Monday, August 10, 2009

Triple Vespers

The Levite Lawrence hath wrought a good work,
who by the Sign of the Cross gave sight to the blind,
and gave the treasures of the Church to the poor.
– Magnificat antiphon of 1st Vespers of St Lawrence

Having been grilled alive, defying the most impious tyrant by telling him, "I'm cooked, turn and eat!", by a surprising piece of ecclesiastical grim humour, St Lawrence is the Patron Saint of cooks: how appropriate, therefore, on this his feast ten years ago that devout Catholic Jennifer Paterson breathed her last, she of "Two Fat Ladies" fame...

I recall the amusing story about her and how she came to be a food writer and later a television personality: for years she was cook at the London offices of The Spectator, but was finally driven mad by the last-minute demands of her boss the editor ("Oh, Jennifer, we're having fifteen extra at lunch, including the Prince of Wales - they'll be here in forty-five minutes"), promptly opened the kitchen window and threw out all the crockery, which smashed in the courtyard far below - but, instead of sacking her, the editor admired her plucky spirit, and made her a writer for the magazine instead.

Famously, Paterson was a parishioner of the London Oratory, and her uncle was gentiluomo to Cardinal Hume; apparently a bequest from her helped the publication of The Catholic Hymn Book, a fine collection of hymns. I pray that St Lawrence, St Philip and the Blessed Virgin intercede for her, that she have eternal rest in Christ.

I myself am one of those people that enjoy the pleasures of the table, and also quite like reading cookbooks - in fact, providentially a new tome arrived today: Darra Goldstein's The Georgian Feast: The Vibrant Culture and Savory [sic] Food of the Republic of Georgia. (I have hopes of travelling to Georgia in time, but unfortunately the situation there remains tense, with 30,000 Georgian refugees still unable to return to South Ossetia, still more displaced from Abkhazia, both those puppet states being propped up by the Russian military in a shameless manner: Georgia remains straitened within her narrow bounds - only just larger in area than Tasmania - with 18% of her territory under foreign occupation. It seems to me to be somewhat imprudent to travel there at present, alas.)

I think those in the know would agree with me that Georgian cuisine is underrated and not well-enough known: after all, from Poti (ancient Phasis) on the Georgian Black Sea coast (ancient Colchis, end of Jason's quest, the land of the Golden Fleece) came in the beginning the bird of Phasis - the pheasant, king of birds, Phasianus colchicus. I could go on...

But to return to St Lawrence: whenever I think of him, I recall the first portion of the antiphon quoted above - "The Levite Lawrence hath wrought a good work, / Who by the Sign of the Cross gave sight to the blind" - which is also used in shorter form both as another antiphon and as a versicle, and in longer form as the first responsory of his Matins:

R/. The Levite Lawrence hath wrought a good work,
who by the Sign of the Cross gave sight to the blind,
* and gave the treasures of the Church to the poor.
V/. He dispersed, and gave to the poor:
his justice shall abide world without end.
* And he gave the treasures of the Church to the poor.

All true miracles are gratia gratis data, ad ædificandam Ecclesiam: graces given gratis, for the building up of the Church; so it was no wonder that Lawrence the Deacon, that is, one who was a Minister and a Servant, a sacramental icon of Christ the Servant and Minister, performed a signal sign by curing the blind - most significantly, by the Sign of the Cross, that which from a ignominious gibbet has become the Sign of Salvation.

Christ gave sight to the blind, in token that He was the true and only Light of the world, and to shew that in due process of time He would bring light to them that sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, by opening unto them the gate and door of salvation. The servant is not greater than his Master, but follows in His steps: St Lawrence wrought a good work, by freeing from physical blindness a man, thereby giving visible proof to the invisible realities at work, that God through His servants and ministers can not only cure the blind, but through holy Baptism bring illumination to the blind, sinladen soul: not for nothing was Baptism anciently called Photismos and the bath of enlightenment.

Christ may have healed but a few in His day, as the Gospels tell, but by His Cross He saved the dying world going down to death, rising again to be its Life. Likewise, in due measure, St Lawrence, faithful and true witness to Him Who is Faithful and True, healed one, but by his great martyrdom - so the Fathers dare to say - merited the final conversion of pagan Rome, thus bringing salvation to a great Empire of earth, so extending the rule of Christ the King.

It must also be noted that St Lawrence combined in his own person, as servant of the Church of Rome, and in a sense locum tenens thereof (Pope St Sixtus II having but days before been slaughtered at the altar), both faith and good works in an heroic degree: by his miracles he gave proof positive of the power of God, and by his brave almsdeeds he gave witness to the overflowing charity that Christ preached: for as He, being rich, became poor for our sakes, that we may be made rich by His poverty, so St Lawrence, rather than hand over the Church's treasures to bulge the insatiable Imperial purse and feed the licentious luxury of the tyrant, gave rather to the poor these goods for their support, converting gold and silver into everlasting riches stored up in heaven: For inasmuch as ye have done so unto the least of My brethren, ye have done so unto Me, saith the Lord.

To celebrate his feast day, I read Vespers of Our Lady first (keeping to her Little Office as is my wont nowadays), then Vespers of St Lawrence (making my first use of the Breviary Office for some weeks), and finally Vespers of the Dead, in suffrage for the suffering souls in Purgatory, enduring purification by penitential fire (praying for all the faithful departed, including dearly departed Jennifer).

As his Collect reminds us, it is through, with, and in Christ our Lord, by His all-meritorious Passion, by His power and grace, that St Lawrence was able to overcome the dread trial of being charred and cooked on a gridion, and that we may overcome our own vices, burn and inflame they us ever so hotly:

Grant us, we beg, almighty God, to extinguish the flames of our vices, Who didst give unto blessed Lawrence to overcome the fires of his torments: through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Blessed Lawrence, Martyr of Christ, intercede for us.


Salvatore said...

Thank you for reminding me of Jennifer Patterson. I had no idea it had been ten years since her death. I remember she used to sit in the same place at the High Mass at the Oratory every week, dressed in as sort of poncho thing in the colour of the day. I’m told that at the Easter Vigil she used to bring an extra one & change from purple to something more festive at the Gloria.

Joshua said...

And thanks to you, Salvatore, for mentioning these pleasant memories.

You are a Londoner I take it?

How lucky to be able to go to Mass done properly, at the Oratory...

Salvatore said...

No, not a Londoner, though I lived there for most of the Nineties. Melbourne is home now.

And yes, the Oratory is sorely missed.

matthias said...

I use to relish TWO FAT LADIES,for their Britishness,their cheekiness to politically correct foodies. I use to wonder why they had programs utilising the kitchens of various abbeys in the UK. now i know. May her memory be blessed.Wonder if St lawrence greeted her when she first entered the Abodes Above?