Friday, September 30, 2011

"Banal na Misa"

There is a peculiar energy to the celebration of the Holy Mass here in the tropics; those who have been to Manila and attended any one of her Catholic churches on a Sunday can attest to the heady mixture of strange noises and even stranger scents: the cacophony of boisterous preaching on the one hand, and the ceaseless honking of horns and vendors hawking their wares on the other, especially in the bigger churches; and who could forget the smell of burnt wax and incense and the tide of bodies sweating in the the naves.

At times, when I was younger, I often found myself paying as much attention to the peripheral noise as I did to the priest's sermon. Here and there, the muffled crying of a baby; perhaps in one corner, an old lady sobbing for her sins; a toddler a few pews ahead is asking his nanny to accompany him to the bathroom. At the entrance of the church, not-very-religious make a quick stop on their knees to pray for luck; someone lights a candle to saint, or to one of the many titles of the Virgin. A bird or two might enter by the window and fly overhead, and on the ground, a cat rests its weary head on a forlorn kneeler.

Herein, perhaps, lies the staying power of religion: we are not so much born into a set of abstract propositions and vague, ivory tower politics as we are into a matrix-- a womb, even-- of sights, smells, and sounds. The religious man is born into a stage, complete with all its actors and props and mise en scene. Miraculously, strangely, luminously, religion somehow brings serenity and order into an otherwise jarring concoction of ill-fitting components.  In it is found grace, which meanders from heaven to earth, sacred to profane, and the eternal to the miracle of the present. Only in the Mass, I've found, has the furious screaming of a toddler wanting its Kool Aid taken on a gentleness which could not but speak of God. Faith here is literally at a crossroads, with the church serving as a bridge, straddling the unfathomable chasm between the realm of the invisible and the holy, and the marred and tactile world of the profane. And it is that slow, steady trickling of divine grace from on high that seems to make it so worthwhile.

In the Mass heaven and earth are wed and become one. The screaming baby becomes a mighty, flaming seraph, crying 'Holy, holy, holy!', the worshippers become one with the great cloud of witnesses that sing the glory of God, and the sinner becomes like Dismas, who, in spite of his terrible crimes, was blessed enough to have died at the side of the Lord. What a delightful mystery it is,

To Jesus Crucified

     Lovely tears of lovely eyes--
Why dost thou me so woe?
Sorrowful tears of sorrowful eyes--
Thou breakest my heart in two.

Thou sighest sore;
Thy sorrow is more
Than man's tongue can tell;
Thou singest of sorrow,
Mankind to borrow
Out of the pit of hell.

I proud and keen,
Thou meek and clean
Without woe or wile;
Tho art dear for me,
And I live for thee,
So blessed be thy will.

Thou mother seeth
How thou woe beest,
Therefore she yearns apart;
To her thou speakest,
Her sorrow thou slakest--
Sweet prayer won they heart.

Thy heart is rent,
Thy body is bent
Upon the rood tree;
The tempest is spent,
The devil is schent,
Christ, by the might of thee.

     Lovely tears of lovely eyes--
Why dost thou me so woe?
Sorrowful tears of sorrowful eyes--
Thou breakest my heart in two.

- Anonymous, 14th century; found in Bishop (Anglican) George Appleton's collection of prayers

I used to have a laminated copy of this prayer in my photo album. There was an illustration of a boy with a teddy bear kneeling by his bedside, while an angel looks invisibly to the side. I wonder what became of it.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Europe According to the Vatican

Just a bit of fun-- I haven't turned into a vile, hedonistic, anticlerical , vegan, bohemian atheist, I assure you, dear readers. Still, I believe a little anticlerical (can it even be called that? perhaps more satirical than anything) humor every now and then can be quite good for Catholics. I must say, I found the description for Spain quite amusing; Germany, too :D .

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Benedicta tu in mulieribus

In honor of the birthday of the Mother of God, here is a video of one of my favorite pieces of music, Franz Biebl's Ave Maria, as sung by Chanticleer.

Tota pulchra es, Maria,
et macula originalis non est in te.
Vestimentum tuum candidum quasi nix, et facies tua sicut sol.
Tota pulchra es, Maria,
et macula originalis non est in te.
Tu gloria Jerusalem, tu laetitia Israel, tu honorificentia populi nostri.
Tota pulchra es, Maria.