Pastor’s Corner

Pastor’s Corner – April 19, 2015


with Fr. James
The Mandylion

Last week’s Bulletin contained a short notice about the striking icon of Veronica’s Veil that is centered on the back wall of the sanctuary. We revealed that the artist is our parishioner, Pam Hoffmeister. This image is traditionally known as the Mandylion, from the Greek word Μανδυλιον, meaning ‘veil’ or ‘scarf.’

Lettering. You will find that in our Mandylion the face of Christ itself has the standard iconic “look” of Jesus: no matter what angle you view it from, Jesus is gazing at you. You can see some lettering at the top, as well as inside the nimbus or halo of Christ. The letter at the top are: IC and XC. These are abbreviations in Greek (the same in Old Church Slavonic) for Jesus: Ιησους (Jesus) and Χριστος (Christ). The letters in the halo are a phrase in Greek, ο ων, meaning “The one who is” from one of the descriptions of God in the book of Revelation “who is, who was, and who is to come” (for example, Rev. 1:8). This indicates Jesus’ divinity and the universal scope of his saving power. If you look closely the letter looks more like a capital H than the Greek letter N, but that’s because this icon is based on a Russian Orthodox model, and that is what the letter looks like in the Old Church Slavonic alphabet.

The Base? People have asked me about the base of the picture. Sometimes I think I see Veronica’s shoulders, and that she is otherwise unseen because she holds the veil with Christ’s face in front of her face. At any rate, there are two angels flanking where she would be holding up the image-impressed veil. The name, Veronica, is related to the Greek name Berenice, meaning “bearer of victory.” The Latin spelling of the name was influenced by the phrase vera icon meaning “true image” in Latin.

Number Symbolism. The four lines in the halo define the three areas where the letters ο ων, are found, signifying the Trinity. But these same lines imply a cross within the circle, if we could see the whole circle. Furthermore, this cross would also contain four cruciform intersections. In scriptural number symbolism, four is the number of the natural world. Jesus the God-Made-Man, here has a halo whose shape is the circle, the perfect one-sided figure indicating eternal divinity. But within that circle are threes and fours. These same four lines also would divide the entire circle into 9 sections, a trinity of trinities.

From the Shroud? Some argue that the Mandylion image in iconography comes from an early exposition of the Shroud of Turin in Edessa in A.D. 525. You can read a short article defending that argument at:

In Orthodox theology, icons are windows into heaven. As we mediate on this beautiful icon, may it serve that purpose for us, leading us to see Jesus.

Pastor’s Corner – April 12, 2015


with Fr. James

The Number 8 as Easter Symbol

The Church speaks the language of religious symbolism in her liturgies, Scriptures, arts and architecture. In a way, symbols are like jokes: if you have to explain them, then they didn’t work. But even jokes need to explained to children or non-native speakers so that they can learn to appreciate them. Nowadays many of us are not schooled in the language of Christian symbol.

An effective religious symbol does not have a single, discreet meaning where symbol X always carries exactly meaning Y. Rather, real symbols are multivalent — intended to have multiple meanings, values, and resonances.

To take one example, consider the number 8. This Sunday is the end of “the octave of Easter”. So Easter Sunday is celebrated for 8 days, the octave, so that, liturgically speaking, each day is the equivalent of Sunday Mass. Why eight?

Jesus rose from the dead on “the first day of the week” (Matt. 28:1; Mark 16:9; Luke 24:1; John 20:1). In that first generation, Christians began observing the first day of the week (Sunday) to celebrate Eucharist, which in time became their Sabbath day, as opposed to the 7th day. (Acts 20:7; 1Cor. 16:2).

The first documentation we have of Sunday viewed as the 8th day of the new creation is in the so-called Epistle of Barnabas from the second generation of Christianity. In the context of explaining how the Law of Moses does not apply to the Christian dispensation, we read:

Wherefore we also celebrate with gladness the eighth day in which Jesus rose from the dead, and was made manifest, and ascended into Heaven.
(Barnabas xv.9)

In traditional church architecture, baptismal fonts are often octagonal in shape. After all, the waters of baptism are the portal for entry into the new creation in Christ. Even entire churches have been built on an eight-sided plan. Stars with 8 points are common in Christian art. Obviously, the number also resonates with the 8 Beatitudes. Other scriptural echoes include the number of people saved in Noah’s ark; the day of circumcision in the Law of Moses; and the number of the sons of Jesse.

As you contemplate the Mandylion icon in the sanctuary on this Eighth Day of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday), consider all the symbols of the new creation embedded in our chapel and in the Sunday liturgy itself.

Pastor’s Corner – March 15, 2015


Liturgy Corner 21
with Fr. James

Mandatum Novum: “A New Commandment”

If you are a regular at the 11:15 am Mass on Sunday, you may have wondered about the Taize chant, in Latin, that the choir has been singing at the dismissal of the Candidates. During Lent the choir decided to accompany them on their way out for discussion and meditation on the Liturgy of the Word with the Latin sentence: Mandatum novum do vobis, dicit dominus, dicit dominus. The English translation is “I give you a new commandment, says the Lord, says the Lord.”

This is taken from John 13:34, which is the Gospel acclamation for the Holy Thursday Mass. The Gospel for this Mass is also taken from John 13, where at the Last Supper Jesus washes the apostles’ feet as an example of the humility with which we are to approach being Jesus’ disciples.

So the New Commandment, that we love one another with Christ-like love, is a fitting meditation for us all, but especially for those preparing for full communion with the Catholic Church. And for those of us hearing this every week, it will serve as a prelude to the beginning of the Triduum.

Pastor’s Corner – March 1, 2015


with Fr. James

Distraction at Mass, Part 3:
Distractions of Spontaneity

In one way of looking at it, “liturgy planning” sounds like an oxymoron. Since the structure of the Mass is always the same, and the readings and prayers of the seasons are prescribed, what’s to plan? But, of course, for the Sunday Masses homilies must be planned, music selected, intercessions composed, and logistics for any special rites need to be thought out and sometimes even rehearsed. So considerable time, thought, and effort may go into any given weekend liturgy. But isn’t even this all too rigid, not leaving any room for the Spirit to move? Isn’t there any room for spontaneity in Catholic Sunday worship? The General Instruction of the Roman Missal makes it sound like the answer is no:

[T]he priest must remember that he is the servant of the sacred Liturgy and that he himself is not permitted, on his own initiative, to add, to remove, or to change anything in the celebration of Mass. [GIRM #24]

However, this statement occurs in the context of accommodations and adaptations that are allowed in the Missal. Not only is there structural wiggle room in the Mass, but a degree of spontaneity can naturally happen in the delivery of the homily, or what words or phrases are emphasized, and the like.

On the other hand, spontaneity is the antithesis of formal, ritual worship. For a minister to “express himself” by innovating on the spot can be a major distraction to the effect of engaging in such a communal act of formal worship as the Mass. Even in that first formational generation of Christians when the formal structure of the Mass was more fluid, St. Paul in his instructions to the charismatic Corinthians sought to control spontaneous outbursts in the Sunday assembly for the sake of order. “Indeed, the spirits of prophets are under the prophets’ control, since he is not the God of disorder but of peace.” (1 Cor. 14:32-33). So clearly, spontaneity as such does not have a high priority in the Mass itself.

Pastor’s Corner – February 22, 2015


with Fr. James

Distraction at Mass, Part 2:
Explanation & Self-Reference

Consider the words Irénée-Henri Dalmais, O.P. wrote in his 1967 The Liturgy as Celebration of the Mystery of Salvation:
Liturgy belongs in the order of doing…not knowing. Logical thought cannot get far with it; liturgical actions yield their intelligibility in their performance, and this performance takes place at the level of sensible realities, not as exclusively material, but as vehicles of overtones capable of awakening the mind and heart to acceptance of realities belonging to a different order.

There are occasions in the Mass when the Celebrant may helpfully provide a brief explanatory intervention. But this should be done seldom and with great prudence. That is because, in Dalmais’ turn of phrase, it diverts our attention from the order of doing (worship) to the order of knowing – logical thought.

Similarly with self-reference in the Mass. When we add self-conscious language to the Mass, we are also detracting from our experience and action of worship and turning instead to thought about our worship. A simple example of self-reference: There’s a setting of the Great Amen that says “We sing Amen”. In this way we point out our act of singing Amen.

C. S. Lewis in his essay “Meditation in a Toolshed” noted that we cannot look at a sunbeam and look up along the sunbeam at the same time. The act of worship is like sticking our head in the light and seeing the sun. Turning our attention to the fact that we are worshiping is like looking at the light, rather than with it. And that’s a distraction.

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