Tuesday 28 February 2017

Lent II

The Miserere (which is Psalm 50 in traditional Catholic Bibles) is the ultimate psalm of penitence. It features prominently throughout the liturgical year but, as you would expect, nowhere more prominently than during Lent. Incidentally, both Psalms 55 and 56 also begin with the words Miserere Mei Deus. During Lent, Psalm 50 is included in all Sunday and Weekday Vespers (on Sundays from Septuagesima), and, most famously, during Tenebrae of Holy Week.

Psalm 50 is one of the Seven Penitential Psalms. The others are Psalms 6, 31, 37, 101, 129 and 142. The lenten devotion of reciting the Seven Penitential Psalms was common throughut Christendom and deserves to be common again.

The setting in this video is that of Allegri and is the most famous musical setting of Psalm 50. It is one of the three settings (that of Abbot Giuseppe Baini on Wednesday, that of Tommaso Bai on Thursday, and Allegri's on Friday) that were annually sung during the Tenebrae in the Papal Chapel.

These settings acquired a considerable reputation for mystery and inaccessibility because the Holy See forbade the making of copies of the music held by the Sistine Chapel Choir, threatening any publication or attempted copy with excommunication. However, a young Mozart attended the ceremonies of Holy Week at the Vatican in 1770 and transcribed them from memory afterwards. Although, it must be admitted that the version that emerged is a conflation of the settings of Allegri and Bai.

Saturday 25 February 2017

Lent I

As with Advent, the season of Lent is forgotten by the modern mind. Penance, preparation, patience are all too much for it. For the modern mind, it must be fun, easy and instant. As with the hymns of Advent, the hymns of Lent can be one means of restoring the spirit of Lent. The wisdom of the Church has foreseen this need and ensures that, since the organ is silent during Lent to increase the sense of penance and simplicity, the hymns of Lent are simple enough to sing unaccompanied. Here is the first 'theme song' of Lent, Attende Domine.

Attende Domine, et miserere, quia peccavimus tibi. "Hear, O Lord, and have mercy upon us, who have sinned against Thee" is the constant refrain of this hymn, and the constant refrain of the Liturgy (and, hopefully, of the penitent soul) during Lent. The hymn is in Mode V and is based upon a tenth century lenten litany from the Mozarabic Rite. While most of the modern Gregorian Chant derives from the music of the Papal Chapel or the Frankish Imperial Chapel, some has been adopted, on account of its beauty and depth, from the Mozarabic Liturgy of the Visigothic Kingdom of Spain.

The gradual decline of the Mozarabic Rite began about the middle of the eleventh century, being reduced to the use of only a few Chapels and Parishes by the beginning of the twentieth century. However, the chant of the Rite survived longest in common use, being commonly used in alternation with Gregorian Chant, most notably in the Cathedral of Toledo.

Despite such set-backs as the slaughter of the whole college of Chaplains of the Mozarabic Chapel at Toledo Cathedral by Republican forces during the Spanish Civil War, the Rite has survived and a commission by the Archbishop of Toledo led to the republication of the liturgical books towards the end of the twentieth century.

Wednesday 15 February 2017

St. Farnan of Downings

Most Rev. Dr. Comerford, in his entry for the Parish of Caragh and Downings in his historical work on the Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin, gives us the following information on St. Farnan of Downings:

"Here are the ruins of an old Church, measuring, according to Father O’ Hanlon (Lives I.S.S. 2, p. 564.) 42 ½ feet by 16. Tradition states that this Church occupies the site of the cell of St. Farnan, whose feast occurs in the Irish Calendar on the 15th of February. This Saint flourished in the sixth century, and was descended from King Niall of the Nine Hostages. Beside the ancient cemetery is the Well of St. Farnan; and it possesses - so the local story goes - the valuable property, imparted to it by the blessing of the Saint, that those who drank of it never afterwards have any relish for intoxicating drinks. The Dun from which this place probably takes its name (Dooneens, “the little fort,”) may still be seen a short distance from the village of Prosperous, on the left of the road to Caragh. The only doubt about its being so arises from the fact that, instead of being small, it, on the contrary, is one of considerable dimensions."

St. Farnan of Downings, pray for us!

Wednesday 1 February 2017

St. Brigid of Kildare (Walsh)

The following is from Fr. Thomas Walsh's History of the Irish Hierarchy, published in New York in 1854, chapter xlviii, at p. 483-6:

St Brigid the foundress of Kildare and the patroness of the church of Ireland was descended of an illustrious family of Leinster. Her father Dubhtach was of royal blood being of the race of Eochad, brother to the celebrated Con of the hundred battles. Her mother Brocessa was of the noble house of O Connor in the southern part of the territory of the Bregii between Dublin and Drogheda. Both were Christians according to the most creditable account. The mother of the holy virgin is everywhere spoken of as the wife of Dubhtach and consequently it cannot be admitted that St. Brigid was of illegitimate birth. Her father is represented as a noble and pious man still more noble through his spouse and their holy offspring: Dubhtachus ejus erat genitor cognomine dictus clarus h omo meritis clarus et a proavis Nobilis atque humilis mitis pietate re pletus Nobilior propria conjuge prole pia  Nor could such an assertion be reconciled with the circumstance of the parents having been Christians and strict ones as then were in Ireland nor with the rank of her mother's family. Usher, Ware and others have passed over the narrative of this circumstance as undeserving of notice.

St. Brigid was born at Faughert about two miles north of Dundalk and in a district which was formerly considered a part of Ulster. Various are the surmises regarding the year of her birth but it may with Usher be assigned to the year 453. Adhering to this computation she was twelve years of age or allowing her birth to have occurred in 451, the earliest assigned, she was in the fourteenth year of her life when St. Patrick died AD 465, neither does St. Brigid in the most consistent and authentic account of St. Patrick appear to have been consecrated a virgin nor to have founded a monastery during the lifetime of the apostle. She may have been known to him on account of her singular sanctity conspicuous even in her early life. In the tripartite life of St. Patrick mention is made only once of St. Brigid when it relates that the saint listening to a sermon of St. Patrick's fell asleep and was favored with a vision relative to the then state of the Irish church and its future vicissitudes. St. Patrick desiring her to tell what she saw Brigid informed him that she at first saw a herd of white oxen amidst white crops then spotted ones of various colours after which appeared black and dark coloured oxen these were succeeded by sheep and swine wolves and dogs jarring with each other. The Almighty conceals from the wise and imparts to the little ones in whom there is no guile the secrets of his ways and while the scribes and pharisees and the other enemies of our Redeemer were contriving plans to ensnare the Son of God and put him to death the children of Juda received him in triumph exclaiming Hosanna to the Son of David. In the narrative then of this vision there is nothing repugnant to the councils of God.

Our patroness received a good education and to singular modesty and propriety of manners united an extraordinary degree of charity towards the poor. Instances are related of the interposition of Providence in replenishing the store which she applied to her benevolent purposes. When arrived at a proper age her parents were anxious to have her settled in the married state but she announced her resolve to remain a virgin to which they assented. She then applied to the holy bishop St. Maccailleus who being well assured of her good disposition admitted her into the number of sacred virgins by covering her with a white cloak and placing a white veil over her head. This occurrence is said to have taken place at Usny hill, Westmeath, where probably the holy bishop resided or was engaged in the exercise of his pastoral functions. St. Brigid must have been then in the sixteenth year of her age as that was the earliest at which the ceremony of admission was permitted. We are assured that when kneeling at the foot of the altar during the time of her profession the part on which she knelt being of wood recovered its original freshness and continued green to a very late period. It is also related that seven or eight other virgins assumed the veil with her and that some of them together with their parents besought her to remain with them in their country a wish with which she complied and being named to govern her companions by the bishop she remained for some time in a place which the bishop assigned them in his district supposed to have been about Kilbeggan in Westmeath.

In her new position the fame of her sanctity spread far and near and crowds of young women and widows applied to her for admission into her convent. As it would be inconvenient to assemble so many persons in one place and as the good of the church required that those pious ladies should be established in other districts and of which they might have been natives we find St. Brigid visited other parts of the country Teffia of which St. Mel was bishop having been the first. Erc the bishop of Slane was one of her friends whom she is said to have accompanied to Munster when paying a visit to his relatives as he was of that country. A synod having been held in the plain of Femyn Erc spoke highly of St. Brigid and of the miraculous powers with which she was endowed by the Almighty. Thence she is said to have gone with her female companions to the house of a person with whom she spent a considerable time and who lived near the sea. In those early days of the church of Ireland before the erection of nunneries virgins consecrated to God were wont to live with their friends and relatives and could as often as duty required appear their virtue and sanctity being, as Fleury observes, their cloister.

We next find her in the plain of Cliach in the county of Limerick where she obtained it is said from a chieftain liberty for a man whom he held in chains. From that country she went to the territory of Labrathi Hy Kinsellagh in south Leinster and tarried there for some time having not seen her father for several years she thence proceeded to his residence to pay him a visit and after a short stay set out for Connaught and fixed her residence together with some ladies of her institution in the plain of Magh ai or Hai in the level country of Roscommon. While in this territory she was occupied in forming various establishments for persons of her own sex according to the rule she had drawn up. As the great reputation of St. Brigid and the supernatural gifts with which she was endowed attracted persons from all parts of Ireland to the place of her residence.  The people of Leinster thought that they were best entitled to her services as being of a Leinster family.  They accordingly sent a deputation to the part of Connaught where she then was consisting of several respectable persons and friends of hers to request that she would come and fix her residence among her own people.  She acceded to their wishes and having arrived in that district was received with the greatest joy she was immediately provided with a residence for herself and the pious companions of her journeys and to which was annexed some land as a help towards the maintenance of her establishment this place obtained the name of Kildare there being a large oak tree near her habitation.

St. Brigid and her nuns were poor and frequently alms were brought to her nunnery still whatever she possessed she liberally shared with the poor and it is said that in order to find relief for the destitute she gave in charity some very valuable vestments the bishops used to wear on solemn festivals to strangers and particularly bishops and religious persons she was particularly hospitable her humility was so great that she occasionally tended the cattle on her land. The establishment at Kildare being resorted to from all quarters it became necessary to enlarge the buildings in proportion to the number of her nuns and postulants as well as provide for the spiritual direction and assistance both for the institution itself and its frequent visitors. And knowing that such an advantage could not be efficiently supplied without a bishop she applied and procured the appointment of a holy man to preside over the nascent church of Kildare and the others belonging to her institute. Some privilege of this sort existed in the days of Cogitosus as Kildare was the ecclesiastical metropolis of Leinster. This is perhaps one of the earliest instances of religious being exempted from the jurisdiction of the ordinary or the bishop of the district in which such houses were situated. Conlaeth was the person whom St. Brigid recommended as worthy of being raised to the exalted dignity of bishop. In his transit to the other life St. Conlaeth, bishop of Kildare, preceded the holy foundress, having died on the 3d of May, 519. The nunnery of Kildare was founded about the year 487. St Brigid died on the 1st of February, 525, as St Columbkille is said to have been born four years prior to the death of our national patroness AD 521.