Thursday, June 25, 2009

Half-way to Christmas

Somewhere Pius Parsch put it that we could think of the Liturgical Year as beginning at Septuagesima (when the Breviary begins at the beginning, with Genesis chapter i), and coming to its end with Advent (presaging the final Coming of the Lord) and then, at Christmastide through to Epiphanytide and Candlemas, delighting now in what will happen at the consummation of all the ages - the Lord having come, God and His people will be united forever, at the Nuptial Feast of the Lamb.  With this in mind, the 25th of June marks half-way to Christmas, when we celebrate not just the historical birth of Christ in Bethlehem of Judæa, but His eternal begetting by the Father, and His future return to abide in our midst evermore as our King.  

The time after Pentecost is the time of the Church, the Body of Christ on earth, the Kingdom in germ, His Immaculate Bride, given life by the promised Holy Spirit.  Therefore, quite rightly is this season illuminated by two principal celebrations: the ever-present power of the Crucified and Risen One, which is our focus every Sunday, the Lord's Day; and the ever-present power of the same Crucified and Risen One, which is our focus every Saint's Day, for then we delight in the triumph of His grace in a chosen soul, a true Christian, since Christianos means "one belonging to Christ".  What eternal Victory each Sunday shews us in the Saint of Saints, the selfsame victory achieved in the life of one baptized we see in each Saint whose anniversary we recall.  This is why St Paul could say, "Be ye imitators of me, as I am of Christ" (I Cor. xi, 1) - and the Church, guided by the Spirit into all truth, has feast by feast various Saints say the same to us would-be Christians: Imitate me, as I imitated Christ, and won the immarcescible crown.

Yesterday, and even the day before that, on the Vigil, we had the superlative witness of St John Baptist to behold, that as he told us and all men, Behold the Lamb of God, so too we should turn to Christ.  Heeding His Herald's wonderful humility we should - as is most just - cry out with St John, He must increase, I must decrease.  Not for nothing does the New Testament make so much of the Forerunner of the Lord; his example is peerless.  

Byzantine iconography, in the type of image called the Deësis ("supplication"), loves to portray Christ, on His throne as our coming Judge, attended by the Virgin and the Baptist, both of whom are pleading with Him on our behalf.  

The Holy Roman Church likewise puts great emphasis on the Baptist's prayers - at Mass, he is named in the Confiteor, the Suscipe Sancta Trinitas, the Nobis quoque peccatoribus of the Canon, and the Last Gospel, while his words of witness to the Lamb of God are repeated in the Gloria in excelsis, the Agnus Dei, and the Ecce Agnus Dei.  Holy Mother Church prays in the Vigil Collect that, walking in the way of salvation, following John's exhortation, we may come safely unto Christ; she prays in the Vigil Postcommunion - just as Byzantine art depicts - that his potent prayer obtain for us the mercy of the Lord Whose coming he foretells; and all the orations of the Day Mass say much the same and more.

To-day the Traditional Rite places St William (Guglielmo) of Vercelli, Abbot of Monte Vergine, before us; a monastic founder of long ago... perhaps in our unmonastic age it is not for nothing that we should recall a monk, that is, one who is monachos, one alone with the Alone, seeking after the one thing necessary, the One Who alone is necessary.  His collect, which I have been mulling over this day, actually inspired these thoughts and this post:

Deus, qui infirmitate nostræ ad terendam salutis viam in sanctis tuis exemplum et præsidium collocasti: da nobis, ita beati Gulielmi Abbatis merita venerari, ut ejusdem excipiamus suffragia, et vestigia prosequamur.  Per...

(God, Who hast set in Thy Saints an example and defence for our infirmity, to smooth the path of salvation, grant unto us so to revere the merits of blessed Abbot William, that we may obtain the suffrages, and follow after the steps of the same.  Through Our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who with Thee liveth and reigneth in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end.  Amen.)

I deliberately give the full ending of the Collect, because it reminds us that whatever example, whatever deserts, whatever prayers, whatever benefits soever, all are of avail and are inspired and are empowered and are granted only in and through and by Our Saviour, Who with His Father and the Holy Spirit is One God in perfect Trinity, evermore.

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