's children and one's projects that housekeeping falls by the wayside is a fault.

For my mother and both of my grandmothers, keeping the house in order was a top priority. My Irish grandma had a large family but kept an orderly home. She did not make having a lots of children into an excuse to be sloppy. But then, she did not have a computer and did not spend hours a day blogging, tweeting and facebooking. She organized her time and never wasted a minute.

Nevertheless, I keep coming across articles on the internet that give the impression that chaos and disorder in the home is a sign of true blue Catholicity. Sloppy living is not a virtue, no matter how many children one has. Having a messy house is not some sign of high spirituality. If your house is a mess it means you're a slob. Let us not glamorize a trait which might be an imperfection at best and at worst, the vice of sloth. Share

Friday, March 20, 2009

Life in the Temple Prison



In August 1792, Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette, their children, and Louis' sister Madame Elisabeth were incarcerated in the Temple Prison. Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte later described their experiences in her Memoirs:
The following is the way our family passed their days.

My father rose at seven, and was employed in his devotions till eight. Afterwards he dressed himself and my brother, and at nine came to breakfast with my mother. After breakfast, my father taught my brother his lessons till eleven. The child then played till twelve, at which hour the whole family was obliged to walk in the garden, whatever the weather might be; because the guard, which was relieved at the time, wished to see all the prisoners, and satisfy themselves that we were safe. The walk lasted till dinner, which was at two o'clock. After dinner my father and mother played at tric-trac or piquet, or, to speak more truly, pretended to play, that they might have an opportunity of saying a few words to one another. At four o'clock, my mother and we went up stairs and took my brother with us, as my father was accustomed to sleep a little at this hour. At six my brother went down again to my father to say his lessons, and to play till supper-time. After supper, at nine o'clock, my mother undressed him quickly, and put him to bed. We then went up to our own apartment again, and the King did not go to bed till eleven. My mother worked a good deal of tapestry: she directed my studies, and often made me read aloud. My aunt was frequently in prayer, and read every morning the divine service of the day. She read a good many religious books, and sometimes, at the Queen's request, would read aloud.

~ Private Memoirs, by Madame Royale, Duchess of Angoulême, translated by John Wilson Croker. London: John Murray, Albemarle Street, 1823, pp.183-185

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Stations of the Cross

They date back to the fourth century.

The emperor Constantine permitted Christians to legally worship in the Roman Empire in 313 after 250 years of persecution. In 335, he erected the Church of the Holy Sepulcher at the site where Jesus’ tomb was believed to have been.

Processions of pilgrims to the church, especially during Holy Week, began soon after its completion.

A woman named Egeria, a pilgrim from France, described one such pilgrimage which took place in the fourth century. The bishop of Jerusalem and about 200 pilgrims began "at the first cockcrow" at the site of Jesus’ agony on Holy Thursday night. They said a prayer, sung a hymn, and heard a Gospel passage, then went to the garden of Gethsemane and repeated the procedure.

They continued to Jerusalem itself, "reaching the (city) gate about the time when one man begins to recognize another, and thence right on through the midst of the city. All, to a man, both great and small, rich and poor, all are ready there, for on that special day not a soul withdraws from the vigils until morning," Egeria wrote.

Pilgrimages eventually took a fixed route from the ruins of the Fortress Antonia, where Pilate had his judgment hall, to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. That route through Jerusalem’s Old City gained acceptance as the way Jesus went to his death and remains unchanged today. It is known as the Via Dolorosa, Latin for the "Sorrowful Way."

Stops developed on the way to note specific events on the road to Calvary. In many cases, the pilgrims could only guess where some incidents took place because Jerusalem had been almost completely destroyed by Roman armies in 70 A.D.

The pilgrims brought back oil from the lamps that burned around Jesus’ tomb and relics from the holy places, and sometimes tried to recreate in Europe what they had seen in the Holy Land. The Moslem conquest of Palestine in the seventh century made such shrines more significant, since it made travel to the Holy Land dangerous.

Devotions to the Way of the Cross began in earnest after 1342, when the Franciscan friars were given custody of the holy sites in the Holy Land. The Franciscans have been closely identified with the devotion ever since; for years, Church regulations required a set of the stations to be blessed by a Franciscan when possible.

The number of stations varied widely, with some manuals of devotion listing as many as 37. The term "stations" in describing the Way of the Cross was first used in the narrative of an English pilgrim, William Wey, who visited the Holy Land twice in the 15th century.

Depictions of the events described in the Stations did not start becoming common in churches until Pope Innocent XI permitted the Franciscans in 1686 to erect such displays in all their churches. He also declared that all indulgences given for visiting the sacred sites in the Holy Land would apply to any Franciscan or Franciscan lay affiliate visiting a set of stations in a church.

Pope Benedict XIII extended that privilege to all the faithful in 1726. Five years later, Pope Clement XII allowed all churches to have stations and fixed the number at 14, where it has been ever since. In recent years, many churches have included the Resurrection as a 15th station. Benedict XIV specifically urged every church in 1742 to enrich its sanctuary with stations.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

St. Joseph's Life of Faith

The following is an excerpt from Divine Intimacy by Father Gabriel of Saint Mary Magdalen, O.C.D:
St. Joseph's whole life may be summed up as a continual adherence to the Divine plan, even in situations which were very obscure and mysterious to him. In our life, too, there is always some mystery, either because God is pleased to work in a hidden, secret manner or because His action is always incomprehensible to our poor human intelligence. Therefore, we need that glance of faith, that complete confidence which, relying on the infinite goodness of God, convinces us that He always and in all circumstances wills our good and disposes everything to that end. Only this loving trust will permit us, like Joseph, always to say yes to every manifestation of the divine will, a humble, prompt, trustful yes, in spite of the obscurities, the difficulties, the mystery.... (p. 1131)
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The Keys of the Kingdom

The Western Confucian discusses A.J. Cronin's The Keys of the Kingdom, the story of a Scottish Catholic missionary priest in China. Share

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Six Wives of Henry VIII

The Six Wives of Henry VIII

I bought Alison Weir's The Six Wives of Henry VIII to read at the beach one summer. I thought it would be helpful to have a refresher course on Henry VIII and his ladies from one of the best popular historical writers and scholars. I could hardly put it down. It surpasses most novels in readability and intrigue. Since Henry was married to Katherine of Aragon the longest, there is more about her and I learned more than ever before about that stubborn, passionate, implacable queen. The loss of so many of their children cast a pall upon their once joyful union. Henry seemed to have so much guilt attached to his marriage with Katherine; one wonders if it was because she was, as Henry himself testified, "buxom" in the bedchamber. Katherine was a saint but also a woman. Even when he was trying to have her annulled he would still visit her; I think that deep down he loved Katherine, which makes his obsession with Anne Boleyn seem all the more unwholesome and unhinged.

When Anne Boleyn enters the story, one tragedy unfolds after another. Weir does not spare Anne; neither did the Spanish ambassador, who is quoted in copious doses. In addition to her wit and charm, Anne possessed enough knowledge of Scripture and theology so that Henry was convinced he was doing a holy deed in turning the world upside down in order to marry her. It is disgusting, but not surprising, how quickly he tired of Anne and cast her aside. Most people do not realize that the marriage with Anne was annulled; it made killing her unnecessary but Henry had her killed anyway.

I got more of a sense of Jane Seymour's personality from Weir's book and Anne of Cleves as well. Jane was a friend to Princess Mary and devoted to the old faith; reading about her death in childbirth is always sad. It never ceases to intrigue me how Anne of Cleves loved England and wanted to stay there even after her own annulment. She, too, got along with Princess Mary who helped Anne convert to Catholicism.

I thought the treatment of Katherine Howard a bit too conventional, with the same old story of the slutty adulteress. Weir claims that Katherine became sexually active at age twelve or thirteen. I would not call that being sexually active, I call it being molested or raped. She was a very young girl, and whatever happened to her, it may have contributed to her eventual doom. It is noted that Katherine Howard compassionately sent food and blankets to the Catholic martyrs imprisoned by Henry, including Blessed Margaret Pole.

I felt sorry for Katherine Parr, who survived Henry only to be made to suffer by the man she loved, Thomas Seymour. The last Katherine had much about her to admire; she was a scholar, a writer and kindly stepmother. If Henry had not died first, he would surely have had her executed, since she was such a fervent Protestant and Henry did not like Protestants.

Weir does not explore all of the sufferings the English people experienced due to Henry's dissolution of the monasteries and break with Rome. But then, it would take another book to do so adequately; the focus of the present work on Henry's marriage debacles easily runs into a 600 page tome. Extremely well-documented, it offers a many faceted view of Henry and of the six fascinating women who each became his queen. My impression is that Henry was always searching for the contentment he had experienced as a young man with Katherine of Aragon in their early years together, before so many babies had died. He never found it again. Share

Childbirth in Public


 Catherine Delors reports on the birth of Madame Royale:
At Versailles, not only the Queen, but princesses of the royal blood were required to give birth in public. Why? To prevent any substitution of the infant in case he was destined to reign. I say “he” by design, because France’s unwritten constitution prevented women to step unto the throne in their own right, though they could, and often did govern the Kingdom as Regents.

In the case of Marie-Antoinette, her first laying-in was all the more eagerly awaited that she had been married for eight years without presenting her husband with an heir. For a Queen, this was a glaring failure.

Her sister-in-law, the Comtesse d’Artois, married to the King’s youngest brother, had already been delivered of two healthy little boys. Marie-Antoinette had attended the deliveries, as required by the etiquette, and deeply felt the political and personal humiliation of her own childlessness.

Now at long last she herself was pregnant. The stakes could not be higher: if the child were stillborn, or a girl, the heir to the throne would remain the Comte de Provence, another brother of Louis XVI... (read more.)
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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Lorica of Saint Patrick

Saint Patrick

Here is Fáed Fíada, "The Cry of the Deer" or "St. Patrick's Breastplate," a prayer attributed to the great Apostle of Ireland.

I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
through belief in the Threeness, through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.

I arise today through the strength of Christ with His Baptism,
through the strength of His Crucifixion with His Burial
through the strength of His Resurrection with His Ascension,
through the strength of His descent for the Judgment of Doom.

I arise today through the strength of the love of Cherubim
in obedience of Angels, in the service of the Archangels,
in hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
in prayers of Patriarchs, in predictions of Prophets,
in preachings of Apostles, in faiths of Confessors,
in innocence of Holy Virgins, in deeds of righteous men.

I arise today, through the strength of Heaven:
light of Sun, brilliance of Moon, splendour of Fire,
speed of Lightning, swiftness of Wind, depth of Sea,
stability of Earth, firmness of Rock.

I arise today, through God's strength to pilot me:
God's might to uphold me, God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me, God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me, God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me, God's shield to protect me,
God's host to secure me:
against snares of devils, against temptations of vices,
against inclinations of nature, against everyone who
shall wish me ill, afar and anear, alone and in a crowd.
I summon today all these powers between me (and these evils):
against every cruel and merciless power that may oppose
my body and my soul,
against incantations of false prophets,
against black laws of heathenry,
against false laws of heretics, against craft of idolatry,
against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
against every knowledge that endangers man's body and soul.
Christ to protect me today
against poison, against burning, against drowning,
against wounding, so that there may come abundance of reward.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right,
Christ on my left, Christ in breadth, Christ in length,
Christ in height, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
through belief in the Threeness, through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.
Salvation is of the Lord. Salvation is of the Lord.
Salvation is of Christ. May Thy Salvation, O Lord, be ever with us.

(See Vultus Christi for two beautiful meditations on Saint Patrick by Fr. Mark.) Share

When God Says "No"

The darkness of faith. God is not Santa Claus. Share

Monday, March 16, 2009

Capture at Varennes



On June 21, 1791, Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette, and their family were captured at Varennes after escaping from the Tuileries in Paris. The King begged the the grocer Sauce and his family not to hand them over to the authorities, saying:
I am your King; this is the Queen and the royal family. Surrounded in the capital by daggers and bayonets, I have come to the country, into the midst of my faithful subjects, to seek the peace and liberty you all enjoy. I could not stay in Paris; it would have been death to myself and my family. I have come to live among you my children, whom I will not forsake....Save my wife, save my children." (Webster, Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette during the Revolution, p.149)
His entreaties fell on deaf ears; the royal family were sent back to Paris where they all, except for young Madame Royale, met their deaths.

Some people find it interesting how a quatrain in the prophecies of Nostradamus appears to allude to the capture of the royal family at Varennes.

De nuict viendra par le forest de Reines,
Deux pars, vaultorte, Herne la pierre blanche,
Le moyne noir en gris dcdans Varennes:
Esleu Cap. cause tempeste, feu, sang, tranche.

By night shall come through the forest of Reines
Two parts, face about, the Queen a white stone,
The black monk in gray within Varennes.
Chosen Cap. causes tempest, fire, blood, slice.

Whether the prophecy genuinely refers to the night of Varennes or not, it was indeed the night that spelled the end of the monarchy. Share

Daniel O'Connell

[oconnell1.jpg]
You may taunt the ministry with having coalesced me, you may raise the vulgar cry of "Irishman and Papist" against me, you may send out men called ministers of God to slander and calumniate me; they may assume whatever garb they please, but the question comes into this narrow compass. I demand, I respectfully insist: on equal justice for Ireland, on the same principle by which it has been administered to Scotland and England. I will not take less. Refuse me that if you can.
–Daniel O'Connell, February 4, 1836, in a speech before the House of Commons
Daniel O'Connell (1775-1847) is known as the "Liberator" of Ireland. Through his political struggles, the Irish people regained the most basic civil rights which they had been long deprived of. My husband's great grandmother was the niece of Daniel O'Connell. Here is a short biography:
O'Connell was born near Cahirciveen, Co. Kerry, on 6 August 1775. Adopted by a childless uncle, Maurice 'Hunting Cap' O'Connell of Derrynane House, overlooking Kenmare Bay, he attended English colleges in France before they were closed by revolutionaries. The O'Connells were prosperous Roman Catholics; it had been illegal to educate the boy abroad, but a 1792 Relief Act changed this and also allowed him to become a successful barrister on the Munster Circuit.

A constitutionalist in politics, O'Connell opposed the violence of the 1798 and 1803 risings, and in 1815 was distressed when he killed an opponent who had forced him into a duel. In 1823, he formed the Catholic Association; membership eventually cost a 'Catholic rent' of a penny a month. His objective was Catholic emancipation, opening up state and judicial posts and the right to sit in parliament. A powerful nationwide organisation quickly emerged, with the help of clergy, and in 1824 the government unsuccessfully prosecuted O'Connell for inciting rebellion.

In 1828, he won a by-election in Co. Clare, but unwillingness to take the anti-Catholic oath of supremacy kept him out of Westminster. The following year, the government conceded Catholic emancipation; 'The Liberator', as he was now known, entered parliament after a by-election. In 1840, O'Connell again marshalled mass support in the National Repeal Association, his oratory drawing enormous crowds. However, in 1843, he accepted a government ban on a rally planned for Clontarf, on the outskirts of Dublin. and lost ground to the more militant 'Young Irelanders' under Thomas Davis. In 1844, he was found guilty of creating discontent and disaffection, and was in prison for three months before the House of Lords reversed the judgement. He died in Genoa, on his way to Rome, on 15 May 1847.

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Lessons from the Middle Ages

Sometimes progress means looking at the lessons of the past, according to this insightful article, which says:
In medieval times, as in most times and places throughout human history, the basic unit of human society was the family – by which I mean the extended family (in extreme form the tribe or clan). The simple reason for this is that we reproduce in pairs. Furthermore, the best way for children to be socialized and educated is in the context of loving family relationships.

In recent years the traditional ideal of the family and the bonds that hold it together have been systematically attacked and weakened, but the destruction of the family is far from an essential ingredient in our notion of progress. The demolition of this tradition is more likely to be the cause of widespread social degradation and cultural devastation. No doubt there are ways the family can be improved, and ways in which family members can be more adequately protected from abuse, but the family itself is the seed-bed and crucible of civil society, and the best safeguard of human dignity.

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Black Narcissus (1947)

Black Narcissus - Criterion Collection

Black Narcissus is about the clash of east with west, of Christianity with paganism, of celibacy with carnal desire. It is about how sometimes in failure and humiliation, there is triumph. Proud Sister Clodagh fails at everything she undertakes, but she achieves priceless self-knowledge and compassion for human weakness. Based upon the novel by Rumer Godden, Black Narcissus tells the many-layered tale of five English nuns, the Servants of Mary, who try to start a school and hospital high in the Himalayas. The convent is in an old palace which was built to house the harem of a prince. Although the nuns attempt to sanctify the place with their prayers and good works, the preternatural elements which linger upon the mountain peaks begin to torment them. Their personality flaws and weaknesses are exaggerated to an unbearable degree.

Deborah Kerr gives a riveting performance as Sister Clodagh; one can see the dueling passions under the serene exterior. Although her mission becomes a disaster, she resists temptation and, by trying to be faithful, she wins the regard of a man whose heart she will take with her. David Ferrar is Mr. Dean, the local British agent, who through his encounter with the nuns finds his own soul. Jean Simmons is beguiling as the village slut, embodying the primitive eroticism of the locale; when she begins to dance for Sabu it is clear that he does not have a chance. Kathleen Byron is both horrifying and marvelous as the insane nun; it is disturbing to watch her sink into evil and neurosis through untamed lust. Her transformation from Bride of Christ into thwarted and vengeful seductress is one of the most frightening in classic filmdom.

According to DVDTimes:
Every single frame of Black Narcissus is a thing of exquisite beauty....the expressionistic look and feel of every scene also serves a definite purpose, supporting the heightened emotions, the inner desires and the torment of each of the nuns. The weather and the seasons play a huge part in this - the constant blowing of the wind, ruffling the flowing robes of the nuns, conveying the constant unease of their situation, while the frigid coldness of the winter giving way to the passionate feverish heat of the summer represents the journey the nuns undergo and the limits to what their delicately balanced constitution and mental health can bear.... “I think there are only two ways of living in this place”, Flora Robson’s Sister Philippa observes, “live like Mr Dean or the Holy Man – ignore it or give yourself up to it”.

Outwardly however - other than the difficulties she has to endure in managing the problems the other nuns encounter - the Palace of Mopu seems to have little effect on Sister Clodagh’s personality, who is consequently the more complex and most interesting character in the film. Superbly underplayed by Deborah Kerr, her asceticism a marked contrast to the madness and exoticism around her.... Despite her best efforts however, Sister Clodagh must inevitably fail against the powerful primeval passions that are unlocked in such a fantastical place, but perhaps she gains something more important - a greater awareness of her own humanity.
Black Narcissus is a masterpiece of acting, directing, cinematography and screenplay. Every frame is a work of art, conveying the sense of the height to which the nuns have climbed and the depth into which it is possible to fall. The film explores every aspect human weakness while always maintaining an overwhelming aura of the transcendent. Share

Rediscovering Washington Irving

Eric Seddon discusses the great American author, and the "specter of cultural continuity." (Via Andrew Cusack)
Perhaps, at just this moment, we can make the intellectual world safe for the academy’s stock villain: the loathed dead white male. Perhaps we can make the academy safe once again, not so much for democracy but for Longfellow.
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Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Fifth Queen

Amid the current inundation of Tudor films, biographies and novels, I thought it would be worth revisiting Ford Madox Ford's masterpiece The Fifth Queen, which offers an unconventional look at the tragedy of Katherine Howard. It has been hailed as being the among the best English language historical novels of the twentieth century; I am close to agreeing with the assessment. It is certainly one of the finest historical romances that I have ever read.

The Fifth Queen
is a trilogy of three novels rolled into one, detailing Katherine's rise and fall in a manner which authentically conveys the era. Ford contends that that Katherine, as a Catholic, was trying to get Henry VIII to reconcile with the Church of Rome. She was close to succeeding; the reformers did not want that to happen. Having been raised in a motherless and unprotected environment, Katherine's adolescence could not bear close scrutiny and she was easily framed. Her male friends were tortured until they admitted to dallying with her before marriage and after her marriage. Her servants were tormented as well. Getting other people to agree with the testimony of the tortured men and serving maids was no difficult feat. And so Katherine was condemned as a slut and whore.

Ford alludes to the fact that while Katherine may have been violated in some way as a young girl. In The Fifth Queen it is clear that Henry is aware that she has a Past but does not care. Ford's Katherine is about eighteen years although Alison Weir in The Sixth Wives of Henry VIII says she may actually have been only fifteen. Ford portrays her as witty and bright, which makes sense since Henry was not generally attracted to stupid women; he enjoyed the repartee with a lively, clever damsel, especially over theological matters. Katherine had the charm of her cousin Anne Boleyn, with a great deal more sweetness; she also had the magnificent red-gold hair of the Plantagenets. Henry was repeatedly drawn to women with such hair, such as all three of his Katherines.

Ford brings Katherine to life as no one else - engaging, impulsive, and valiant. This portrayal coincides with what Alison Weir writes about her efforts to help imprisoned Catholics, especially Henry's cousin Blessed Margaret Pole. Katherine is loving to her much older husband, to whom she becomes deeply attached, in Ford's novel. As her tragedy unfolds, she is ready to immolate herself for what she sees as a higher cause. Henry's heartbreak when he sees he must lose her is captured by Ford in a very moving manner. Henry does not believe the charges of adultery (Katherine was never officially found guilty of breaking her marriage vows). The King hopes to annul his marriage to her so that at least she can live as his mistress. Katherine must choose either dishonor in life or dishonor in death.

There seem to be few if any portraits of the fifth queen; what portraits still exist are dubious. Those who destroyed her also tried to destroy all evidence that she had lived, even as the altars of the old religion were being broken and defaced. However, Katherine lives in Ford's amazing trilogy, which is as vivid a work of art as any painting.


Katherine Howard by Hans Holbein the Younger Share

Vintage Silver: Is It Worth the Trouble?

Style Court reports on the use of silver coffee and tea services in the 21st century.
Many people receive beautiful old silver from a grandmother or great-aunt but rarely use it because it seems like a huge hassle or feels too fussy. However, since everyone is eating-in these days, it could be fun to put the vintage pieces to use....

BTW: Vogue’s Book of Etiquette, 1969, encouraged young brides to acquire sterling silver and use it frequently. “The service of afternoon tea is based on one major premise—the hostess must pour the tea herself. Whether it is made in the kitchen and brought in the pot or if a more elaborate procedure with a kettle and tea caddy is followed, the hostess must pour the tea from the pot to the cup.”
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Friday, March 13, 2009

The Penal Laws in Ireland

In 1695, the English imposed harsh penal laws upon the Irish Catholics, forbidding them the most basic human rights. The laws were intended to crush the Catholic faith in Ireland and well as destroy and enslave the people. They held firm, however, and continued to practice their faith, although deprived of everything. The laws remained in place until 1793 when they were partially revoked.

Here are the principle restrictions of 1695:
  • The Catholic Church forbidden to keep church registers.
  • The Irish Catholic was forbidden the exercise of his religion.
  • He was forbidden to receive education.
  • He was forbidden to enter a profession.
  • He was forbidden to hold public office.
  • He was forbidden to engage in trade or commerce.
  • He was forbidden to live in a corporate town or within five miles thereof.
  • He was forbidden to own a horse of greater value than five pounds.
  • He was forbidden to own land.
  • He was forbidden to lease land.
  • He was forbidden to accept a mortgage on land in security for a loan.
  • He was forbidden to vote.
  • He was forbidden to keep any arms for his protection.
  • He was forbidden to hold a life annuity.
  • He was forbidden to buy land from a Protestant.
  • He was forbidden to receive a gift of land from a Protestant.
  • He was forbidden to inherit land from a Protestant.
  • He was forbidden to inherit anything from a Protestant.
  • He was forbidden to rent any land that was worth more than 30 shillings a year.
  • He was forbidden to reap from his land any profit exceeding a third of the rent.
  • He could not be guardian to a child.
  • He could not, when dying, leave his infant children under Catholic guardianship.
  • He could not attend Catholic worship.
  • He was compelled by law to attend Protestant worship.
  • He could not himself educate his child.
  • He could not send his child to a Catholic teacher.
  • He could not employ a Catholic teacher to come to his child.
  • He could not send his child abroad to receive education.
(From: MacManus' The Story of the Irish Race, 1921.Devin-Adair Publishing Co., New York) Share

Benson's Apocalypse

One of my favorite novelists is Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson, whose masterpiece, Lord of the World, is the topic of an article by Rev. James V. Schall, SJ.
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