Category Archives: Pastor’s Note

A Month of “Respect for Life”

(Pastor’s Note from the Mary Immaculate of Lourdes Parish Bulletin for October 2, 2016)

In the United States each year the Month of October is designated as the particular month of the year in which we ought, as Catholics, to focus on the “Life Issues”.  Our Christian Catholic faith and our supernatural view of things enable us to recognize human life as a great good, possessing an essential value which nothing can take away.

This essential value of human life applies to each individual human life as well as to humanity as a whole.  Human life cannot be reduced or downgraded to its practical utility.  There is no such thing as “life unworthy of life”, as the advocates of euthanasia and sterilization of the disabled in the early 20th century claimed.

Each human being, possessing an immortal soul, is a unique, special creation of God and infinitely loved by Him.  Every person should be helped to understand this about himself: you are a unique, special creation of God and infinitely loved by Him.  You are not a “mistake”.  Your essential value does not depend on the circumstances of your origins.  You do not lose your value by becoming a “burden” on others.

Yes, we come to this conclusion on the absolute value of each human life as a matter of Christian faith-belief.  But that is nothing to apologize for!  Its truth is still engraved in every heart, and if we are faithful in bearing witness to it in the “public square”—and do it in the manner of the charity of Christ—then others will recognize it too.

It was Pope John Paul II who framed the contemporary debate in terms of the “Culture of Life” versus the “Culture of Death”.  This is an inspired juxtaposition.  We can easily be distracted in policy debates by the utilitarian arguments (e.g., having too many disabled people in society is a drain on public resources), or the anti-human philosophical ideas which abound (e.g., in order to preserve the eco-system of the planet, the human presence on the earth must be drastically reduced).

Stewardship of the earth and the organization of society with a just allocation of goods are indeed part of the challenge in building up a Culture of Life, but their claims cannot be allowed to supersede the intrinsic value of each and every human life.

During this Month of October, both from the pulpit and in my Pastor’s Note, I will be emphasizing the “Life Issues”.  There is so much “Culture Smog” that it is easy for us to become numbed to what is at stake.  The whole spectrum of the Life Issues is vast but I will enumerate some:

We come from God and we are going back to God over the course of this brief life’s journey.  Let us not fail to recognize the great dignity we have as special creations of God the Heavenly Father.

Fr. Higgins
(Fr. Higgins)

“The greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child, murder by the mother herself.  And if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another?  Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want.  This is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion.”

—Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Part II: The Gates of Life

Part III: The Primary Moral Duty of Keeping Oneself Alive

The Public Life of Jesus: From Jordan’s Bank to Jerusalem

Conference II

(Pastor’s Note from the Mary Immaculate of Lourdes Parish Bulletin for February 28, 2016)

This is Part Two of this year’s Parish Lenten Mission, THE PUBLIC LIFE OF JESUS: FROM JORDAN’S BANK TO JERUSALEMClick here to read Part One.

How did people look upon this Man, Jesus of Nazareth? It is very evident that people considered His place of origin, Nazareth, as reason alone to reject Him? “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Nathanael (Bartholomew), one of the future Twelve Apostles asks disparagingly when he first hears of “Jesus the son of Joseph of Nazareth?” (John 1:45-46). And even in His place of origin Nazareth itself, the people of that obscure, impoverished village look down on Jesus the son of Joseph the carpenter as “beneath” them, or at least as no-one they could ever take seriously as a miracle-working rabbi, unless, maybe, He were to start performing wonders right there in front of them.

Several months after Jesus has inaugurated His Public Life, when He comes back to the synagogue at Nazareth, He is violently rejected. People are murmuring: “How came this man by this wisdom and miracles? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary?…” (Matthew 13:54b-55a) Why—He had not passed through the training of any Rabbinic school under a learned Master! “How doth this man know letters, having never learned?”

The “Carpenter’s Son”. In context this is a term used to describe the general work of a man who has to earn his daily bread by the strength of his own arms and whatever skill he may possess with his tools. St. Justin Martyr is the ancient source for stating that Jesus specially made “ploughs and yokes” (Contra Tryphon 88). Then, as ever, people make the most superficial judgments based on a man’s social standing and material good fortune. The lowliness of Jesus’ origins was a stumbling block to many, and played no small part in inciting the organized hatred of His enemies later on.

His ordinariness—which we who have the Christian faith gaze at in wonder: God’s condescension to us and His compassion—deflated the popular imagination of what the Great Messiah was going to be like. “We know this man, whence he cometh: but when the Christ cometh, no man knoweth whence he is.” (John 8:27) It was, of course, not known at the time, all that had transpired around Jesus’ Birth. This was Mary’s secret, only to be revealed later in the time of the Church: “But Mary kept all these words, pondering them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)

John the Baptist, who had begun his preaching mission a few months before Jesus, at least had the aura of an other-worldly Man-of-God. No-one knew of John’s origins: he had suddenly appeared out of the desert, an utterly strange man. “John was in the desert, baptizing and preaching the baptism of penance, unto the remission of sins. And there went out to him all the country of Judea and all they of Jerusalem and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. And John was clothed with camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins, and he ate locusts and wild honey.” (Mark 3:6) His appearance co-incided with the time of Daniel’s Prophecy as to when the Messiah should at last appear, so the people were in great expectation. Many held John to be the Messiah, although John denied that he was anything more than his herald who had come to prepare the way.

So great was people’s attachment to John the Baptist that his mission only gradually decreased in favor of Jesus of Nazareth. For much of the first year of Jesus’ Public Life, John the Baptist’s Mission is still going on concurrently. Four times John gives explicit testimony in favor of Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ and not himself. It is John who sends Jesus his first disciples from out of his own group, one of these being Andrew, the future Apostle and the brother of Simon Peter. Even after John’s murder at the order of Herod’s son Herod Antipas, and even after the preaching of the Gospel by the Apostles after Pentecost, a core group of John the Baptist’s followers tenaciously remained together, revering John and not transferring their allegiance to Jesus as the Christ.

The religious attachment to John the Baptist apart from Christianity has survived twenty centuries to our own day in the country of Iraq, among a sect called the Mandeans. Driven from their homeland by the recent strife a number of Mandean refugees have re-located in, all of places, Worcester, Massachusetts.

Whereas John was other-worldly and mysterious, Jesus was, to all appearances, an ordinary man, embedded in their everyday, ordinary world. He was so much a Jewish man of the Galilee. And while John lived a life of extreme deprivation, Jesus’ example was one of ordered enjoyment of life when He was in public.

Take, for example, the Wedding Feast at Cana. “And the third day, there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. And Jesus also was invited, and His disciples to the marriage.” (John 2:1-2) Jesus was a guest at a large wedding feast. We cannot even imagine John the Baptist being there.

We also see here Jesus’ attachment to His kinfolk. In this time and place, a wedding feast is the gathering of the whole clan. It is no wonder that the bridal couple ran out of wine, given the demand that this event must have made on their hospitality. And it is here, as we know, that Jesus performs His first public miracle, at the behest of Mary, His mother.

“And the wine failing, the mother of Jesus saith to Him: they have no wine.” (John 2:3) He changes the gallons of ordinary water which had been poured into the large stone pots reserved for the Jewish ritual purifications into the finest of wines. “This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee and manifested His glory. And His disciples believed in Him.” (John 2:11)

This first Public Miracle of Christ is also the ruling metaphor for what the whole Redemption of Christ is going to accomplish in the souls of those who will come to have faith in Him. He will take that “water” of ordinary, broken, and unredeemed human nature, and by His grace He will transform it and make it capable of sharing in the very life of God.

Fr. Higgins
(Fr. Higgins)

The Public Life of Jesus: From Jordan’s Bank to Jerusalem

Conference I

(Pastor’s Note from the Mary Immaculate of Lourdes Parish Bulletin for February 21, 2016)

Our Theme for our Parish Lenten Mission this year is: THE PUBLIC LIFE OF JESUS: FROM JORDAN’S BANK TO JERUSALEM. The visible Life of Our Lord Jesus Christ may be divided among five distinct phases: 1) The Sacred Infancy, 2) The Hidden Life, 3) The Public Life, 4) The Sorrowful Passion, and 5) The Glorified Life, or “The Great Forty Days” (from Easter Sunday to Ascension Thursday). It is this Third Phase, the Public Life of Our Lord Jesus, which we will make the focus of these Friday Lenten Conferences.

The Four Gospel Books of Inspired Scripture—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—give us many details of Jesus’ Public Life, but they are distinctive narratives in their own right. It is only natural, however, that Christians should want to organize the material of the Four Gospel Books into one comprehensive linear narrative, a “great story” which we can remember and keep close to us as we hear the various readings of the Gospel proclaimed in church from year to year. One such comprehensive narrative is an article from the 1910 Catholic Encyclopedia entitled “Jesus Christ” by Jesuit scholar A.J. Maas. This is the source I will use to re-trace the course of Jesus’ Public Life.

How long was this “Public Life” of Jesus of Nazareth? Fr. Maas presents the case that it endured for three years and some months based on the evidence from St. John’s Gospel that there were four distinct Passovers observed during Jesus’ Public Life.

The first occurred shortly after Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan River by St. John the Baptist, when Christ cleansed the Temple in Jerusalem for the first time: “And the Passover of the Jews was at hand.” (John 2:13) The second is mentioned in John 4:45: “And when [Jesus] was come into Galilee, the Galileans received Him, having seen all the things He had done at Jerusalem on the festival day: for they also went to the festival day.” (Fr. Maas argues that this unnamed festival is most likely Passover.) The third is the reference point for the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes in John, Chapter 6: “Now the Passover, the festival day of the Jews was near at hand.” (John 6:4) The fourth and last Passover is Holy Week: “Jesus, therefore, six days before the Passover, came to Bethany, where Lazarus had been dead whom Jesus raised to life.” (John 12:1)

These three-and-a-half years (roughly) of the Public Life of Jesus may be fit into the Roman chronology between December A.U.C. 778 and March A.U.C. 782. The Romans counted their years from the mythical founding of their City of Rome. (A.U.C. stands for ab urbe condita, “from-the-founding-of-the-City”.) Comparing the evidence from the Gospels to the record of historical events at this time, we know that Jesus of Nazareth was born in the last year’s of the reign of King Herod and that He began His Public Life “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea… And Jesus Himself was beginning about the age of thirty years: being (as it was supposed) the son of Joseph.” (Luke 3:1. 23.)   If Herod’s date of death in Roman chronology was A.U.C. 750, then Christ could have been born between A.U.C. 747-749. Tiberius Caesar began his associate reign with Augustus in A.U.C. 764.  Fifteen years later was A.U.C. 778.  Depending upon His actual year of birth, Our Lord could have been 29-32 years at the beginning of His Public Life and 32-34 years at His Crucifixion.  (Because the Christian chronology of A.D., “Anno Domini”, in-the-Year-of-the-Lord was invented centuries after these events and projected back in time, the Year A.D. 1 is off by about 4 years. That is, it is four years late. The Birth of Christ would had to have been between the years 3-1 B.C. in actual history, making the years of the Public Life A.D. 25-29.)

Christ’s Public Life has a discernible pattern of distinct missionary journeys. There are nine of them. The first six took place in the region of Galilee, while Jesus used the city of Capharnaum as the center of His ministry.  The final three missionary journeys took Our Lord south into the Jewish heartland of Judea.  So, in the course of Our Lord’s Public Life, the people of His own Jewish nation living in Galilee and Judea would have had the knowledge of acquaintance of Him. They had unparalleled opportunity to hear Jesus’ voice, to behold His Sacred Face, to feel the warmth of His human sympathy for them. What would we not give to have a day of it! An hour of it! They had three-and-a-half years!  And still… many of them would not have Him.  Theirs was a positive rejection.  As Christ says, as He weeps over Jerusalem on Palm Sunday: “Thou hast not known the time of thy visitation.” (Luke 19:44)

Over the next Five Conferences we will follow Our Lord Jesus on His missionary journeys: we will trace His paths together, taking note of the major markers along the way. And then, we will follow Him into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and we will watch Him as He goes before us to the Cross in order to accomplish our Redemption.

Fr. Higgins
(Fr. Higgins)

Christian Unity in the Experience of the Cross

(Pastor’s Note from the Mary Immaculate of Lourdes Parish Bulletin for January 24, 2016)

The yearly Octave Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is always held between the dates of January 18th-25th. It falls, significantly, between two feasts of the Princes of the Apostles, Saints Peter and Paul: January 18th, formerly the Feast of St. Peter’s Chair at Rome, and January 25th, the Conversion of St. Paul. This is a reminder to us that the unity for which we pray is a unity centered on the Person of Jesus Christ in His Church founded on the authority He gave to His Apostles. It is not a vague, sentimental thing.

One of the expressed goals of the Council Fathers at Vatican II was to further the cause for Christian unity and the healing of historic divisions. In the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) the Fathers declared:

These Christians [not in communion with the Roman Catholic Church] are indeed in some real way joined to us in the Holy Spirit for, by His gifts and graces, His sanctifying power is also active in them and He has strengthened some of them even to the shedding of their blood. And so the Spirit stirs up desires and actions in all of Christ’s disciples in order that all may be peaceably united, as Christ ordained, in one flock under one shepherd. Mother Church never ceases to pray, hope and work that this may be achieved, and she exhorts her children to purification and renewal so that the sign of Christ may shine more brightly over the face of the Church. (Lumen Gentium 15)

One of the ways in which Christian unity has been realized in a way that rises above the divisions is in the shared experience of the Cross among Catholics, Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant in the persecutions of modern times. In his homily at the canonization of the Ugandan Martyrs Charles Lwanga and Companions, Pope Paul VI explicitly acknowledged the blood martyrdom of the Anglican Christians who had died in the same persecutions (1885-1887): “Nor should we forget those others, of the Anglican communion, who died for the sake of Christ.”

In his memoir of how he survived Soviet Communist captivity, My Thirty-third Year: a Catholic Priest in the Gulag (A.D. 1958), Gerhard Fittkau, a parish priest from German East Prussia, describes his friendship with a Protestant Pastor Theodor Goebel whom he encountered in the prison camp barracks. The two clergymen, Catholic and Evangelical, formed a close bond of Christian fellowship both to support one another and to try to minister to their fellow captives under the extreme conditions of the Siberian Gulag.

During Holy Week 1945 they agreed to have clandestine services, where one would preach to the barracks on Good Friday and the other on Easter Sunday. Fr. Fittkau recounts the message of Pastor Goebel’s Good Friday sermon:

The only sound beside the pastor’s voice was the crackling of wood in the barrel stove. He praised the mercy of Christ in forgiving the Good Thief, opening heaven to him in his last hour by the merits of His own innocent suffering. He invited his listeners to join the Good Thief and abandon the blasphemous thought that was the devil’s temptation to us now: the thought of blaming God for all this suffering. To place such blame was to make man as if he were God and to hide the great sin of mankind which is unbelief. We should rather lay that sin before Him by sincere searching of our consciences. The pastor closed his sermon with a prayer to Our Lord to be with us in our desperate condition and to say to us also when our hour would come, ‘This day thou shalt be with Me in paradise.’

Fr. Higgins
(Fr. Higgins)

The “Call”

(Pastor’s Note from the Mary Immaculate of Lourdes Parish Bulletin for January 17, 2016)

The Gospel Lesson for this Sunday relates the First Public Miracle that Jesus did, changing the water into wine at the Wedding
Feast of Cana. In concluding the story, St. John emphasizes that this was a sign which strengthened the belief of the first group of Jesus’ disciples in Him: “This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee; and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.” (John 2:11)

In the Church’s understanding of discipleship, there is the primary and necessary vocation to believe in Christ, receive His Baptism, and become a member of His visible Church on earth. It is necessary to make use of the grace God has given us to save our own soul. Within the life of the Church, however, there is also recognized, in addition to the call to live out our baptismal vows, that distinctive way of life which is a continuation of the call of Christ to specific individuals to leave their former way of life in order to follow Him completely. “And Jesus said to Simon [Peter]: Do not be afraid: henceforth thou shalt be a fisher of men. And when they had brought their boats to land, they left all and followed Him.” (Luke 5:11) We see this call being lived out in our midst through the ministry of the ordained and the various institutes of consecrated life.

I want to recognize the men from our parish who are presently responding to that inner call they have felt to serve Christ and His Church by leaving the life of “the world” for the life of religion.

Among the men ordained to the transitional diaconate by Cardinal Sean on January 9th, was one of the men sponsored by our parish, Stephen LeBlanc. Deacon LeBlanc is currently serving at St. Joseph Parish in Medway. I am hopeful that he will be able to diaconate at one of our Sunday Masses in the near future and then after his ordination to the priesthood in May, he will celebrate his Mass here at Mary Immaculate of Lourdes.

As you can see from our front-cover this week, parishioner Cameron MacKenzie has moved a step further in testing his religious vocation with the Brothers of the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, by entering into the novitiate and taking a new name in religion as Brother Martin de Porres.

On the Vigil of Christmas, Paul Juhasz, brother and brother-in-law of parishioners Chris and Sharon Juhasz, entered the novitiate of the Norbertine Fathers of St. Michael’s Abbey in California. He also took a new name in religion: Frater (Brother) Gerard Sagredo, patron of Budapest, Hungary. (Paul was a full parishioner here at Mary Immaculate of Lourdes during his senior year in high school.)

Deacon Jon Tveit—former parishioner, sacristan and cantor—was ordained for the Archdiocese of New York last fall and will be ordained to the priesthood this spring. Also, at various stages of seminary formation are parish men studying for the Archdiocese of Boston, Brian O’Hanlon and Earl Smith, and Tyler Molisse, who is in his first year with the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest.

Fr. Higgins
(Fr. Higgins)

Vocation and the Universal Call to Holiness

(Pastor’s Note from the Mary Immaculate of Lourdes Parish Bulletin for January 3, 2016)

Pope Francis chose to begin his Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy on the 50th Anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council (December 8th, 1965).   In doing so he clearly wished to link the course of his Papacy to the legacy of that ecumenical Council.   Pope Francis, it may be noted, is the first Pope who was ordained to the priesthood after Vatican II.   His own personal chronology crosses the divide of the before-and-after, the pre-conciliar and the post-conciliar Church.

Broadly speaking, two “schools of thought” have emerged from within the Church over the past half-century on the meaning of that Council.   One school argues for the “hermeneutic (i.e., the interpretation) of continuity” with regard to the Council.   However much Catholicism seems to have changed, it continues on as before, Vatican II having been a catalyst for legitimate reforms.   The turmoil in the Church is blamed on abuses of the conciliar reforms, and on the influence of secularism which undermines all religious belief.

Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI, who was one of the theological advisers present at the Second Vatican Council, was a proponent of the “hermeneutic of continuity”.   We may see in his 2007 Motu Propio “Summorum Pontificum an example of this.   He granted liberty to the celebration of the traditional Latin Mass in the Church—the “Extraordinary Form”—while still maintaining the liturgical reforms of Pope Paul VI as the “Ordinary Form” of the Roman Rite.

The other school of thought, the so-called “Bologna School”, has the opposite view of the legacy of the Second Vatican Council.   They see not continuity in the Roman Catholic Church, but rupture—and they think of that as a good thing.   A very good thing.   The three year event of that 1960s Council freed the Church, as they see it, from the hide-bound attachment to Tradition which had been “stifling the Spirit” for so long and turning the Catholic Church into a Fortress instead of allowing it to move out into the world, the better to engage it.   For the advocates of the “Bologna School”, Pope Francis is their man.

The Angelus
The Angelus (1857–59) by Jean-François Millet

One of the chief themes of the Second Vatican Council, perhaps the chief theme, however, was the “universal call to holiness”.   This was explicitly addressed in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, approved by the Council Fathers in 1964:

“The Church, whose mystery is set forth by this sacred Council, is held, as a matter of faith, to be unfailingly holy.   This is because Christ, the Son of God, who with the Father and the Spirit is hailed as ‘alone holy,’ loved the Church as His Bride, giving Himself up for her so as to sanctify her (cf. Eph. 5:25-26); He joined her to Himself as His body and endowed her with the gift of the Holy Spirit for the glory of God.   Therefore all in the Church, whether they belong to the hierarchy or are cared for by it, are called to holiness, according to the Apostle’s saying: ‘For this is the will of God, your sanctification’ (I Thess. 4:3; cf Ep. 1:4) (LG 39)”

“It is therefore quite clear that all Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of love, and by this holiness a more human manner of life is fostered also in earthly society. (LG 40)”

This therefore is the primary and necessary vocation for every Christian person: the “universal call to holiness”, which is another way of saying the fulfillment of our baptismal vows.   All other vocations and courses in life must follow from it and draw refreshment for it as water from a deep and inexhaustible well.

Fr. Higgins
(Fr. Higgins)

Christmas in Africa

(Pastor’s Note from the Mary Immaculate of Lourdes Parish Bulletin for December 27, 2015)

Fr. Desire Salako sent me Christmas greetings from Liberia with the good news that, with the money we gave him as a parish gift they have been able to get their solar-powered generator and are also digging their well. I am happy to share with you Fr. Salako’s message and photographs of these two projects. We are still holding the money for his parish truck until he gives us the “okay” to send it.

Fr. Higgins
(Fr. Higgins)

Bonjour, Pere:

I received on Monday the money for the solar and the well. I have just finish to install the solar. It is working under the sun of Africa. Thanks! May God bless you!

We are working hard to dig the well. By the grace of God, at Christmas, water will flow. You offer me water, may God’s blessing be poured out on you. Merry Christmas to you and the entire community of Immaculate. I miss the community. Thanks!

We closed in the Seminary-College yesterday. I will start the pastoral of Christmas by the visit of my outstations. Here the weather is dry with dust. It is what we call Harmattan. The weather announces in Africa Christmas. There is joy on the faces of people. Here too, we are waiting for our Lord: the same in Newton and here in Liberia.

Fr. Desire Salako, SMA

The “Hail Mary”

The Madonna of Humility
Detail from “The Madonna of Humility” by Fra Angelico (A.D. 1433-35). Our Lady holds two flowers in a vase, a red rose for Motherhood and a white lily for Purity: the Christ Child holds a lily in His hand. This painting is located in the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, Barcelona.

(Pastor’s Note from the Mary Immaculate of Lourdes Parish Bulletin for December 20, 2015)

After the “Our Father”, the “Hail Mary” is the most the familiar prayer to us as Catholics, so familiar that we take it for granted that the prayer has always existed as we say it now. This, however, is not so. The elaboration of the Angel Gabriel’s greeting to Mary at the Annunciation, “Hail [Mary], full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women,” into a full fledged prayer of petition, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen,” came out of the life of the Church. It was not until the Roman Breviary issued in 1568 (following the Council of Trent) that the Catholic Church gave official recognition to the form of the Ave Maria known so well to us.

It is a prayer in three parts. 1) Gabriel’s greeting (Luke 1:28), 2) St. Elizabeth’s greeting to Mary, “And blessed is the fruit of thy womb [Jesus]” (Luke 1:42), and 3) The Church’s prayer of petition.

In explaining the Church’s addition of the prayer of petition to the greeting of Our Lady the Catechism of the Council of Trent states the following:

Most rightly has the Holy Church of God added to this thanksgiving, petition also and the invocation of the most holy Mother of God, thereby implying that we should piously and suppliantly have recourse to her in order that by her intercession she may reconcile God with us sinners and obtain for us the blessings which we need both for this present life and for the life which has no end.

In searching for the origins of the Hail Mary in the first millennium of the Church we find it in the growth of personal devotion to the Mother of God among the faithful. It is not until the turn of the millennium, however, that we have evidence of the devotional formula clearly being used by Catholics. For example, Abbot Baldwin, a Cistercian monk who became the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1184, wrote of the Ave Maria:

To this salutation of the Angel, by which we daily greet the Most Blessed Virgin, with such devotion as we may, we are accustomed to add the words, ‘and blessed is the fruit of thy womb,’ by which clause Elizabeth at a later time, on hearing the Virgin’s salutation to her, caught up and completed, as it were, the Angel’s words, saying: ‘Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.’

Since the Ave Maria was a solemn greeting of an august personage, in these centuries people said it with a gesture of reverence, for example, bending the knee in genuflection. It is recorded of King St. Louis of France (13th Century): “Without counting his other prayers the holy King knelt down each evening fifty times and each time he stood upright then knelt again and repeated slowly an Ave Maria.” The Dominican nun St. Margaret (+1292), daughter of the King of Hungary, outdid St. Louis: on certain days she recited the Ave Maria a thousand times with a thousand prostrations.

The final prayer of petition close to the one in use now appears to have come out of Italy in the later part of the 15th Century, although there was a great variability in the wording of a final prayer of petition to the Ave Maria in the various languages of Catholic Europe. Until the 1568 Breviary, the Hail Mary officially ended with, “…and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus.”*

Fr. Higgins
(Fr. Higgins)

*Source: “Hail Mary”, Catholic Encylopedia, Volume VII, 1910 edition.

Hymns of Our Lady

(Pastor’s Note from the Mary Immaculate of Lourdes Parish Bulletin for December 3, 2015)

The figure of Our Lady stands out very prominently in these days of Advent. Her two great privileges, upon which all of the other honors and titles we give to Mary are based, the IMMACULATE  CONCEPTION and the DIVINE MATERNITY shine luminously in this preparation phase of the Christmas Cycle.

In our spiritual preparation for the Christmas Feast it might be helpful for us to consider the hymns of Mary. The first hymn to consider is the one sung by Our Lady herself, her Canticle of Praise in St. Luke’s Gospel—the Magnificat. Here we see the purity of Mary’s heart as she gives God the praise for fulfilling the scriptural promises of redemption. I recommend committing Our Lady’s Magnificat to memory. Here is a translation from a musical setting to the Magnificat which I remember singing in the Seminary schola:

My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour; for He hath regarded the lowliness of His handmaiden, And, behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
For He that is mighty hath magnified me, and holy is His Name, and His mercy is on those who fear Him throughout all generations.
He hath shone the strength of His arm; He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts;
He hath put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the humble and meek. He hath filled the hungry with good things and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He remembering His mercy hath holpen His servant Israel, as He promised to our Forefathers, Abraham and his seed forever.

In the liturgy of the Divine Office the Magnificat is sung every evening at Vespers, making use of the inspired words of Mary to thank God for another day of redemption. The Magnificat is also an especially beautiful prayer to recite as a private thanksgiving upon receiving Holy Communion.

Another hymn of Our Lady is the Marian Antiphon used from the First Sunday of Advent until February 2nd, the Alma Redemptoris. Here is a translation of that Antiphon:

Loving Mother of the Redeemer, Gate of
Heaven and Star of the Sea, come quickly to the
aid of thy people, fallen indeed but striving to
stand again. To the wonderment of Nature
thou wert the Mother of thy Holy Creator
without ceasing to be a virgin, and heard from
Gabriel that greeting “Hail”. Have pity on us
sinners.

A third hymn of Our Lady for our meditation is one of the Marian hymns sung throughout the year on the feast-days of Our Lady, including the feast we have just celebrated, the Immaculate Conception. It is titled O Gloriosa Virginum.

O Most Glorious of Virgins, exalted among the stars, thou didst nurse at the breast the Little One who created thee.
Thou dost give back to us through thy loving Child what Eve through God’s curse had lost for us: thou openest the gates of heaven that Eve’s sorrowing children may enter.
Thou art the Royal Door for the heavenly King and the Shining Palace for the light from above.
Rejoice, ransomed world, that through the Virgin life has been given to us.

This hymn was the particular favorite of St. Anthony of Padua and it was the hymn he tried to sing on his deathbed, June 13th, A.D. 1231.

Saint Anthony of Padua

Fr. Higgins
(Fr. Higgins)

The Holy Shroud of Turin: Icon of Christ

(Pastor’s Note from the Mary Immaculate of Lourdes Parish Bulletin for April 26, 2015)

On my 16th birthday (April 13th, 1977) my parents gave me a “Lifting the Veil” Face of Christ, a picture of the Holy Face from the image on the Shroud of Turin which, when you lifted a thin piece of cardboard from inside the plastic, revealed a second image of Christ as He would have appeared in His living likeness. It was from the Confraternity of the Precious Blood.

Icon of Christ

The instructions on the back were to use this as a home shrine to unite with daily Mass.  As I read it today, I quote: “The Mass is two things: a meeting and a memory, points out Orate Fratres [a liturgical magazine], 1: it commemorates the Death of Christ…2.: we meet Christ in person. It is necessary to keep the two well distinct, if the essence of the Mass is to be seen clearly. Your ‘Lifting the Veil’ Face of Christ enables you to see these two things clearly as you unite with Mass daily (1) by contemplating the True Face of the Dead Christ… and (2) meeting with Christ in Person, as His Living Likeness appears through the ‘Veil’.

I found this image very compelling as a youth, and it has indeed been a stimulus to prayer and thoughts of the encounter with Christ in person.  (I have kept this “Lifting the Veil” image with me all these years, and it has added poignancy now as a memento of my deceased parents.)

The image of the Holy Shroud as the True Face of Christ is a great gift of God to His Church: to affirm our faith, without taking away either the necessity for it or the merit of it.  For nearly 20 centuries the real facts about this Shroud-relic were unknown, because the scientific means to discover and measure them were unknown.  It is very good for us to inform ourselves about some of the scientific discoveries surrounding the Shroud in recent times.  Do not be deterred by dismissive and irreverent coverage in the media.

At present, the Holy Shroud is being shown to the public in the city of Turin, Italy, through June.  The occasion is the bicentennial of the birth of St. John Bosco, “Don Bosco”, in 1815, who was from that region of Italy, the Piedmont. Pope Francis—whose grandparents emigrated from Piedmont to Argentina—is scheduled to make pilgrimage to the Shroud exhibition on June 21st.

In 2010, during the last public exhibition of the Shroud, Pope Benedict XVI made pilgrimage.  It was the Fourth Sunday after Easter, May 2nd. In his remarks there, describing himself as a pilgrim, he said:

How does the Shroud speak? It speaks with blood, and blood is life! The Shroud is an Icon written in blood; the blood of a man who was scourged, crowned with thorns, crucified and whose right side was pierced. The Image impressed upon the Shroud is that of a dead man, but the blood speaks of his life. Every trace of blood speaks of love and of life. Especially that huge stain near his rib, made by the blood and water that flowed copiously from a great wound inflicted by the tip of a Roman spear. That blood and that water speak of life. It is like a spring that murmurs in the silence, and we can hear it, we can listen to it in the silence of Holy Saturday. Dear friends, let us always praise the Lord for his faithful and merciful love. When we leave this holy place, may we carry in our eyes the image of the Shroud, may we carry in our hearts this word of love and praise God with a life full of faith, hope and charity.

Fr. Higgins
(Fr. Higgins)