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Author: Benedict

Habit By Mary

Habit By Mary

The religious attitude: It’s what demarcates, on sight, the laity from the professed religious (and, for that matter, the secular clergy.) And of the dozens and dozens of religious orders, congregations, and societies, only a very few wear a white habit: the Camoldolese, the Dominicans (also known as the Order of Preachers, with a great black cape), the Cistersians, the Carthusians, the Camoldolese, the Carmelites (are known as the “White Friars” though most of their habit is actually brown), the “White Fathers” of Africa, and the Norbertines also known as the Canons Regular of Premontre or the Premonstratensians.

However of this small, select group only the latter can claim that their vesture came to them from the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Legend has it that Mary appeared to St. Norbert in a dream/vision and showed him that the Praemonstratensian habit should be “white, like those worn by the angels who declared the Resurrection. At the same time, not dying the unbleached fabric will match your poverty.”

What’s less clear is how the pope’s current regalia matches, almost similar to, that of a Norbertine abbot.

While most church historians point to Innocent V (1276) as the first pope to wear all white — as a Dominican he apparently just kept wearing the vesture of the Order of Preachers — it wasn’t until St. Pius V (1566-72), another Dominican pope — laid down the tradition of the pope always wearing white (as distinct from the cardinaliate red.)

St. Norbert” by Maarten Pepyn:

But to return to St. Norbert: His family was successful in the wool business. This makes for a historic component of the Norbertine habit. Wool is, naturally, a gift from the lamb — which further permits no small amount of poetic musing and symbolic relations, along with its white coloring. Not for nothing are lambs (agnus) presented to the pope on the feast of St. Agnes (a lamb-like pure virgin-martyr) so that their wool may be fashioned into the pallium — a narrow, circular band placed around the shoulders with short lappets hanging from front and back — that adorn metropolitan archbishops and patriarchs.

It’s good to remember that most religious habits were simply the clothing of the day at that particular time, slightly changed to set apart the wearer from the laity. But traditionally the parts of a habit are:

The tunic: A garment whose origins are so old we know that Christ himself wore one. It may have been an outgrowth of the Roman toga. Button-less and often woven in one piece, the clerical version of this would be the cassock, set apart by its buttons (traditionally 33 in number, one for each year of Jesus’ life), and always black. Prelates wear a simar, which is technically not a cassock, but functions in an same sartorial vein.

The scapular: Many devout Catholics wear a truncated version of a brown (or red) scapular under their clothes. However, professed religious, including Norbertines, wear a full-length scapular over their tunic. Its lay-equivalent is the apro.

The hood: Those winter nights are cold! As with our modern-day hooded sweatshirt (“hoodies”), lay and ecclesiastic personages alike wore a hood to keep their heads warm. The hood may or may not have been part of the tunic. Or in the case of the Norbertines …

The shoulder cape: The hood may have been attached to the shoulder cape, also called a mozetta. This garment later became the province of high-ranking prelates — one still sees bishops, archbishops, and cardinals wearing them. The front has a series of small buttons running down the placket. The Norbertines have a tiny vestigial hood attached to the back of their shoulders representing that they had begun as a quasi-monastic order.

Monks of the Order of St. Benedict singing vespers on Holy Saturday at St. Mary’s Abbey in Morristown, New Jersey. Photo: John Stephen Dwyer/Public Domain.

The monastic cowl: Monks — at least Benedictines — find the full expression of their final profession when they take on the monastic cowl.

The cincture/sash/fascia: Holding all of the above together, literally and figuratively, is the cincture, or belt, or sash. The pope wears a sash (fascia) with his coat of arms on the bottom of it, followed by tassels. The Norbertines — when fully professed — wear a white sash.

The zuchetta and biretta: While clerics may wear a biretta (black for priests, violet for bishops, scarlet for cardinals, while Norbertines sport a unique white one), the pope wears a white zuchetta or skull cap (though Benedict XVI brought back the ermine camauro, as had St. John XXIII). A Norbertine abbot may wear a zucchetta — but it should be black.

Back to the pope 

So how did the pope go from wearing the white habit of the Dominicans to the white habit of the Norbertines? And why?

Part of the answer is the types of orders shown here: the Dominicans were a mendicant — that is to say, “begging” — order. Like their Franciscan brethren (known for their brown habits and rope-belt), they were not confined to an abbey or monastery — at least not initially: rather they went about preaching (hence the name “The Order of Friars Preachers”).

On the other side, the Norbertines were canons regular, which means they were neither monks nor parish clerics and not mendicants. They lived in an abbey and followed a common Rule, but served in parish churches. This set-up traces itself all the way back to St. Augustine and his Rule (written in the fourth century) in which he more or less built up the idea if not the juridical definition of a “canon regular.”

So the Norbertine character had elements of the monastic life (as mentioned above, the small vestigial hood), but since they were in the main clerics (and not lay-brothers) their habit was in the keeping of the style of priests — albeit in all white, right up to the white biretta!

The pope’s power comes from being the bishop of Rome. And bishops, of course, have a unique form of clothing. Coincidentally it is a vesture and accoutrements that is very much like that of an abbot (the miter, the pectoral cross, the ring, and as a sign of authority, the crozier).

As long as all of the orders that wear white are either monastic (Camoldolese, Carmelite, Carthusian, Cistersian), mendicant (Dominican) or missionary (the White Fathers) they identify less with the clerical nature than with that of their order or society — except for the Canons Regular of Premontre (also known as the Norbertines) who are that unique hybrid of cleric/religious and whose identity is very much tied into that of their priesthood.

Thus as time went on (and no more Dominicans were elected pope!), the pope’s vesture retained the Dominican whiteness, while taking on the form of that of a bishop (if you think about it, the pope wears almost precisely what a bishop does, but all in white).

And the Norbertines — whose history extends back to the 12th century, a full 100 years before the founding of the Dominicans — have always kept not only a white habit, but one that showed their status as priests who live in common as well.

Faith Comes by Hearing

Faith Comes by Hearing

Years back, I read an interesting science article on a predicted earthquake in the Pacific Northwest that seismologists are calling the Really Big One. For long, scientists had puzzled over why the region never appeared to have suffered any unusual earthquake activity, even though it is part of the geological region known as the Ring of Fire, which encircles nearly the entire Pacific basin and is famous for its earthquakes and volcanos. In recent decades, though, researchers found out that there was indeed a major Pacific Northwest earthquake in 1700—and that we are now at least seventy-five years overdue for another.

Once the eighteenth-century Cascadia earthquake was scientifically proven, anthropologists and ethnographers commenced giving credence to oral histories of such an event from the indigenous peoples of the region, who had preserved stories of a massive quake and subsequent flooding from a time before European explorers reached the area. Prior to scientific corroboration, those stories had been treated with skepticism.

It is not only oral stories passed down through generations that can be discounted as evidence for historical events. Sometimes written testimonies get the same skeptical eye. Deniers of the reality of Christ’s resurrection will sometimes proclaim that there is no historical evidence for it. When Christians point to the Gospels, the deniers discount their reliability because they were written down and preserved by Christians. Even Jesus’ very existence as a historical figure can be dismissed by doubters for “lack of evidence” because Christians wrote the primary histories of his life.

Entire libraries of books have been written by Catholics and Protestants defending the historical reliability of the Gospels. These authors often dig down deep into the available manuscripts, reporting on their age, the materials used in their creation, the scholarship done to date on ancient literary styles, and other scientific indicators of the Gospels’ credibility. This work is of value, but it can also be inaccessible for many modern people, who often prefer quick answers to hard questions.

Is there a way to tackle questions on the historical reliability of the Gospels for people who don’t want to read a book or watch a video on the topic? One reliable approach is to bring to their mind the importance of storytelling in human history.

Long before written language existed, humans passed on knowledge through story. Sometimes ancient peoples made myth as a means of describing  natural phenomena that were otherwise inexplicable for them. Through story these myths established relevant truths—such as that there are reasons why light and dark exist. They didn’t describe historical events, but they served a necessary purpose in a pre-scientific age by aiding people to understand something vital about their world.

Other times, testimony to actual historical events gets preserved in story form. The indigenous people of the North American continent remembered their ancestors who died in a catastrophic event by telling stories of the time the earth shook and salt water flooded the forests, killing all the trees. For generations, historians assumed all of these stories were creation myths, similar to the biblical narrative of a great flood. We now know many of them describe something that really happened in the not-too-distant past.

And then there are the stories that preserve the record of God’s interaction with man. Skeptics often try to sort these stories as either comforting myths or origin tales of uncertain provenance. But, as G. K. Chesterton noted:

If it comes to human testimony there is a choking cataract of human testimony in favor of the supernatural. If you reject it, you can only mean one of two things. You reject the peasant’s story about the ghost either because the man is a peasant or because the story is a ghost story. That is, you either deny the main principle of democracy, or you affirm the main principle of materialism—the abstract impossibility of miracle.

The Second Vatican Council affirmed that there are many different literary forms in Scripture and that scholars may use modern historical-critical methods to “check what meaning the sacred writer intended to express and actually expressed in particular circumstances by using modern literary forms in accordance with the situation of his own time and culture” (Dei Verbum 12). The Gospels, however, come to us from the apostles and preserve the first Christians’ actual experience with the Son of God:

The Church has always and everywhere held and continues to hold that the four Gospels are of apostolic origin. For what the apostles preached in fulfillment of the commission of Christ, afterwards they themselves and apostolic men, under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, handed on to us in writing: the foundation of faith, namely, the fourfold gospel, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (DV 18).

Did the authors of the New Testament intend for us to comprehend them to be passing on reliable histories of Jesus Christ? St. Luke explicitly said that preserving a record of historical events was his reason for writing his Gospel and the book of Acts (Luke 1:1-4). In fact, he said he was doing so particularly to reassure Theophilus, his first reader, that the stories Theophilus had heard from others were true (vv. 3-4). St. John told his readers three times in the last chapters of his Gospel that the stories he was telling them were true, firsthand experiences of what Jesus said and did (John 19:35, 20:30-31, 21:24-25).

The Gospels are stories of Jesus Christ, written under the influence of the Holy Spirit, gathered and preserved by the Church that Christ founded to teach in his name. Together with the Church’s Sacred Tradition—our oral history—these stories both preserve historical events and serve to “show to all men the knowledge of God and of man and the ways in which God, just and merciful, deals with men” (DV 15). Or, as St. Paul put it:

How are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? . . . So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ (Rom. 10:14-17).

Aiming Lives Toward The Joy Of Love

Aiming Lives Toward The Joy Of Love

God’s voice is never silent ¬—he is in every case continually calling to us to come closer, to go further, to react to the adoration he has for us consistently. Also, he calls constantly individuals to religious vocations — to the ministry, to religious life. Indeed, even in the midst of on-going embarrassments in our Church — disastrous and wrecking as they are ¬—God is as yet calling. The requirement for good and upstanding clerics and religious is considerably more prominent … perhaps more so than whenever in ongoing memory.

The employments lack in this nation is genuine. It influences all Catholics somehow or another. While a few locales have empowering numbers on the expansion, still numerous bishoprics, for example, my own, have holy deficiencies that lead to the end of houses of worship, or places where clerics clergyman to a few temples a moment’s delay.

The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate reports the quantity of U.S. wards without an inhabitant minister has gone from under 600 of every 1970 to more than 3,500 out of 2017. The quantities of individuals entering religious life doesn’t appear to be vastly improved. I regularly direct at the funerals of ladies and men religious who have been my instructors previously, and I don’t see numerous youthful faces in the seats.

The territory of Catholic marriage today is likewise part of the jobs emergency. As a youthful minister, exactly 30 years back, I would manage at maybe 25 weddings per year. Presently I normal two. The basic reality is that numerous couples are not going into marriage with the advantage of the beauty of the holy observance, or raising families with connections to the Church. Many don’t see Matrimony as the genuine employment that it seems to be. This, as well, is an emergency.

At the point when there is an urgency, it’s a wise thought to return to the rudiments, to the building squares fundamental to the circumstance. For this situation, we start with an exceptionally fundamental inquiry: What is an employment? You may state, “Well, that is self-evident. A job is a calling from God to a specific lifestyle.” That’s sufficiently actual, however I would suggest that we have a dim feeling of how God calls all Christians — youthful and old — to experience the teaching they share by temperance of their Baptism. We appear to want clarity about the convergence of confidence and life, the requirement for effortlessness, and the energizing test teaching loans to the remarkable adventure of the Christian lady or man.

Each Christian has a business — a key call to heavenliness. Since the fall of Adam and Eve, the Creator has been getting back to every last one of us back to himself out of adoration. The route back is through Jesus the Lord, through his Church, and through the holy observances, those advantaged conductors of effortlessness founded by Christ himself.

This is the purpose we allude to blessedness as the general employment. In our very own condition of life, when we try day by day to know, love, and serve God, we are reacting to that job. Some recognize the way to ministry or blessed life; a lot more to marriage and family life. Be that as it may, what a distinction it makes for us to experience our specific job as God’s companions, picking up from the hallowed existence of the Church. Last month at the Vatican, the synod of bishops met to consider the theme “Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment.” Earlier this year, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, general secretary of the synod said the aim of that gathering was to “ensure the whole Church aware of her important and [non-]optional work of following every young person, without exclusion, towards the joy of love.”

What a striking phrase! Who would not want “the joy of love” in his or her life?

So rather the first question is not “What could be done to encourage more young adults to pursue the priesthood or religious life or marriage in the Church?” but rather “How might we inspire young people to recognize the need for the grace of the sacraments and a relationship with the Risen Jesus as an important part of their journey and look for holiness and true happiness?”

Perhaps it’s not so much about convincing people to walk a specific path, but instead we motivate one another by the joy of living the Gospel, and praying with the mind and heart of Christ.

Our Journey To Sainthood

Our Journey To Sainthood

We actually have a large list of canonized saints, and most of them are well known to have done amazing things. And they go ahead to do so: finding things for us, helping to heal our illnesses, and obtaining favors. They are partners who pray with us and for us.

For such intercession support, we might also count on deceased family and friends whose holiness and love helped us on our journey through life while they were alive.

Between them and us there is the not-so-important event called death. Those of us who have experienced the death of someone we love know how hard it is to let go. And if we have been with the person at the moment of death — even though we believe in faith that he or she has gone to a better place — the memory of the experience can stay for years.

In as much as death is an everyday occurrence, the Church this month places life and death before our eyes in a special way — in the feast of All Saints and the Commemoration of the Holy Souls. These days are a sober reminder that “here we have no lasting city” (Hebrews 13:14). And yet, for those who believe, death is not the end; it is a transition, the gate through which we must pass to eternal life.

Once death comes, even following a long period of suffering, its arrival is swift and leaves a feeling of deep emptiness for those who remain. It is definitely uncomfortable to face death, to cogitate about it, to discuss about it. And yet the problems for us all is to confront death in faith as an integral part of our human condition.

My friends, we believe that God has prepared great things for those who struggle to love him. One of my favorite little bits of the Bible, from 1 Corinthians, is this saying:

What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him (2:9).

To put it simply, God wants us to be saints. Saints! In Greek, the term is ἅγιοι (hagioi) and in Latin, sancti — literally, “the holy ones.” Our life’s goal is to be with the saints and be one of them in the unspeakable happiness of heaven.

You might have observed that Pope Francis, when he’s interacting with young people, often taps them on the face with his hand. It reminds us how, in days gone by, in conferring the sacrament of Confirmation, the bishop would give the one being confirmed a gentle slap on the cheek. This 13th-century ritual, which is no longer practiced, was meant to be a reminder that the struggle now begins in earnest.

Our lives (and I know I don’t need to tell you) are often a struggle, even a battle. We wage war with sickness and disappointment, with broken relationships, and certainly with personal sin. This is our exciting human and Christian struggle. This is the path of holiness.

Our goal in this life must be to become all that we were created to be so we can join the women and men, boys and girls, who right now see the glory of God. Like them, we are called to do amazing things in our lives. To be a superhero? Well, simply to respond to all our daily challenges and struggles in the way the Gospel calls us to do can be considered amazing, even heroic. With courage today and always, permit God to assist you to become all that he created you to be. Keep up the struggle. If you’re down, get up!

Be glad and proud to follow Jesus Christ, for your reward will be great … in heaven!