I have often thought that Pope Benedict XVI is quite photogenic. Some of the pictures I have seen are quite humorous. Here are a few photos I have collected of him that I think are funny. I set them to the music of Irving Berlin’s What do I have to do to get my picture took.
Here is a clip from the Movie “Joan of Arc” depicting the coronation of the Charles VII of France in Reims. I am not sure how accurate the Liturgy is since I am not familiar with coronations nor am I even sure if there is such an actual Rite in the the Roman Ritual. Nevertheless it is beautifully filmed. It also displays a time when the Church and State were often closely allied (too closely??). But it was what it was.
Charles VII ascended to the French Throne after the death of his father. However his nephew also claimed the throne. After some intrigue he had insisted that he was King but was really a toothless tiger due to the presence of the English Forces in France. Joan of Arc, after a vision was given permission by Charles to lead forces against the English.
Joan of Arc then set about leading the French forces at Orléans, forcing the English to lift the siege and thus turning the tide of the war. After the French won the Battle of Patay, Charles was crowned King Charles VII of France on 17 July 1429, in Reims Cathedral as the de jure king. This scene is depicted in this movie clip
Joan was later captured by the Burgundians who handed her over to the English. Tried for heresy she was burned at the stake on 30 May 1431. Charles VII did nothing to save the one to whom he owed his throne.
In Italy the Pope visits earthquake victims, In Germany a Bishop is accused of heresy, In Belarus the Pope may meet with the Patriarch, In the USA Mel Gibson is rebuffed by his family and the Pope says Nope.
Now comes a gesture that is very familiar to Catholics but to the unitiated may also seem odd, (a kind of shoeing away of flies or something) and words are said that are grammatically incorrect! I’ll explain that later.
Standing at the Chair the celebrant begins the Mass with the sign of the cross. This gesture is perhaps one of the most recognizably Catholic traditions in any ecumenical gathering. You can always tell the Catholics immediately by this instinctive gesture deeply ingrained in any Catholic.
The origin of this gesture goes back to the earliest days of Christianity where it seems to have been more of sign of the cross traced on one’s forehead. Tertullian is said to have remarked in the early 3rd Century, “We Christians wear out our forehead with the sign of the cross!” This practice probably developed from Scriptural allusions to the Tau or “T” marked on the forehead of those to be saved from destruction (Ex. 17:9-14; Ez 9:4, Revelation 7:3, 9:4, 14:1). Over the years of the first centuries the practice seems to have developed of adding fingers to this tracing action. Two fingers representing the two natures of Christ were added as an act of faith against the monophysite heresy. Further developments took place to enhance the gesture. Now, by the fourth century three fingers (thumb, index and middle finger) are used to represent the Trinity and the other two fingers are folded back to the palm to represent the two natures of Christ. With all these symbolisms going on with the blessing hand it next developed that a larger area than the forehead was crossed. Now the downward motion tended to extend to the breast and eventually the whole chest was signed by reaching out to the shoulders. By the 9th Century the way to make the sign of the cross was pretty well spelled out by legislation from Rome and the Popes. As you can see the sign of the Cross became more than a way to bless oneself, it also became a statement of faith in the Trinity and in the two natures of Christ.
In the western Church as the monophysite controversy died down the Trinitarian faith has tended to take precedence and came to be spelled out with these words: “In the Name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” to which all respond, “Amen.” Now have you noticed that this is not gramatically correct? Grammatically one should say, “In the names of the Father….Son and Holy Spirit.” But here too, going back to Scripture itself, the grammatical “error” bespeaks the truth that there is only ONE God, therefore one name, but there are three Persons in the One God.” So aren’t we clever here!
So the sign of the cross is an act of and a sign of Faith in the Triune God. It thus gives significance to all that is to follow in the Mass, placing it within the context of Faith. The Sign of the Cross is also a recollection of the Crucifixion. In this regard the Mass, as a making present of the once-for-all sacrifice of the Lord Jesus on Calvary, is especially suited to being opened by the sign of the cross. Lastly, and by extension, it is a visible movement into the Holy by all present since it puts demons to flight. Many of the Fathers of the Church speak of this aspect of the Sign of the Cross. For example, St. Cyril states that at the sign of the cross “demons tremble and angels recognize it. Thus the former are put to flight, while the latter gather about it as something pertaining to themselves.” (From his Catechetical Lectures). Historically the number of the signs of the cross throughout the Mass increased especially during the gothic period of the middle ages. The Old Latin Mass has a large number of signs of the cross. In the New Mass there has been the reduction of this number to two, one at the beginning the other at the end.
Now the last thing we should say about all this is that to make the sign of the cross is a bold gesture! In effect we are glorying in the Cross of Christ. We are not ashamed of it. Is this true for you? Many today are actually embarrassed by the cross. How is this you say? Well notice how they protest any time the Church articulates the demands of the Gospel. For example that we should turn away from sin, that babies should be brought to birth and never aborted, that Euthanasia is wrong and that we cannot simply do whatever we please and call it good. Many immediately protest and speak of the need for greater compassion and less strict norms etc. And many Catholics, far from defending the demands of the Gospel refuse to hold up the cross for others to see. Instead, embarrassed by the demands of the cross they refuse to affirm its power and its demands. Be careful before you make that sign of the cross! It means something. It means that we cannot simply refuse the demands of being a disciple but rather glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Eastern Rite Catholics make the sign of the cross a little differently than Roman Catholics as depicted in this video:
Archbishop Donald Wuerl, our own Archbishop here in Washington DC gave an interview to ECDQ.tv in reference to the 49th Eucharistic Congress in Canada. Here he expreses his resolve and concern to preach the Gospel to all, especially the young and reminds us that we are incomplete and impoverished without the Good News of Jesus Christ.
After reverencing the altar the celebrant goes to the chair. Now perhaps a word or two on the chair is called for. Some one may wonder why the priest has a chair of some prominence. Why does he not simply sit among the faithful and come forward as necessary? Here again, there is a history to know.
In the ancient world, the Chair was a symbol of authority and office. We still have something of this today in the concept of the Judge’s Bench. The chair was also a symbol in the ancient world of teaching authority. It is our usual experience in the modern world that teachers stand when they teach or give lectures. But in the ancient world a teacher sat as they taught. Now they didn’t just sit in some casual way with their legs corssed and sipping coffee. Rather they were seated formally and in a prominent place in the room. You may remember that Scriptures usually record that when Jesus taught, he would sit (Mat 5:1; Luke 4:20; Mark 13:3; John 8:2; and dozens of other examples). It is my experience that many people find this fact surprising since they always imagine Jesus standing to preach but, it is almost never the case that he does that. He, like every ancient Rabbi and teacher sat to teach. So, the Chair has an ancient history of governance and teaching authority.
Now the Bishop’s Chair is especially imbued with this meaning and the priest’s chair only in a sense that is subordinate to the local Ordinary (i.e. chief Bishop). It is interesting to note that a bishop is given the special prerogative to sit in the sanctuary to preach. Most of them I notice do not use this option except at very formal times like ordinations. As a general rule, priests are expected to stand today at the pulpit or ambo when they preach. Despite this the priest’s chair continues to carry these ancient meanings already mentioned.
There is also a more modern notion given to the meaning of the chair in the General Instructions of the Roman Missal: The chair of the priest celebrant must signify his office of presiding over the gathering and of directing the prayer. …Any appearance of a throne, however, is to be avoided. (G.I.R.M # 310). Thus the Chair of the Priest also indicates a role of presiding over the Liturgical Assembly.
Now, in the end though, all three of these roles (governing, teaching and presiding) really refer to Christ. The priest, through his reception of the Sacrament of Holy Orders in configured to Christ and acts in persona Christi In the person of Christ). Thus the prominence of his chair is really a way to honor Christ who is the true High Priest of every liturgy. The priest’s chair is Jesus’ chair. It is ultimately He who governs, teaches and presides over us and He ministers through his priest. Pray for the grace to see beyond “Father Smith” and to see Jesus presiding over and ministering to you. In this sense the chair of the priest should have a very special place in your mind and a prominent place in our sanctuary. Surely the tabernacle and altar should be in the central axis but also prominent should be the Chair of the Priest, the Chair of Christ.
The following video shows the Pope preaching at National’s Stadium in Washington DC. He preaches from the seated position, the more anciet way of teaching.
Here’s the latest from Gloria.tv News including word of a miracle from John Henry Newman that clears the way for his beatification. Also concerns of threats on the life of the Pope in reference to his upcoming visit to the Holy Land.
I have often wondered what it must have been like for the Blessed Mother and also for St. Joseph. They were told remarkable things about their Son Jesus. They were told he would save his people from their sins, that he was destined for the rise and downfall of many, that his name would be great and that he was the Son of God. But for all this, they were given very little detail as to how all this would unfold. Perhaps from time to time they wondered, “Did I really hear all that from the angel?….How will all this come to pass?” In the end Joseph and Mary had to walk by faith, not knowing all the details but just trusting that God had it all worked out.
And isn’t it the same for us? I don’t know exactly what the future hold but I do know Him who holds the future. And I trust him. Isn’t that enough? It has to be because God isn’t going to show me the road map. He is just going to say, I am the Way, follow me. Don’t worry where we are going, just follow me.
Here is a video that meditates on Mary’s walk of faith: Mary Did you know?