Friday, November 30, 2012

St. Andrew the Apostle

"Who shall ascend into heaven? that is, to bring Christ down"—Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans 10:6

Statue of St. Andrew with his unique cross in the sanctuary of St. Peter's Basilica, Rome.

Today is the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle, brother of St. Peter.

The Apostle Andrew was born at Bethsaida, a town of Galilee, and was the brother of Peter. He was a disciple of John the Baptist, and heard him say of Christ, Behold the Lamb of God, whereupon he immediately followed Jesus, bringing his brother also with him. Some while after, they were both fishing in the Sea of Galilee, and the Lord Christ, going by, called them both, before any other of the Apostles, in the words, Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men. They made no delay, but left their nets, and followed Him. After the death and Resurrection of Christ, Andrew was allotted Scythia as the province of his preaching, and, after labouring there, he went through Epirus and Thrace, where he turned vast multitudes to Christ by his teaching and miracles. Finally he went to Patras in Achaia, and there also he brought many to the knowledge of Gospel truth. Aegeas the Pro-consul resisted the preaching of the Gospel, and the Apostle freely rebuked him, bidding him know that while he held himself a judge of his fellow men, he was himself hindered by devils from knowing Christ our God, the Judge of all.
Then Egeas, being angry, answered him, Boast no more of this thy Christ. He spake words even such as thine, but they availed Him not, and He was crucified by the Jews. Whereto Andrew boldly answered that Christ had given Himself up to die for man's salvation; but the Pro-consul blasphemously interrupted him, and bade him look to himself, and sacrifice to the gods. Then said Andrew, We have an altar, whereon day by day I offer up to God, the Almighty, the One, and the True, not the flesh of bulls nor the blood of goats, but a Lamb without spot and when all they that believe have eaten of the Flesh Thereof, the Lamb That was slain abideth whole and liveth. Then Aegeas being filled with wrath, bound the Apostle in prison. Now, the people would have delivered him, but he himself calmed the multitude, and earnestly besought them not to take away from him the crown of martyrdom, for which he longed and which was now drawing near.
Come short while after, he was brought before the judgment-seat, where he extolled the mystery of the cross, and rebuked Aegeas for his ungodliness. Then Aegeas could bear with him no longer, but commanded him to be crucified, in imitation of Christ. Andrew, then, was led to the place of martyrdom, and, as soon as he came in sight of the cross, he cried out, O precious cross, which the Members of my Lord have made so goodly, how long have I desired thee! how warmly have I loved thee! how constantly have I sought thee! And, now that thou art come to me, how is my soul drawn to thee! Welcome me from among men, and join me again to my Master, that as by thee He redeemed me, so by thee also He may take me unto Himself. So he was fastened to the cross, whereon he hung living for two days, during which time he ceased not to preach the faith of Christ, and, finally, passed into the Presence of Him the likeness of Whose death he had loved so well. All the above particulars of his last sufferings were written by the Priests and Deacons of Achaia, who bear witness to them of their own knowledge. Under the Emperor Constantine the bones of the Apostle were first taken to Constantinople, whence they were afterwards brought to Amalfi. In the Pontificate of Pope Pius II his head was carried to Rome, where it is kept in the Basilica of St Peter. 
A fifth century mosaic of St. Andrew in St. Paul Outside the Wall
(source: wikipedia)

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Quick Tour of St. Peter's Basilica

Approach from the square

Sneak by the Swiss Guards

Our Lord watches this place

Where we hear "Habemus Papam"

Friends of the Rad Trad awaiting entry into the nave

First altar on the right contains the Pieta

Peering through the right-side door

Pius XII, among many saints and popes

Looking back from the first chapel. This place is big!

A shot across to the altar of the Presentation

The baptismal font is enormous. Scale dominates this place

The dome over the baptistery

The coffered ceiling

Tomb of St. Pius X

The domes under the side chapels are quite colorful

The chapel of the choir, south of the high altar, which contains the relics of St. John Chrysostom

Tomb of St. Gregory the Great. The Pope once vested for Solemn Mass here
while the schola sang terce

Apse of a transept

The baldacchino over the high altar is over 70 feet in height,
the largest piece of bronze work in the world

St. Andrew. There are many statues in the nave, but none of Apostles of Our Lady.
Those of the Apostles are to be found around the (ill-defined) sanctuary)

The entrance to the tomb of St. Peter and the Clementine chapel

St. Peter presiding at the basilica. A line of people wait to kiss his foot.

Confession in 22 languages from 7AM to 7PM

Looking from the altar to the nave

A friend of mine, who is over six feet tall, for size comparison

St. Gregory the Illuminator, disciple to Armenia

"I saw water flowing from the right side of the temple...."

The altar at the Petrine Throne with the Holy Ghost descending upon it.
It makes much more sense to see this during a Mass, which we did!

Saints watch and keep vigil

As we depart....

Later that day the Rad Trad visited the dome

The Rad Trad does not like heights

The Rad Trad really does not like heights.
Grabbing the cornice for dear life!

The Four Evangelists at the corners of the sanctuary

The inside of the dome

That ant below is a person! We were well over 200 feet above the floor

Friends delighting in the Rad Trad's fears

One last shot of the altar

Inside the Hagia Sophia

The Church of Holy Wisdom, or Hagia Sophia, has interested me since I first began to read about it, but I was unable to visualize how the interior may have appeared when it was a house of God. My lack of familiarity with Byzantine architecture did not help. I recently saw a reconstruction of the old St. Peter's basilica (in my previous post) and came across a similar reconstruction of the Hagia Sophia. It tours through many entrances, balconies, ambos, icons, and niches of the great cathedral of Constantinople. Enjoy.

Click on the video and look at the uploader's profile. There are many interesting reconstructions of the old church.

There is another one of the baptistery, which was a separate building with a Holy Table for Divine Liturgy.

Dedication of the Basilicas of Ss. Peter and Paul

In the older calendar today is the commemoration of the dedication of the basilicas of St. Paul Outside the Wall and of St. Peter's on Vatican Hill.

The Papal Basilica of St. Paul outside the Walls
(photo from Ferrell's Travel Blog)
Layout of St. Paul's (from wikipedia)
St. Paul's looks much as it did centuries ago, but the structure itself is not original. A fire in the nineteenth century caused the roof and much of the structure to implode, only to be rebuilt. The layout is distinctly old-Roman. The aisles are long and straight, a larger aisle in the middle with smaller aisles on the side for the congregants to stand during the consecration. The altar is upon an elevated sanctuary and opposite a chair from which the Pope may pontificate.

The ancient Roman Christians venerated this site as the place of St. Paul's beheading and burial. As a Roman citizen the great apostle to the gentiles was spared the agony of crucifixion. His head now rests in the Roman Cathedral, but his body still resides in a tomb beneath the main altar of the basilica.

St. Paul outside the Wall remains the only Papal basilica I have not visited, so I will refrain from commenting any further.

On the other hand, I spent two days in st. Peter's and have quite a bit to say, but people tend to like pictures as much as words, so I will make this into a visual post very shortly.

The original St. Peter's basilica was begun by Emperor Constantine over a shrine on Vatican Hill here Christians had venerated what tradition tells us was the place of St. Peter's burial since the first century—St. Peter's bones were not actually discovered until the reign of Pius XII. The basilica was completed in 360, but constantly remodeled. Originally the tomb of the first Pope of Rome was in the apse of the basilica, behind the altar. Tidal flow of pilgrims necessitated switching these two. A more elaborate throne for the Pop was constructed, as consecration of the Bishop of Rome became more usual at St. Peter's at the cost of the Lateran Cathedral, papal tombs, and a series of ninth century invasions by Saracens. One such remodel, around the time of Leo IV, led to an altar embroidered in precious stones, ambos and doors of silver, and mosaics taken from the finest Eastern churches. Like most Roman basilicas, there was a group of canons attached to the church and a cloister preceding the entrance.

St. Peter's basilica around the year 1450
(taken from wikipedia)

A cross-section of the old basilica
Neglect during the Avignon papacy left the Roman basilicas in ruins, St. Peter's included. The roof of the basilica and its re-enforcement were both wood, which had long rotted. Instability eventually caused the walls and foundations to crack and, although many maintained the basilica was still usable, the decision was made to replace it in 1505 by Pope Julius II. The decision rightly sent Romans into uproar, as the old church had been used by the City and by saints for twelve centuries.

Inside the old St. Peter's notice the elevated altar surrounded by the twisting
arches. St. Peter's tomb was below. Above is the fatal ceiling.
(image taken from
The fate of much of the original basilica is unknown. Elements of the portico survived, as did the Papal tombs. St. Peter's tomb received its own chapel, named for the Pope who built it. The high altar was retained and en-capsuled in the new altar. The altar sanctuary had been walled from the nave by winding pillars, supposedly taken from the Temple of Solomon. They were destroyed, although their design is retained in the new basilica.

Another long view inside the old basilica
Below is a reconstruction of how the sanctuary would have looked during the Middle Ages. Note the wall and doors, much like an iconostasis, betwixt the sanctuary and nave. The semi-circular benches around the Papal throne were for the canons of the basilica, the seven deacons of Rome, the archpriest, and the cardinals.

From New Liturgical Movement
Note the side altars, where the Roman low Mass as we know it was formed. Also, the entrance to St. Peter's tomb from doors under the stairs.

Below is a video from the same source showing a detailed view of the old basilica. I always found the old pine cone funny. It is a pagan bronze work dating to the first century and which resided in the Vatican square for no reason other than its pre-dating the basilica.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Family Prayer

A reader writes:
I come from a family with Christian values/views (generally that is the case). When we moved to the US, Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday (FOOD). We used to say a quick Our Father before eating, but it never meant anything. Now we don't even do that- it is all about the food. Now, if anyone knows me they know that anything that stops me from getting food I will demolish. However, on Thanksgiving, when we don't say grace or really think about the meaning of the holiday, I somehow am disenchanted by the food. Can you maybe give a Catholic perspective on saying grace or the meaning of the Thanksgiving holiday. I realize that the background surrounding Thanksgiving is of a very Protestant culture, but I am sure there are some Catholic components as well. 
First, thank you for your comment and question. The reader essentially asks two things:

  1. Why do families not pray sufficiently anymore?
  2. What is the point of praying before a meal?
I will take these in opposite order. What is the purpose of praying before a meal? When I was in college I ran in some "non-denominational" circles, such as a protestant house which often invited me to their dinners and picnics. At one such event we were asked to "bow our heads, join hands, and pray." The pray went something like this:
"God, we just wanna say we're really grateful for the sunshine, for being here to eat some burgers, to have Ya bless our conversation, and, uhhhh, for Your Son, Jesus. In Jesus' Name! Amen."
My initial thought was: "Why were burgers mentioned before Our Lord?"

This extemporaneous prayer is a pious act, surely, but it rather misses the point. We often hear that before a meal one "says grace..." still not sure what that means.

Let us consider the conventional prayer before a meal:
Bless us, O Lord, and these Thy gift, which we are about to receive, Thy bounty, through Christ Our Lord. Amen.
We ask God to sanctify what we about to consume so that it may nourish us in our daily task to fulfill all God has appointed us to do, but with an acknowledgement that we may do nothing without His facilitation, or at least consent. For this latter reason, we call our food His "bounty." This prayer is an invitation of God's blessing upon those gathered and a sign of cooperation in doing His Will. It is in this spirit that Christ blessed the bread and fish that He multiplied for feeding the 4,000 attending His sermon (Mark 8:1-9). Conventionally, a prayer of thanksgiving follows the meal. Would you thank God for absolution before going to Confession? Perhaps, in an expression of personal piety, but it is not necessarily instinct. If God Himself did it, it cannot be objectionable at all.

How could you not be thankful for this?

The second matter is family prayer. Not enough families pray together these days, a fault the devout have lamented for several decades. The absence of family prayer has debased our Catholic public identity, making Catholicism someone one does alone, in private devotion, rather than an open expression of faith that many can join. This eventually erodes one's confidence, unless one is blessed with a very traditional family or very good Catholic friends, and faith decays.

The Sacred Heart, Eastern style
Often the best people I know come from devout families that pray in common in some capacity every day. This invites the grace of God into one family, but also makes a person less timid about invoking God during times of hardship.

Also, family prayer binds the family to God, making the father, mother, and children into children of a higher Father. In France it was once traditional to "enthrone" an icon or picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus above the fireplace mantle and pray opposite this image as a family every day.

More recently, families would pray the Rosary in common. I would personally endorse this as the best of family prayers, as it makes Our Lady the ideal example to the parents in Her custody of Our Lord, and makes children follow Her example of humility. One can never go wrong with the Rosary.

Common prayer is quite powerful. I have been privileged to see many friends of mine convert, often after first seeing the faith of Christ through the prayers and devotion of/with others.

Another, lesser, benefit of common prayer is that it keeps us accountable. No one wants to appear slothful or disinterested before God, but what may start as vanity soon becomes concentration on the Majesty of God.

In short: pray before meals, pray with your family, pray with friends, pray for the world!