Saturday, April 19, 2014

Polish By Adoption

I'll admit it.  I miss my "Polish family."

In years past on this day, I'd have taken my basket of traditional Polish foods over to Our Lady of Mount Carmel to be blessed, along with a children's basket (filled with candy, puzzles, games and a stuffed animal) to be donated to a family in need and a box of non-parishables for the local food bank.

Blessing of Food Baskets at OLMC had to be done in 4 "seatings" from 1 to 3 PM in order to accommodate all of the families.  The sanctuary was a riot of brightly-colored baskets for the children on one side, and a mountain of boxes and bags of food for the poor on the other.  To one side, a long table was set up with all of the foods that had been prepared for the Ptak Family meal. (Fr. Walter Ptak was the pastor and my boss.  He grew up in the parish and had a huge family that still lives in Wyandotte.)  Fr. Ptak also displayed his sizable collection of lambs made of sugar, porcelain, pottery, wood and other materials, and some of his pisanki, which are brightly and elaborately decorated eggs, also made of wood, pottery or real blown eggshells.

I recently wrote to one of Fr. Ptak's sisters who each year generously gave me a loaf of płacek, a yeast-raised sweet bread with blanched raisins and a crumb topping, to put in my blessed food basket.  I told her how much I missed these traditions and the difficulty I was having locating some of the more important foods for a traditional food basket.  She said, "I think you must really be Polish and kidnapped at birth!"  I doubt it, but I will tell you that when the Poles take you into their own, you are Polish by adoption, and to have been steeped in that tradition (the village tradition as lived out by Polonia in Wyandotte), it really does get into your bones.

Just for memory's sake, here is a picture of the last basket I put together, along with an explanation of what is in it and how the blessing is performed.

From the top, you see a bundle with pussy willows, myrtle and a palmki bound with a red ribbon.  Each are a part of the tradition, pussy willows and myrtle both representing new life; next is the neck of a bottle of a Polish sweet table wine (the name of which I cannot remember, but it was purchased at Srodek's in Hamtramck); tucked underneath you can see part of the small round loaf of "blessing bread" and then the butter lamb, next is a ring of smoked kiełbasa; in the middle are small dishes of horseradish prepared with beets (called chrzon) and salt.  The eggs are died with onion skins, which produce a beautiful cordovan color and are 100% natural.  Then comes a small picnic ham, the sugar lamb I bought that year and finally a small portion of płacek.  The white cloth you see rolled up is a traditional linen basket cover with beautiful eyelet work in it.

For the blessing, tradition has it that a basket, filled with various symbolic foods that are eaten after attendance at the first resurrection Mass of the day, is brought to the church on Holy Saturday and blessed. The blessing begins with a traditional liturgical greeting, "Niech będze pochwalony Jezus Chrystus ; Na wieki wieków. Amen." There is then a brief explanation of the traditions, then three blessings: one for the eggs, one for the bread and one for the meat. The priest then processes through the church sprinkling the people and the baskets with holy water. He concludes the service by exhorting the people to continue in their prayers in preparation for the Great Vigil, and to continue abstaining from meat until after the first resurrection Mass on Sunday. The full tradition is that one fasts and abstains from meat on Good Friday, and continues to abstain from meat through Holy Saturday until after attending the resurrection Mass on Easter Sunday. The first food to be shared is the blessed egg, the symbol of new and eternal life. This is typically eaten with horseradish to remind us of the bitterness of Christ’s Passion. Then all other foods are fair game, including various meats and sweets. 

Next, I'll post pictures of my modest pisanki and sugar lamb collection.

The Francis Effect (tm)

Over the last year, I've been watching the unfolding of the Franciscan papacy with mixed thoughts and reactions.

Today I ran across a link to this article, and couldn't resist but to comment on it.

Here's a pull-quote:

"It’s odd enough that there are two living popes. It’s odder still that they live in such proximity. But what’s most odd is that the two popes are these two popes, and that the one who spent a third of a century erecting a Catholic edifice of firm doctrine and strict prohibition now must look on at close range as the other cheerfully dismantles it in the service of a more open, flexible Church."

Francis is not "dismantling" an edifice built by Benedict. And, that edifice of firm doctrine was not built by Benedict in a third of a century. It was established nearly 2000 years ago by Christ and remains a bulwark against the gates of Hell.

This writer, like so many in the liberal, secular press, believes that Francis is the Pope that will finally liberate the Church from it's perceived oppressive doctrine and become the "Newchurch" that so many desire; an edifice of Faith built to conform to their will, rather than an edifice that will conform their will to the Faith of the Ages.

There is nothing to read here. The press spent the Benedictine years feverishly "uncovering" every scandal they could, attempting to paint Benedict's papacy as one of oppressive doctrine and opulent liturgical excess. Now they want to paint him as a bitter old man who regrets abdicating and who is now trapped in a prison of contemplation while bearing witness to the destruction of the Church. Neither characterization is true.

Meanwhile, they continually post photos, "Kodak moments" of Papa Bergoglio kissing babies and embracing those among the Faithful who have been horribly disfigured by disease. I'm a bit tired of the never-ending, breathless media coverage of Pope Francis.  You'd think he was the only pope to kiss babies or smile.

But the honeymoon may be over, or at least for some poor journalists who are confused by some of what Francis is doing, things that they perceive as being inconsistent with what this pope is supposed to be bringing to the world.

There is an article here with the telling headline "Why does progressive Pope Francis allow anti-gay bishops to preach hate?"In Benedict's first year, the press went on a breathless mission to track down every photo of young Ratzinger wearing his Hitler Youth uniform they could lay their hands on in an effort to convince people that he ate babies rather than hugged them. They're still on a campaign to characterize him as a gay-hating bigot.

If you do a quick "Google" search of Benedict, you'll find every hate-filled news article and photo ever produced regarding him. Photo-shopped pics of him made to look like the Emperor from the Star Wars saga, photos of someone standing right behind him make a stabbing gesture toward his back. Captioned photos of him in the famous red, fur-lined zucchetto called him the "Santa of Hate".

The MSM want everyone to believe that Francis is a progressive; that he's the "fluffiest pope evvvvurhh" (to quote Fr. Z). But in reality, Francis will not (indeed he CAN NOT) change 2000 years of Church Teaching. The sooner they realize that, the better. The more quickly we as serious-minded Catholics quit buying into the image the MSM is trying to project of him as a progressive, fluffy, baby-kisser the better off the Church will be, and the quicker those who think he's "all that" will realize that he's still the pope, and that he and Papa Ratzinger share a common lineage - the Vicar of Christ.

Meanwhile, this article captures the reality of the matter. Now people in the press are beginning to realize that when the rubber meets the road, Francis, like his predecessor, will stand squarely behind Church Teaching. But read carefully. They're confused. They don't understand how the "fluffiest pope ever, the one who kisses babies, the first pope to smile" could not come to Obama's aid, giving his popularity a boost by being seen with this great, progressive pope. Meanwhile, they can't resist to continue painting Papa Emeritus Ratzinger as a rigid old man obsessed with antiquated and oppressive doctrine.

When will the progressives both within and without the Church finally get it? 

Holy Week, Confession, Divine Mercy and Hard-identity Catholicism

I've not posted for a long time.  Too long, actually.  I'm sure that there are many who have visited the site disappointed that I'd not posted anything since back in December.

Much of my attention has been focused on getting through my first year at Sacred Heart.  I wish that I'd spent more time chronicling my adventures over the last months, but somehow as I'm getting older I'm finding that kind of public display of catharsis rather tiresome.

That said, I've had many personal spiritual struggles over the last year, and have finally managed, by the grace of God, to turn a corner and begin the long journey back out of the desert I've been wandering in all these months.

The first step on this journey is a return to the confessional.  Not an easy task, as it seemed that each time I tried to stiffen my resolve to go, my heart would become all the more flinty.  The sins, along with the sense of weighty guilt and shame, became too much to bear and so, after helpful prayer and encouragement from friends, I returned to the confessional.  What a relief.  A millstone was cast from my neck.  My penance was not an involved one, but a very helpful one - one in which I am still engaged as the priest insisted that I perform this particular penance every day for two weeks.  I immediately received Holy Communion - something I'd not done in nearly a year.

I've returned to daily prayer, which is also an important exercise, and am joining in with others on praying the Divine Mercy Novena.

My turning back toward God got some attention.  Attention of a demonic sort.

Make no mistake. We Catholics pray daily that God will send St. Michael to defend us in battle because the Devil and his minions prowl the earth seeking the ruin of souls. He does not discriminate in this matter. Indeed, what benefit is it to Satan to make use of pawns who are already separated from God? Rather, he finds those who are vulnerable within the Church, right in the local parish community, to vex and confound us, drawing our attention away from Christ on the Cross.

These are troubling times, and these Three Days are when the Church is most vulnerable - altars are stripped, bells and organs are silent, and after the Liturgy for Good Friday, all the tabernacles of the world will be empty.

I have experienced profound graces and mercy in the last several days, and Satan cannot abide it. He has already tried (and nearly succeeded) in thwarting my attempt to journey back to a state of grace, and between now and Holy Saturday Night (the Great Vigil of Easter) it will likely get worse.

Be sober and vigilant, good friends.

Monday, December 16, 2013

"O Come, O Come Emmanuel" - The Word Game

Icon of Our Lady of the New Advent: Gate of Heaven

Beginning tomorrow, and proceeding up to Christmas Eve, the “O” antiphons for the Magnificat are sung during vespers.  (The texts of these antiphons are the basis for the popular Advent hymn, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.  For those of you who really want to be “inside baseball” on this topic, Jeffrey Tucker wrote a brilliant article on the history of the tune over at the New Liturgical Movement, here.)

Several years ago in a discussion thread at the Musica Sacra forum, a member pointed out that the text of the “O” antiphons is actually a very clever word game.  The seven invocations in the original Latin are: Sapientia, Adonai, Radix Jesse, Clavis David, Oriens, Rex gentium and Emmanuel.  The first letter of each spell S-A-R-C-O-R-E, which when reversed spells “Ero cras”, which in turn translated from Latin means “tomorrow I shall be.”  An appropriate expression for Christmas Eve, the day after the "O Antiphons" end.

As the member said, “Very clever, those medievals.”

(The Icon of "Our Lady of the New Advent: Gate of Heaven" is (c) by William H. McNichols, from St Andrei Rublev Icons. My thanks to them for kindly granting permission to use it here. Please visit the site for other beautiful art.)

Monday, December 2, 2013

A Sacred Musician Reports From the Trenches

A colleague of mine took a job in Arizona last summer.  He's a talented and ambitious young sacred musician, fully committed to the restoration of orthodoxy to the culture of the Catholic Church in the 21st century.

I've been disturbed by reports he's been posting to Facebook, complete with photos of "hate mail" he and his Pastor have received in reaction to the work he's doing.

Here are some examples:

It's truly amazing that people would write such hateful, ignorant, manipulative stuff.

What is more amazing is that since the reforms of the Second Vatican Council were implemented, the Catholic Church has tragically lost so much of what made its cultural identity unique.  The "leadership" of the Church incredulously wrings its hands and wonders out loud why there's a crisis of faith and a crisis of vocations to the priesthood and religious life in the face of growing numbers of young people joining religious orders and pursuing priestly vocations associated with Magisterial fidelity and orthodox liturgical practice.  But that's for another time.

What is important, and what impressed me, was my friend's response in the Facebook discussion thread regarding the typewritten note.  They were words I needed, and not because I'm facing obstruction or resistance anything close to this kind of vitriol.  They were needed because those of us who are committed to this cause are easily dispirited in the work we've undertaken when faced with such selfishness.

He said,

These letters really don't bother me. We're called to be faithful, not successful, so I shall try to stay faithful in carrying out my mission.

The rule of thirds is applicable at my parish, I believe. ⅓ of the people will like you, ⅓ won't, and ⅓ won't care.

We simply have to do the right thing and trust in God. The sacred liturgy is Christ's work, not ours. The liturgy is not something we do, it's something that God is doing in our presence. It is not for cardinals, popes, bishops, or any of us, to do things with the liturgy. Rather, it is our privilege and duty to join in the liturgy as it has been handed on to us and to allow it, to allow Christ working in and through it, to do things with us!
Well said.

If your music director is working to reclaim our unique Catholic identity as expressed in orthodox musical practice, thank him or her for their commitment and let your Pastor know that you appreciate the work the music director is doing as well!

Pastors often only get  rambling emails, viturperous voice mail messages or noisome green-ink letters like the ones shown above.  And some, out of a sense of desperation or frustration, err on the side of compromise in the one area that they feel they can, without violating Church Teaching, in the name of pastoral sensitivity.  They need to know that the efforts to restore chant and polyphony to the Mass are worthwhile, and that people (who take their faith seriously) do want reverent, prayerful, and truly Catholic music in their liturgical celebrations.  They also need to know that sacred musicians are not just temperamental egoists who do what they do for personal adulation or who make their choices based on effete and eccentric tastes.  Truly educated sacred musicians understand that the Mass and its music are part and parcel of an unbroken tradition.  Priests need to understand that the cultural battles of our time go well beyond the cries for same-sex marriage, ordination of women and the evils of abortion and contraception.

Support your sacred musician, and let your Pastor know that you appreciate what he or she is doing!

Keeping Advent

In 2008, prompted by a thread over at WDTPRS to "keep" Advent as a penitential and preparatory season in anticipation of Christmas, I began establishing my own traditions that would do just that.

Here's how it works.

I have finally created a nice Advent wreath (artificial greens, as alas I’m an apartment dweller and don’t wish to risk the fire hazard) with the traditional candles (three purple, one rose).

A tree (again, artificial) goes up with white lights, but instead of Christmas ornaments, the tree is decorated with purple ornaments and a few rose-colored ones.  Some of them have gold decoration on them. The tree is topped with a large purple bow. I also have a swag of greens with white lanterns, pinecone lights and a big purple bow hanging over the chest with the Nativity set arranged on it (in stages, which is explained below).

I abstain from listening to Christmas music at home, limiting myself to the few recordings of Advent music I own (a recording of the Advent Procession from St. James' Episcopal Cathedral, Toronto, and J. Michael Thompson and the Schola Cantorum of St. Peter the Apostle singing Advent Lessons and Carols, called, "Redeemer of the Nations, Come").

On Gaudete Sunday I'll make my Christmas cookies and write and post my Christmas cards.

On the morning of Christmas Eve, the purple and rose ornaments will come down and the Christmas decorations will go up on the tree, over the door and elsewhere in the apartment.

There are some who have a tradition of putting up the various elements of the Nativity in stages: the stable goes up on Advent I; the animals go in on Advent II; the shepherds on Advent III; the Angel on Advent IV; Mary and Joseph on Christmas Eve morning, and the bambino on Christmas Eve when I get home from Midnight Mass.

Of course all of this would be for naught if prayer didn't figure into the picture.  I'll be the first to admit that I have for some time been in a bit of a spiritual "dry place", but I have resolved to regain my spiritual bearings during this month of preparation.

Here are some pictures of the tree and the Nativity arrangement. (The picture of the wreath was taken last year.)

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Schola Sancta Caecilia releases new CD of chant and polyphony

(From the CD Liner Notes)
“Stella Splendens” features unaccompanied sacred vocal music sung by six ladies in high school.

Formed at the parish of Sacred Heart of Jesus in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the Schola Sancta Caecilia has been singing for the Extraordinary Form Mass since last year. All of the members are 18 or younger, but their approach to the music is very mature. This CD features Gregorian chant, ancient hymns, medieval polyphony and three recent compositions from the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles in Kansas City. Recorded in Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic church, the CD has a very “live” sound.

With their purity of tone and clarity of diction, the Schola Sancta Caecilia are the "Anonymous Six" of the Midwest.  Like the professional group, Anonymous Four, these young ladies sing Gregorian Chant and Medieval Polyphony with an expert tonal blend and a flawless intonation.  They also branch out into Renaissance Polyphony and more modern pieces with equal success.
            Kurt Poterack, Adjunct Professor of Music
Director, Choir and Schola Gregoriana
Christendom College

I was blown away by the purity of their tone, the blend, intonation and precision of their ensemble and their command of the liturgical music. It prompted me to pass along to them a setting by St.Hildegard of Bingen which they included on their new recording. They are truly using their gifts to praise God. What a pure sound they are projecting--something that more "mature" singers only dream of.
Linn Maxwell Keller,

The Schola has been inspired by the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, in Kansas City, with whom the young ladies have had strong personal and family relationships. The sisters generously permitted the schola to record three of their original compositions for this CD. The Benedictines of Mary’s own best-selling CD “Angels and Saints at Ephesus” set a recent Billboard record by residing at #1 on the Classical chart for 13 weeks.

While four of the original members have moved on to college or the religious life, the schola will continue with new members this year.

A sample from “Stella Splendens” is available on YouTube. Physical CDs and downloads are available now on, and will be available through iTunes and Amazon. All proceeds from the sale of the CD will go to the Sacred Heart of Jesus music program.