A well-known chocolate company is currently running an advertising campaign for bunny-shaped treats with the tagline, ‘Why wait until Easter?’ I imagine the concept of ‘Lent’ isn’t a popular one among chocolate manufacturers, but it says a lot that they could ask this rhetorical question as if there were no obvious answer. Just as Christmas festivities are extended (for commercial reasons) into the waiting period before Christmas, so too the allure of Easter indulgence pops its head up in the last weeks of Lent.
How should we respond? Well, we should certainly ‘wait until Easter’, and stay faithful to our Lenten regimes. But in response to worldly indulgence we should be careful not to become mere puritans. The best way to avoid this possibility is to really spend time meditating on the mysteries we celebrate at Easter, which motivate both our Lenten simplicity and our Easter celebration.
The video above, produced by the Irish Dominican students, is a good way to enter more deeply into the Paschal mysteries. It explains, step by step, the Church celebrations that mark the Easter Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday), ending with the drama of the Easter Vigil. This collective journey through the liturgy is also a spiritual journey with Christ.
Cadbury’s might want to rush us to Easter, but a better path is to take your time on the journey, to walk slowly through the Upper Room, to Calvary, to the tomb, and beyond.
https://i1.wp.com/dominicans.ie/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Easter-1024x790.jpg?fit=1024%2C790&ssl=17901024Dominicans Interactivehttp://dominicansinteractive.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Crest-mod-300x300.pngDominicans Interactive2014-04-17 09:00:072014-04-17 11:40:15Online Video Review: Reason for the Season – the Easter Triduum
Laetare Sunday is now behind us and we are in final stretch towards Holy Week. I don’t know about you, but I always find the emotion of Holy Week quite hard to take. Perhaps it has a greater intensity in a religious community, when the whole community experiences disorientation together: familiar timetables are altered, familiar statues are covered, and the Lord is removed from his familiar place in the tabernacle. Holy Week, this journey through desolation towards the unspeakable joy of Easter, is best lived communally – each Christian home, each parish, each nation, and the whole people of God experience the same agony and the same ecstasy, because they recognise the same Lord.
How to enter into this communal experience of the Passion and Resurrection of Christ? Needless to say, active participation in the liturgy is top of the list, and preparing for the liturgies by reading the Scriptures in advance is especially helpful. I also find it helpful to read meditations and classic texts from the tradition: St Bonaventure’s writings on the passion of Christ are a favourite of mine.
In the Internet Age, these possibilities are extended: now I like to listen to Holy Week music from Serbia, Greece, Russia, the Middle East. These songs of the Christian people help me move beyond my own preoccupations to enter into ‘fellowship with ages past’, to participate in the common emotion of the people of God. But in searching for the more exotic expressions of the Holy Week experience, I have discovered a few gems which were polished up closer to home, especially the Caoineadh na dTrí Mhuire (‘Lament of the Three Marys’) from the Irish ‘sean nós’ (‘old style’) tradition of singing.
This song is typical of the Irish tradition of reflection on the passion, which takes the little crowd at the foot of the Cross – and especially Christ’s Mother – as our eyes and ears on Calvary. While the 8th-century Irish poet, Blathmac, writes a long poem on the passion with Mary by his side (‘Come to me, loving Mary, that I may keen with you your very dear one’), the singer of this sean nós song goes a step further and sings as Mary, or rather, as the three Marys at the foot of the cross (John 19:25). Christ is so bruised that he is hardly recognisable:
Is this the little son nourished at Mary’s breast […]
And is this the little son I bore for three seasons?
We see Christ through the teared-up eyes of his mother, as the tenderness of Bethlehem meets the violence of Golgotha:
Is this the little son born in the stable […]
My son, my darling, your nose and little mouth are cut.
Throughout the song, the mournful refrain (or ‘keen’) is repeated, and its agonised syllables give musical form to the Good Friday anguish of every Christian generation. Together these assembled generations stand at Calvary, side by side with the three Marys, gazing at the Cross in Good Friday shock: óchón agus óchón ó…
This Holy Week, let us stand, sing, and grieve with them.
[The version of Caoineadh na dTrí Mhuire in the video above is taken from Hymns of Passion and Resurrection, the inaugural album of the ‘Céli Dé Collective’, under the guidance of a Dominican friar of the Irish Province. The album is due to be released on 12 April, and can be bought in record stores (Ireland), online at www.celide.ie, and on iTunes.]
https://i2.wp.com/dominicans.ie/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/5704810244_4ece702d5a_b.jpg?fit=1024%2C768&ssl=17681024Dominicans Interactivehttp://dominicansinteractive.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Crest-mod-300x300.pngDominicans Interactive2014-03-31 18:40:172014-04-25 16:21:50Online Video Review: Caoineadh na dTrí Mhuire
In ancient Sparta, being born did not necessarily mean that a child would be cherished. The Spartan elders could decide, if they thought the child was weak or deformed in any way, to have the child exposed to the elements, cut off from the support of the community and left to die.
This practice of ‘exposure’ seems to have been relatively common in some parts of the ancient world. Christianity, with its emphasis on the equality of all before God, and Jesus’ own example of love for children, was revolutionary in this context. While it goes without saying that not all Christian communities have lived to the full this ideal of care for the vulnerable, it is important to recognise how radical this aspect of Christianity was.
Was, and is again. With the aid of pre-birth diagnosis, doctors can now inform parents that their child has a disability. On its own, this is not a bad thing – it can help parents prepare for a more difficult situation. But wherever abortion is available on demand (as in Britain, for example), such information is commonly paired with advice to end the life of the disabled child. In such regimes, up to 90% of children diagnosed with Down Syndrome are ‘exposed’ in this way.
Christianity’s message of care for everyone, respect for the dignity of everyone, is once again a radical teaching, and it is rejected, consciously or unconsciously, by many of our peers. This video, then, produced last week for World Down Syndrome Day, is a powerful illustration of the beautiful results of following this teaching with love and perseverance: it shows sensitive and ambitious young people and proud mothers. Above all, it shows smiles. These smiling faces, born of relationships rooted in love and respect, are the true face of the Culture of Life. Let us salute our brothers and sisters with Down Syndrome, and let us salute their families.
https://i1.wp.com/dominicans.ie/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/world-down-syndrome-day-dear-future-mom-600-29433.jpg?fit=1280%2C720&ssl=17201280Dominicans Interactivehttp://dominicansinteractive.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Crest-mod-300x300.pngDominicans Interactive2014-03-24 11:29:322014-03-24 11:29:32Online Video Review: Dear Future Mum
The video above, produced by Fáilte Ireland (the Irish tourist board) has been doing the rounds recently. It was produced in honour of St Patrick’s Day, and its central message is, ‘Ireland Inspires’. It celebrates the achievements of this little island in a way that blends the old (literature, landscape) and the new (science and technology, contemporary music). Initially, I was impressed, but watching it a second time highlighted something that made me uncomfortable: this self-presentation of Ireland involved a major emphasis on business prowess. In itself, this isn’t a bad thing, but taken with the absence of any witness to transcendent values, this video shows the dominance of the utilitarian over the spiritual which is sadly definitive of contemporary Ireland.
It’s hard to understand the processes that have led to Ireland turning so quickly and decisively away from its Catholic heritage. We shouldn’t exaggerate the situation, of course, and there are good practice rates in many parts of the country. But all the major cultural outlets exhibit the same disdain for all things ecclesiastical, and even all things spiritual – Ireland has ‘come a long way’ and is continuing to ‘move on’.
In this context, a major temptation presents itself to Irish Catholics: retreat to the ghetto. Such a strategy essentially involves substituting retrenchment for evangelisation, making do with a ‘faith world’ which offers familiarity and comfort (a strategy which is shared by so-called ‘liberals’ and ‘conservatives’ alike). Like all temptations, this retreat strategy includes some desirable aspects: at the very least it provides some kind of escape from the rapid change of values that is engulfing modern Ireland. What it lacks, though, is an essential element of Irish Christianity from its inception: the missionary spirit.
We can find the wellsprings of this missionary spirit in the life and writings of St Patrick himself. St Patrick was extremely unusual for his time: a missionary bishop whose obedience to God’s call brought him (back) beyond the bounds of the Roman Empire. His Confessio bears passionate testimony to his conversion, his vocation as a missionary to the Irish, and his intimate following of Christ through immense difficulties. His work in Ireland bore great fruit, to his own amazement:
How, then, does it happen in Ireland that a people who in their ignorance of God always worshipped only idols and unclean things up to now, have lately become a people of the Lord and are called children of God? How is it that the sons and daughters of Irish chieftains are seen to be monks and virgins dedicated to Christ? (Conf. 41).
This simple saint saw himself as ‘a letter of Christ bearing salvation to the uttermost parts of the earth’, even if the letter is not ‘elegantly written’. He knew that his gifts were limited, and that his mission was daunting, but, more importantly, he knew that nobody should be excluded from the love of Christ, even those in the ‘uttermost parts of the earth’, even those, as Pope Francis would say, ‘at the margins’.
The contemporary situation in Ireland makes many followers of Christ despair of ever ‘regaining’ Ireland. ‘The Irish people are gone astray’, we might say, ‘Let them go their way, and let us focus on being good Christians’. Evangelical St Patrick points to a different way:
In Hosea God says: “Those who are not my people I will call ‘my people’ and her who had not received mercy I will call ‘her who has received mercy’. And in the very place where it was said, ‘You are not my people’, they will be called ‘sons of the living God” (Conf. 40, quoting segments from Hosea 2).
True sons and daughters of St Patrick, then, will never give up on their contemporaries, but will see, even in those furthest from the Church, children loved by the Father, called to receive mercy and adoption into His people.
#IrelandInspires? Perhaps. But more importantly, #PatrickInspiresApostles.
https://i1.wp.com/dominicans.ie/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/skelligmichael-2008pano.jpg?fit=900%2C448&ssl=1448900Dominicans Interactivehttp://dominicansinteractive.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Crest-mod-300x300.pngDominicans Interactive2014-03-17 09:47:282014-03-17 09:58:52Online Video Review: #IrelandInspires