Lent And Holy Week (A Primer)

 

First published on April 5, 2011, fast forward to the good parts. It’s Holy Week!

We are officially past the half-way point of the Lenten Season.  Before you know it, it will be Holy Week. As a convert who entered the Church on Holy Saturday in the Year of Our Lord 2008, I’ll never forget that experience. [Read more...]

Ember Days: What They Are And Where They Went

Photographer Credit: Tyler Parks

Today is the first Ember Day between Pentecost and Trinity Sunday.

A long time ago, in a world that seems so very far away, Christian traditions rooted in simple faith thrived among the flock. One such tradition is the celebration of what are known as Ember Days. Traditionally, the first Wednesday after Guadete Sunday is the first Ember Day of Winter.

What are these mysterious days of penance and fasting? Their name alone evokes thoughts of a glimmer of light shed upon a dark world. And yet the story of the practice of this devotion has nothing to do with embers, kindling, or ashes, though it is true that the image of glowing splinters of hot coals did appear in my mind’s eye when I first learned of them. They still do. [Read more...]

Because of the Church’s Position on Abortion

At the Battle of Mobile Bay in the American Civil War, Admiral David Glasgow Farragut gave a famous command. When one of his ships struck a mine and sank and the remaining ships in the fleet got “cold feet” and dallied, he shouted, “Damn the torpedoes! Full Speed ahead!” The remaining ships pressed on and swept the harbor of Confederate resistance. The Catholic Church’s stance on abortion strikes me as similar. [Read more...]

What Figures Are On This Celtic Cross?

A reader writes,

Hi there my name is Mindy and I am trying to figure out the meaning of a particular Celtic Catholic cross that was my father-in-laws throughout his whole life. When he passed away it was handed down to my husband.

I now want my mom to do a portrait of this cross and my husbands father. But I cannot tell what the symbols are on the tips of the cross. I know there is an eagle on the north point and an angel on the south point, but on the west and east parts I cannot tell what they are. My husbands faith is a huge part of not only his life but his whole family’s lives and I feel I need to make sure we depict this cross as it is.

I know this is an odd request but if you can help me discover what these are I would be very thankful.

Sincerely, Mindy

Mindy? You came to the right place! The figures on that particular Celtic Cross are the likenesses of the four cherubim in St. John’s vision from the book of Revelation. Traditionally, they stand for the four authors of the Gospels. The Evangelists are depicted as follows: Matthew (a man), Mark (a lion), Luke (an ox), and John(an eagle).

Here is what John’s vision (Rev 4: 5-7) describes,

From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings, and peals of thunder. Seven flaming torches burned in front of the throne, which are the seven spirits of God. In front of the throne was something that resembled a sea of glass like crystal. In the center and around the throne, there were four living creatures covered with eyes in front and in back.

The first creature resembled a lion, the second was like a calf, the third had a face like that of a human being, and the fourth looked like an eagle in flight. The four living creatures, each of them with six wings, were covered with eyes inside and out. Day and night they do not stop exclaiming: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty, who was, and who is, and who is to come.”

And now, here is a great account from a fantastic book (available on the YIMCatholic Bookshelf, of course!) entitled Sacred and Legendary Art by Anna Jameson. This is the kind of Church history that I love to share with folks. Prepare to be amazed.

III. THE FOUR EVANGELISTS

“Matthew wrote for the Hebrews ; Mark, for the Italians; Luke, for the Greeks ; for all, the great herald John.” — Gregory Nazianzen.

Since on the Four Evangelists, as the witnesses and interpreters of a revealed religion, the whole Christian Church may be said to rest as upon four majestic pillars, we cannot be surprised that representations of them should abound, and that their effigies should have been introduced into Christian places of worship from very early times. Generally, we find them represented together, grouped, or in a series ; sometimes in their collective character, as the Four Witnesses; sometimes in their individual character, each as an inspired teacher, or beneficent patron.

As no authentic resemblances of these sacred personages have ever been known or even supposed to exist, such representations have always been either symbolical or ideal. In the symbol, the aim was to embody, under some emblematical image, the spiritual mission; in the ideal portrait, the artist, left to his own conception, borrowed from Scripture some leading trait (when Scripture afforded any authority for such), and adding, with what success his skill could attain, all that his imagination could conceive, as expressive of dignity and persuasive eloquence, — the look “commercing with the skies,” the commanding form, the reverend face, the ample draperies, — he put the book or the pen into his hand, and thus the writer and the teacher of the truth was placed before us.

The earliest type under which the Four Evangelists are figured is an emblem of the simplest kind: four scrolls placed in the four angles of a Greek cross, or four books (the Gospels), representing allegorically those who wrote or promulgated them. The second type chosen was more poetical — the four rivers which had their source in Paradise: representations of this kind, in which the Savior, figured as a lamb holding the cross, or in His human form, with a lamb near Him, stands on an eminence, from which gush four rivers or fountains, are to be met with in the catacombs, on ancient sarcophagi preserved among the Christian relics in the Vatican, and in several old churches constructed between the second and the fifth century.

At what period the four mysterious creatures in the vision of Ezekiel (ch. i. 5) were first adopted as significant symbols of the Four Evangelists does not seem clear. The Jewish doctors interpreted them as figuring the four Archangels, — Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, Uriel ; and afterwards applied them as emblems of the Four Great Prophets, — Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. By the early Oriental Christians, who typified the whole of the Old Testament, the transfer of the emblem to the Four Evangelists seems obvious and easy; we find it alluded to as early as the second century.

The four “Beasts” of corresponding form in the Revelation (chap. iv. 7), which stood round the throne of the Lamb, were likewise thus interpreted; but it was not till the fifth century that we find these symbols assuming a visible form, and introduced into works of Art. In the seventh century they had become almost universal as distinctive attributes.

St. Matthew (Man)

The general application of the Four Creatures to the Four Evangelists is of much earlier date than the separate and individual application of each symbol, which has varied at different times; that propounded by St. Jerome, in his commentary on Ezekiel, has since his time prevailed universally. Thus, then, 1. To St. Matthew was given the Cherub, or human semblance, because he begins his Gospel with the human generation of Christ; or, according to others, because in his Gospel the human nature of the Savior is more insisted on than the divine. In the most ancient mosaics, the type is human, not angelic, for the head is that of a man with a beard.

St. Mark (Lion)

2. St. Mark has the Lion, because he has set forth the royal dignity of Christ; or, according to others, because he begins with the mission of the Baptist, — “the voice of one crying in the wilderness”—which is figured by the lion; or, according to a third interpretation, the lion was allotted to St. Mark because there was, in the middle ages, a popular belief that the young of the lion was born dead, and after three days was awakened to vitality by the breath of its sire; some authors, however, represent the lion as vivifying his young not by his breath, but by his roar. In either case the application is the same; the revival of the young lion was considered as symbolical of the resurrection, and Mark was commonly called the “Historian of the Resurrection.”

St. Luke (Ox)

Another commentator observes that Mark begins his Gospel with “roaring ” — ” the voice of one crying in the wilderness;” and ends it fearfully with a curse — “He that believeth not shall be damned;” and that, therefore, his appropriate attribute is the most terrible of beasts, the lion.

3. Luke has the Ox, because he has dwelt on the priesthood of Christ, the ox being the emblem of sacrifice. 4. John has the Eagle, which is the symbol of the highest inspiration, because he soared upwards to the contemplation of the divine nature of the Savior.

St. John (Eagle)

But the order in which, in theological Art, these symbols are placed, is not the same as the order of the Gospels according to the canon. Rupertus considers the Four Beasts as typical of the Incarnation, the Passion, the Resurrection, and the Ascension; an idea previously dwelt upon by Durandus, who adds that the man and the lion are placed on the right, because the incarnation and the resurrection are the joy of the whole earth; whilst the ox is on the left, because Christ’s sacrifice was a trouble to the apostles; and the eagle is above the ox, as suggestive of our Lord’s upward flight into heaven.

According to others, the proper order in the ascending scale is thus: at the lowest point on the left, the ox; to the right, the lion; above the ox, the eagle; and above all, the angel. So in Raphael’s Vision of Ezekiel [Pitti, Florence], the angel gazes into the face of the Holy One, the others form His throne.

I have dwelt on these fanciful interpretations and disquisitions, because the symbols of the Evangelists meet us at every turn; in the mosaics of the old Italian churches, in the decorative sculpture of our old cathedrals, in the Gothic stained glass, in the ancient pictures and miniatures, on the carved and chased covers of old books; everywhere, in short, where enters the idea of their divine mission — and where is it not? The profound thought, as well as the vivid imagination, exercised in some of these early works of Art, is beginning to be appreciated; and we should lose the half of what is poetical and significant and venerable in these apparently arbitrary and fanciful symbols, if we merely seized the general intention, and not the relative and appropriate meaning of each.

Peaked your interest? There is more in depth discussion of the symbolic representation of the Four Evangelists in the book. Go see! 

Photo Credit: Hawk Eyes (All sizes of these photographs are available for download under a Creative Commons license)

Because Yes, You Can Go Without Food For A Day (Or Two)

The Season of Lent has begun and Catholics are required to fast today (Ash Wednesday) as well as on Good Friday. We are, however, allowed to break the Lenten fasts on Sundays throughout the season. And you don’t have to fast if you are ill, nursing, below 10 years old, etc.

So although 40 days of sacrifice seems like a lot, fasting from food for only two days is a walk in the park compared to what the saints listed below did. Because I found the following examples of saints who survived for long periods of time on the Eucharist…alone.

These accounts are from an old book published in 1894 called, A Dictionary of Miracles: Imitative, Realistic, and Dogmatic. Though not an exhaustive list (St. Catherine of Siena is missing, for example), it may help you put to bed the notion that you personally cannot fast for the required two days that we are obligated to adhere to for Lent, not to mention simply refraining from eating meat on Fridays.

My Flesh is Meat indeed, and My Blood is Drink indeed.

John vi. 48-55: Jesus said, I am the bread of life. A man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread; if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever; and the bread that I will give is My flesh. For My flesh is meat indeed, and My blood is drink indeed.

John vi. 35: Jesus said to the people, “I am the bread of life. He that cometh to Me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on Me shall never thirst.”

John iv. 13, 14. Jesus said unto the woman of Samaria, “Whosoever drinketh of the water of this well shall thirst again; but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst.

And now for some miraculous examples:

St. Catherine Fieschi of Genoa supported by the Eucharist (a.d. 1447-1510). All through Advent and all through Lent, Catherine Fieschi took no food at all except that administered to her in the mass. In fact, for twenty-three years, from St. Martin’s Day (Nov. 11) to Christmas Day, and from Quinquagesima Sunday to Easter Day, she took no food except “this heavenly manna,” administered to her daily, and her only drink was a glass of water mixed with vinegar and salt.

If ever she attempted to swallow any other food or drink, her stomach rejected it. Sometimes she made great efforts to retain what she had thus swallowed, especially before her confessor, but in these cases her efforts were followed by alarming illness, almost to the verge of death.—Acta Sanctorum, Sept. 14.

St. Gerasimus, a recluse of Palestine, ate nothing but the bread given him in the Eucharist all Lent (a.d. 475). St. Gerasimus was noted for his extraordinary abstinence. He fasted always all Lent, taking no nourishment of any kind, except the eulogie or sacred bread administered to him in the Eucharist.—Lives of the Fathers of the Eastern Deserts.

Remember my friendly flying saint?

St. Joseph of Cupertino

St. Joseph of Cupertino lived for five years on the Eucharist only (a.d. 1603-1663).

St. Joseph of Cupertino lived five years without eating, and fifteen years “without drinking. In these long abstinences, he was sustained by the eulogie, which was administered to him daily. It was often noticed that before the sacrament he looked pale and haggard, weary and spiritless; but when he left the altar he was brisk, animated, and full of vigour.

The body of Christ was food indeed, and the blood of Christ was drink indeed. On one occasion the superior insisted on his taking a little food; he took it in obedience to the superior, but the moment he swallowed it, his stomach rejected it again.—Dominic Bernini, Life of St. Joseph of Cupertino.

St. Nicholas de Flue for twenty years ate and drank nothing but the Eucharist (a.d. 1417-1487).

This must be given in the ipsissima verba of John de Muller himself, Protestant historian of the Swiss Confederation: “Nicolas de Flue, during the twenty years he lived [in Ranft], took no other food or drink other than the Holy Eucharist he received every month. This was done by the grace of Almighty God who created from nothing the heavens and the earth, and can keep them as he pleases. This miracle was examined during his life, and is proven “to posterity, by his contemporaries, and held undisputed”(1487).—John de Muller, Histoire de la Suisse, vol. v. p. 248.

Oswald Isner, cure at Kerns, writes in 1447: “When Father Nicholas began his life of total abstinence, and had reached the eleventh day, he sent for me and asked me privately if he should take food or continue to abstain. He wished to live wholly without food, that he might more sever himself from the world. I felt his members, and found only skin and bone; all the flesh was dried up entirely, the checks were hollow, and the lips wonderfully thin.

St. Nicholas de Flue

I told him to persevere as long as he could without endangering life. For if God had sustained him for eleven days, He could sustain him eleven years. Nicholas followed my advice; and from that moment to the day of his death, a period of twenty and a half years, he took no sort of food, and drank nothing. As he was more familiar with me than with any other person, I often spoke to him on the subject. He told me he received the sacrament once a month, and felt that the body and blood of Christ communicated vital force which served him for meat and drink. Otherwise he could not sustain life without nourishment.

The magistrates, wishing to verify the fact, sent guards for an entire month to surround the retreat of the saint both night and day, to see that no one brought him food. The prince-bishop of Constance sent his suffragan, the bishop of Ascalom, with strict orders to unmask the imposture, if he could detect any. The suffragan took up his abode in a chapel adjoining the cell of Nicholas, And entering the cell, asked him, “What is the first duty of a Christian?”

“Obedience,” said Nicholas. “If obedience is the first duty of a Christian. I command you to eat these pieces of bread, and to drink this wine,” said the bishop. Nicholas besought the bishop not to insist on this order, but the bishop would not give way. Nicholas was obliged to obey; but the moment he swallowed a mouthful of bread, his agony was so great, that the bishop pressed him no longer, and said he only wished to prove whether Nicholas was possessed with a devil; but his obedience had shown him to be a child of grace.

The Archduke Sigismond of Austria sent the royal physician Burcard von Hornek. to examine into the case, and he remained in the cell several days and nights. The Emperor Fredrick III, sent delegations to search into it, but one and all confessed it was a real fact, wholly without delusion.’

Nicholas took part in the service of the parish church every Sunday, and in the great annual procession at Lucerne and he tried to be as little different from other men as possible.

St. Sabis and his Armenian disciples live on the Eucharist (a.d. 480-531).

St. Sabas and several Armenians retired to a desert, where they lived in what is called a laura—that is, a number of separate huts—but every Saturday and Sunday they met in a common oratory. All Lent they lived in the desert in absolute solitude till Palm Sunday, without seeing a soul, or taking any food except the Eucharist, which they received twice a week.—Father Giry, St. Sabast etc.

“Meat indeed”

St. Silvinus, bishop of Regionnaire, lived for forty years on the Eucharist (a.d. 718).

St. Silvinus was noted for his austerities, and for forty years ate no bread except that which he received in the Eucharist. Sometimes he took a few herbs or a little fruit. He never slept in a bed, but always on the bare ground, wholly without covering, even in winter. He treated his body as a slave, surrounded it with bands of iron, macerated it with scourges, and carried enormous stones, which he deposited as a trophy before the doors of the basilica of St. Peter.
—Bollandus, Acta Sanctorum, Feb. 17, p. 23.

Grace of Valencia used to live all Lent on the Eucharist only (a.d. 1494-16U6).

For seven years Grace of Valencia drank nothing, not even one drop of water; this was before she entered the order of St. Francis of Paula; and for the last twenty-one years of her life, she abstained wholly from drink of any kind. She often went four or five days on “angels’ food;” that is, the eulogie, or sacred bread of the Eucharist.—K. P. d’Attichy, Jitstoire Generate de I’Ordre des Freres Mincurs,

Miscellaneous examples of saints going for long periods on the strength afforded by the Eucharist.

Father Sebastian of Perouse says, in his Life of Colomba of Riett, “The holy Eucharist was well-nigh her only food; but this sacred bread sustained her forces and her courage.”

Elizabeth of Waldsech, In Suabia (a.d. 138G-1420). Her biographer says that Elizabeth of Waldsech often lived a whole day on the bread she received in the Holy Sacrament.

John The Good Of Mantua (a.d. 1222). John the Good of Mantua fasted from Easter to Pentecost; the days prescribed by the Church before Easter and before Christmas; besides every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday throughout the year. On the first of these fasts, between Easter and Pentecost, he took no food except that supplied in the Holy Communion. On Ash Wednesday he took three ounces of bread, which lasted him for three days. On the Christmas fastdays, his daily allowance of food was three beans. His weekly fasts were restricted to bread and water. He never touched meat from year’s end to year’s end.—Histoire des Homines Illustres de tOrdre des Ermites de St. Augustin.

St. Rita of Cascia

Marianne De Jesus(a.d. 1645). Marianne at first restricted her diet to bread, fruit, and vegetables; she then gave up the bread, and at last confined herself to the eulogie or sacred bread as her only food. “This,” says her biographer, “is by no means unusual in the lives of saints. Her drink was a glass of water at noon, but later in life she dropped this luxury, and suffered dreadful thirst. On one occasion a cup of water was brought her; she raised it to her feverish lips, and then suddenly put the cup down without touching a drop. She entreated to be allowed to serve the table at the daily meals, that she might mortify her flesh by seeing and handling food without touching a morsel.” — Las Betits Bollandistes, vol. vi. p. 232.

Rita of Cascia (a.d. 1456) took scarcely any nourishment, and the sisters of the convent always believed it was the Holy Eucharist which supplied material aliment to her.—Augustin Cavalucci, Life of the Beatified Rita de Cascia.

St. Manutius of Bayeux (a.d. 480). For forty-seven days before his death the only aliment taken by Manutiua of Bayeux was the Holy Eucharist. He died May 28, A.D. 480.—Propre de Bayeux.

St. Mary Frances of the Five Wounds (a.d. 1715-1791). This was the name taken by Anna Maria Rosa Nicoletta of Naples when she joined the Society of St. Francis d’Assisi. She was a great invalid, and lived for some considerable time on the eulogie or sacred bread alone. —R. P. Bernard Laviosa, Life of Mary Frances.


It’s not too late to skip your supper.


Update: Taylor Marshall has all the official rules on fasting and abstinence.

St. Mary Frances of
the Five Wounds


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