The Catholic Herald - 22 December 2006
THE CATHOLIC HERALD DECEMBER 22, 2006
By John Ryan
THE CATHOLIC HERALD
Let us joyfully celebrate the coming of our redemption
Awake, mankind! For your sake God has become man. Awake, you who sleep, rise up from the dead, and Christ will enlighten you. I tell you again: for your sake, God became man. You would have suffered eternal death had he not been born in time. Never would you have been freed from sinful flesh had he not taken on himself the likeness of sinful flesh. You would have suffered everlasting unhappiness had it not been for this mercy. You would never have returned to life had he not shared your death. You would have been lost if he had not hastened to your aid. You would have perished, had he not come. Let us then joyfully celebrate the coming of our salvation and redemption. Let us celebrate the festive day on which he who is the great and eternal day came from the great and endless day of eternity into our own short day of time. He has become our justice, our sanctification, our redemption, so that, as it is written: let him who glories glory in the Lord. Truth, then, has arisen from the earth: Christ who said, I am the Truth, was born of the Virgin. And justice looked down from heaven: because believing in this newborn child, man is justified not by himself but by God. Truth has arisen from the earth: because the Word was made flesh. And justice looked down from heaven: because every good gift and every perfect gift is from above. Truth has arisen from the earth: flesh from Mary. And justice looked down from heaven: for man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven. Justified by faith, let us be at peace with God: for justice and peace have embraced one another. Through our Lord Jesus Christ: for Truth has arisen from the earth. Through whom we have access to that grace in which we stand, and our boast is in our hope of God’s glory. He does not say: “of our glory”, but of God’s glory: for justice has not come out of us but has looked down from heaven. Therefore he who glories, let him glory, not in himself, but in the Lord. For this reason, when our Lord was born of the Virgin, the message of the angelic voices was: Glory to God in the highest, and peace to men of good will. For how could there be peace on earth unless Truth has arisen from the earth, that is, unless Christ were born of our flesh? And he is our peace who made the two into one: that we might be men of good will, sweetly linked by the bond of unity. Let us then rejoice in this grace, so that our glorying may bear witness to our good conscience by which we glory, not in ourselves, but in the Lord. That is why Scripture says: He is my glory, the one who lifts up my head. For what greater grace could God have made to dawn on us than to make his only Son become the son of man, so that a son of man might in his turn become son of God? Ask if this were merited; ask for its reason, for its justification, and see whether you will find any other answer but sheer grace.
Ask if this were merited; ask for its reason, for its justification, and see whether you will find any other answer but sheer grace
This is an excerpt from a sermon by St Augustine (Sermo 185: PL 38, 997-999), used in the Roman Office of Readings on Christmas Eve
By Michael P Foley
Stollen. This popular bread, baked in Germany since the Middle Ages, is more than just a generic Christmas treat. The deliberately conspicuous folds of the dough are meant to remind us of the swaddling clothes in which Mary wrapped her newborn Son. Pretzel. The pretzel was the Lenten treat of ancient Christianity. In the 400s, when the Great Fast of Lent included total abstinence from all meat and dairy products, Roman Christians made a simple bread out of flour, water, and salt. And to remind themselves that Lent was a time of prayer. they shaped the bread in the form of praying arms. (Long before Christians folded their hands in prayer, they prayed with their arms crossed in front of them, as Byzantine Christians still do today.) The result was called bracellae , Latin for “little arms”. From this word comes the German brezel or prezel and our pretzel. Tempura. European cuisine is not the only cooking to be affected by Catholicism. The beloved Japanese dish tempura actually comes from the ancient Catholic observance of the Ember Days. Occurring as they did four times a year, the Ember Days corresponded to the four natural seasons and fell on the Wednesday, Friday,
and Saturday of a specified week. Since the time of the early Church, it was mandatory to fast and abstain from meat on these days. In the 16th century, when Spanish and Portuguese missionaries settled in Nagasaki, Japan, they sought ways of making tasty meatless meals for the Ember Days and started to deep fry shrimp. The idea caught on with the Japanese, who applied the process to a number of different seafoods and vegetables. Even the name for this delicious food denotes the Catholic Embertides: “tempura” and “ember” both come from the Latin term, Quatuor Tempora , “the four seasons”.
Why do Catholics Eat Fish on Friday? by Michael P Foley is published by Palgrave Macmillan priced at £9.99. To order please visit www. palgrave.com or telephone 01256 302866.
THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK
“You cannot visit the child without visiting the mother; you cannot in common life approach the child except through the mother.” – G K Chesterton
Letters to the Editor
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Have we become too complacent in the face of the commercialisation of Christmas?
From Miss Jacqueline Thomas-French
SIR – While the “war on Christmas” is responsible for such stupidities as Jack Straw’s impassioned defence of tinsel in the name of the Angel Gabriel and the ubiquitous phrase “happy holidays,” I hold that the “enlightened” secularists have done us a favour with their attack. If they only knew, they might not approve. As the Church and Christian customs stand under a violent siege from a world which does not want to hear or see hide nor hair of them, the Christians who remain faithful are called to re-examine their beliefs and to stand together. The commercialism of Christmas, long the bugbear of Christmas columns and homilies, pales in comparison to the pure celebration of consumption that the secularists advocate. Theirs is an empty life; we at least have a reason to rejoice and give presents. We are, however, perhaps respon
sible for this orgiastic feast of nothingness that Christmas has come to represent for so many, as we initiated the feasting and the giving of gifts. As Christians we have become fat and complacent. This frontal attack may serve to galvanise us, and remind us of what really matters. As history has shown, persecution strengthens.
Yours faithfully, JACQUELINE THOMAS-FRENCH Topsham, Devon
From Mr Roger Hardwick
SIR – The momentous discovery of the tomb of the Apostle Paul will gladden the hearts of the faithful as Christmas approaches. I think it can be accurately described as a miracle. And, certainly, Catholics are in dire need of gladdening after what has been in many ways an embattled and troubling year for the followers of Christ, what with the challenge of
secularism banging at the Church door. St Paul is the patron saint of Malta and has had several cities named in his honour, including São Paulo, Brazil, and Saint Paul, Minnesota. Not many people appear to be aware that he is also patron of the City of London. The identification of the tomb is an excellent opportunity for those of us who work in the City to confront colleagues who regard The Da Vinci Code as the last word on the Church with the historically firm foundations of the Catholic faith.
Yours faithfully, ROGER HARDWICK London EC1
From Mr Martin Rowlands
SIR – Please can we not get carried away with this battle against the commercialisation of Christmas? I quite agree that the fact nobody
seems to know what we are celebrating anymore is shocking and it is awful that the greedy money men are exploiting the birth of Our Lord for financial gain. But this year I am hoping to get lots of marvellous and expensive presents and I would be very disappointed if my co-religionist friends, in an attempt to scupper the HighStreet megastores, pinched their pennies when it came to buying my gift. Surely those of us who have attended Mass all year, made regular trips to the confessional and fasted obediently during Lent and generally tried to be good deserve a tiny indulgence now? I promise to try even harder next year if I get a flat-screen television. I can’t help feeling members of the anti-secular Winterval brigade have a hint of the Christmas scrooge about them.
Yours faithfully, MARTIN ROWLANDS By e-mail
Pastor Iuventus, the BNP and abortion
Out of Order
From Mr Tony Guy
SIR –Freddy Gray (Notebook, December 15) last week suggested rather glibly that readers could perhaps write in telling him of “some awful” human rights abuses in Gambia. I am glad he enjoyed his holiday there, but he should probably know that Gambia is a country where female genital mutilation is quite widespread. The country has no laws against this practice. Indeed, although Gambia is one of the few countries where democracy has been sustained for most of its existence, freedom of expression has recently been curtailed there quite dramatically. In 2003, a journalist was imprisoned and threatened with death after he criticised President Yahya Jammeh, and draconian legislation has been introduced that forces journalists to give up their sources.
Yours faithfully, TONY GUY Harlow, Essex
From Mrs Helen Owusu
SIR –I was delighted by Freddy Gray’s positive assessment of my country, The Gambia. How refreshing to read something positive about our troubled but brave nation.
Yours faithfully, HELEN OWUSU By e-mail
From Fr Placid Miller
SIR –It is a pleasure to read the weekly trials and tribulations of Pastor Iuventus. As someone who is technologically inept and also constantly fighting with the upkeep of a large building, it is refreshing and uplifting to read how cheerfully he deals with his problems. His stoicism is remarkable. He is full of insight on the workings of daily life, on the little things that make such a big difference. You should give him more column space. I am also very grateful that he recently reminded readers that the Christmas vigil does not fulfil the Sunday obligation on December 24. I look forward to reading more of his anecdotes.
Yours faithfully, PLACID MILLER Cincinnati, Ohio
From Mrs Dominica Roberts
SIR – The BNP’s South East Region candidate implied unmistakably that his opposition to abortion did not extend at any rate to “non-white” babies in Britain. This was clearly understood by those present. Is Mr Bloor (Letters, December 8) now saying that it is official BNP policy to be opposed to all abortions of babies of all races everywhere in the world for any reason? If so, I would be happy to apologise for any offence and to withdraw any
comparison with Hitler. He is perfectly correct in pointing out the eugenicist parallels of those, from all the major parties, who support the killing of the disabled at any age from earliest embryo to near natural death.
Yours faithfully, DOMINICA ROBERTS London SW3
From Mr Tom Carroll
SIR – Reading Sarah Johnson’s piece (November 17) brought me up with a start. I was born with cleft palate and am the father of a Down’s Syndrome daughter. Had the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of my day embraced today’s philosophy, imagine how much embarrassment and inconvenience could have been avoided. My parents would have been spared the agony of coping with my feeding problems. My brothers and sisters spared the embarrassment of being taunted: “Your kid talks down his nose.” My pupils at the Catholic High School spared the struggle of deciphering my lessons. Subsequently, our family could have been spared the awesome responsibility of living with an angel in our midst.
Yours faithfully, TOM CARROLL Worsley
From Dr Marie Heley
SIR –“Overseers of the spiritual ‘mass murder’ of souls entrusted to their care content to swagger about having their boots licked and being told what they want to hear; contemptuous of Catholic truth, law and tradition; untrustworthy and lacking all self-awareness; utterly devoid of courage and leadership; more at home with the homosexual lobby than with the Latin Mass; increasingly despised by the laity…!” (‘Christian Order’, November 2004). These are a few of the epithets applied to our bishops by the “faithful Catholic” whose quarter-page advertisement (December 1) encourages us to “fight the good fight” with Christian Order’ (at £15 pa). I value free speech as much as anyone, but I found the nauseating presumptuousness of their self-comparison with St Thomas More and Winston Churchill a little hard to stomach. My own comparison would be with John Cleese, “Disgusted” of Tunbridge Wells and a touch of Adolf Hitler. I particularly resented a personal attack, in the same issue, on my own hard-working and inspirational bishop. In short, “Christian Order” is decidedly un-Christian and the only Order it deserves is that of the Boot!
Yours faithfully, MAIRE HELEY Ipswich, Suffolk
Letters should include a genuine postal or e-mail address, phone number and the style or title of the writer. Letters over 300 words are likely to be cut
Loving the God who grew up
Is it my imagination, or has Advent been better “ringfenced” this year? Something about the way the Sundays have fallen and the fact that the schools go on so late has meant that at the time of writing this, I have so far avoided carol services and Christmas parties, which is as it should be, and I am gearing myself up for these at the end of the fourth week of Advent, which is reasonable. There will be two carol services, a school one and a parish one, both finishing with Benediction and the reading of the Prologue to St John’s Gospel in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament exposed. To read “The Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us” in this circumstance gives the scripture its deepest possible resonance. I have one Christmas party to attend, hospital permitting on Friday, and in-between a last
minute rush to buy things for those who are the lifeblood of the parish year-round, visits to the sick and housebound and I must remember to replace the bulb in one of the spotlight that I have been meaning to do for weeks, and only I can do because under health and safety regulations I dare not ask anyone else to climb a ladder. I always forget that although it’s Christmas we still need things like a parish newsletter to be ready. I must be beforehand with that this year, but doubtless I will get to the 6pm vigil Mass on Christmas Eve and as usual discover something I have forgotten, like a list of hymns for before Midnight Mass. Note: update the Mass times on the website and answer-phone. My Advent was greatly enriched by attending a performance of Handel’s Messiah this week. It was a performance of magnificent power by the choir of the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School and some renowned soloists in the beautiful setting of St James’s Church, Spanish Place, to my mind the finest church in London. I was struck again by the genius of so many wonderful and contrasting arias and
choruses, but also how their variety is born of a profound sensitivity to the scriptural texts. Though Messiah is traditionally performed at Christmas the words and music take the listener on a journey through Advent and Christmas, through to Passiontide and Easter. A priest friend of mine joked that he would have come but he didn’t want “the other bits” spoiling the Christmas associations the Messiah had for him. There’s something quite thought-provoking in that flippant remark. It struck me that we can, without realising it, do the same with our celebration of Christmas –we see it in isolation, as a touching
scenario which brings only a comforting, warm glow and allows us to repose awhile in its warmth which we don’t want to be spoiled. Yet the scriptures are clear that the Christmas story contains the whole Gospel paradigm: the long history of God’s revelation to Israel according to the Law; the offer of the new law of grace which embraces also the Gentiles and favours the poor and the humble; the need to accept that there is a new beginning, and having accepted it the imperative to proclaim it, the real danger that is can also be rejected, that there is a desire from the first to kill it off; the threat implied to pride and self-aggrandisement and the vulnerability of God confronting sin and death in human nature and apparently at the mercy of both. All of this story is present in the events of the Bethlehem stable. Handel is right: you cannot have “Comfort Ye” and “For Unto us” without “I know that my Redeemer liveth” and “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain.” They are one story. Inasmuch as I have given any thought to what I am going preach about at the Christmas Masses, that is it –that the
Christmas story already contains the whole Gospel and that, though we should rejoice in the poetry of the scene of the child in the manger, the angels and shepherds, they are there to tell us something about the God who grew up. The Incarnation cannot be a celebration of a partial version of what it is to be human. God becoming man should be the ultimate reality check; I do not celebrate Christmas fully by carving out a sentimentalised picture of the world as I wish it were, a sort of Gospel-lite that I can consume without it having any lasting effect. He brings a new way of being human, new hope for humanity, to be sure, but he brings it by being vulnerable and in that vulnerability being anchored in the very heart of God. With Jesus’s help I, like him, can embrace the human reality, of sin and death, for he will anchor me in the heart of God. He has come to bring human nature home safe to God, not to itself. The child in the manger comes to teach us dependence on God, which alone frees us from what makes being human difficult. We are to cry unto him, and not merely coo over him.