Reflecting on 21 Centuries of Faith

Tag Archives: Symbols

Scripture: Good Fortune in the Cards

Did you know, W. Gurney Benham comments, that two of the twelve face cards within a deck of cards are taken directly from Scripture? Among the court cards in a deck we find King David and Rachel who were the inspiration for two of the cards. Here is a list of “Who’s Who” in our face cards found in his book entitled, The History and Secrets of the Pack:

  1. The king of spades is David. (On French cards, he holds a harp, alluding to the psalms. In English cards, he carries the sword of Goliath whom he slew.)
  2. The queen of diamonds is Rachel, wife of Jacob whose twelve sons founded the twelve tribes of Israel.
  3. The king of hearts is Charlemagne.
  4. The king of diamonds is Julius Caesar.
  5. The king of clubs is Alexander the Great.
  6. The queen of hearts is Judith of Bavaria, a daughter of Charlemagne.
  7. The queen of spades is Palias, Greek goddess of war and wisdom (the Latin Miverna).
  8. The queen of clubs is Marie d’Anjou (at least according to tradition), wife of dauphin Charles VII.
  9. The jack of hearts is La Hire, a 15th-century French warrior.
  10. The jack of spades is Hogier, one of Charlemagne’s paladins (one of the twelve peers or knight companions of legend attending Charlemagne).
  11. The jack of diamonds is Hector, or Roland, or possibly half-brother to Lancelot of the Round Table.
  12. The jack of clubs is Lancelot, a knight of King Arthur’s Round Table.

Origin of the Easter Egg

Thanks to The New Theological Movement for its blog on the Easter egg. Here is a re-post in toto:

The origins of the Easter egg: The Resurrection, St. Mary Magdalene, and the Lenten Fast

In the United States, it is common for children (and even adults) to partake in an Easter egg hunt as part of the Easter Sunday celebrations. In other parts of the world, the Easter egg tradition is incorporated not through games but through the blessing of eggs by the parish priest. Indeed, even in the secular world, the Easter egg could be the most prominent symbol used for the “holiday season”. But what is the origin of the Easter egg?

The egg as a symbol of the Resurrection

Probably the most well known explanation of the Easter egg today is the symbolic representation of the Resurrection. As the egg appears to be lifeless, yet holds much life within itself; so too, the tomb appeared to be utterly lifeless, but from it Christ arose. Of course, we mention here that there is a great difference in the way a chick comes forth from the egg and the way Christ came forth from the tomb – for our Savior walked through the walls of the sealed tomb.

St. Mary Magdalene and the Easter egg

There are numerous traditions which connect St. Mary Magdalene with the Easter egg. According to one account, the Magdalene had brought a basket of eggs with her to the tomb on that first Eastern morning. Upon reaching the tomb, at the angelic proclamation of the Resurrection, the eggs turned red. Another tradition connects the Easter egg with Mary Magdalene’s later preaching about the Resurrection.

The historical origins of the Easter egg traditions

Whatever we think of the symbolic nature of eggs and the traditions surrounding St. Mary Magdalene, the most likely origin for the modern tradition of the Easter egg is rooted in the ancient practice of the Lenten fast. In times past (and still today in some places in the East), in addition to abstaining from meat, Christians abstained also from eggs and from all milk-foods (e.g. milk, cheese, etc.). Moreover, this fast was not only kept on every Friday, but was maintained on all days throughout the entire season of Lent. Thus, on Easter Sunday, the children (and, I am sure, the adults) were very happy to be able to eat meat and eggs again. This looking-forward to the end of the fast eventually developed into the tradition of the Easter egg. Consider the following words from the Catholic Encyclopedia: “Because the use of eggs was forbidden during Lent, they were brought to the table on Easter Day, coloured red to symbolize the Easter joy. This custom is found not only in the Latin but also in the Oriental Churches.” For more on why we fast from meat (and, in times past, also from eggs and milk-foods), consider our previous article.

The Easter Garden: Death=Victory

On Easter morning, we again find ourselves in a garden (Mt 28:8 and Mk 16:8).  The enemy believes that he has won. But Aslan’s words in C.S. Lewis’ classic, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, illustrate a truth that the accuser of the brethren had not considered,

“It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge only goes back to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.”[1]

As we have been discussing, a covenant includes mediation of a single individual for the entire people – by a High Priest. All the former covenant curses the Christ absorbed for His bride.  Why? In order for the curses to be lifted, and the human race to continue, either God or all of Israel had to die.  Our Lord’s humanity, taken on by a divine person qualified to settle a divine debt.  It was always in His deliberate plan of attack – the enemy had no idea.  More importantly, he had no idea that our Lord would resurrect.  The Warrior’s game plan was to yield Himself completely, totally, and without reserve.  It is at this point that the Warrior became the Bridegroom.  That is what the Bridegroom does for His Bride.  He offers himself in a complete exchange of persons.  What our Lord experiences eternally in the Blessed Trinity, He now brings to earth for us to participate in and experience a foretaste of the life to come.

Scriptures says that early on the morning of the first day of the week (Mt 28:1, Mk 16:1-2, Lk 24:1, and Jn 20:1) an earthquake took place (Mt 28:2-4) and rolled the stone away (Mt 28:4, Mk 16:4, Lk 24:2, and Jn 20:1).  The gospels recount that the ones who came into the garden to anoint the Lord were women.  Had Adam defended Eve, he too would have found his bride coming to anoint his body.  Many Rabbi’s even suspect that the Tree of Life, which was in the Garden of Eden, could have brought the First Adam back to life.  The Garden of Eden was also the primordial seed of all creation.  It was there the God gave all creation to Adam in order for him to adovah (work) and shamar (protect).  The Father also turned the garden into a temple by making it holy on that seventh day of creation. After a short slumber, induced by God on day six, Adam awakens to find His bride before him in a temple (also known as a Church) on the Sabbath.

It is no wonder that the Christ finds more than one Eve in the garden this morning.  On Good Friday, the Church was birthed.  His bride was no longer one person but the Church as a whole.  This is symbolically shown by the three women in the garden.  And how do we know it was love at first sight?  The women immediately run to the disciples to tell them that they have seen the Lord (Mt 28:8, Mk 24:9). They run to tell the disciples.  LOVE NEVER CONCEALS ITSELF!  Someone in love cannot help but share the love that they received through their words, actions and yes, their very person.  What is the message?  The Bridegroom is awake, He is here!

More importantly, two of the Gospels say that our Lord appeared to Mary Magdalene (Mk 16:9 and Jn 20:14-17) who ran to tell Peter and John (Jn 20:2).  Our Lord desires a spotless bride and Good Friday is proven effective in the person of Mary Magdalene.

Scripture then says Peter and John ran to the tomb. (Jn 20:3-4) John arrived first, knelt down, saw the linens, and believed.  He did not enter though. He waited for Peter. (Jn 20:4-8)  So it is with all true mystics of the Church.  They may arrive first at understanding what our Lord is saying or doing but always wait for Peter and the Church to investigate and believe.

What did Peter and John see that made His resurrection so believable – besides the fact that He foretold it?  The following are a few thoughts from Peter and John’s view.

The Sepulcher

The sepulcher was a newly carved tomb (Jn 19:31). Archeologists tell us that the Jews had some interesting beliefs about the dead and where they buried them. In the Jewish burial ritual, the body is placed on a carved out rock table in the center of the cave.  Along the edges of the cave, boxes would be carved out where the bones of their ancestors were place.  The Jews would come back to view the body on four separate occasions over an eighteen month period.  The quicker the body decayed the more sin the individual committed in their lifetime.

So, what does it say that not only did Jesus’ body not decay but instead resurrected?  It confirms the belief from the earliest Christian times that Jesus not only did not sin but He did not possess Original Sin.  Not sinning would only mean His body would not decay. Resurrecting on the other hand, that would mean the chains of Original Sin that bound us to death did not bind Him at all.   Additionally, Jesus was laid in a tomb with no bones of His forefathers.  Scripture gives no indication that they planned to move His bones like Joseph (Gn 49:29-32) or David (1 Kings 2:10), to be put to rest with His forefathers.  This detail provides a two-fold meaning.  The first is that He had no ancestors.  It is true that Mary is His mother who determines His Jewish heritage but He was conceived by the Holy Spirit.  He is the Alpha and Omega the Beginning and the End (Rv 1:8) – the divine nature of the second person of the Blessed Trinity has no ancestors.  He always is.  The second relates to the new order of creation that Jesus established by His resurrection – He is the First-born of the Dead (Rv 1:5).  The new Adam (1Cor 15:45) has established a new race where all find their heritage in Him.

Our Lord also knew that He would have detractors who would claim grave-robbers.  St. John states:

When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place. (Jn 20:4-8)

Why is it so important that the cloth that covered the head was separate and rolled up and not with the other cloths?  Grave-robbers only broke in to steal the head cloth which was made of fine linen and could be sold for a large sum of money.  They also would leave the body in the tomb.  Rolled up is also an important detail.  We would say folded neatly.  Robbers do not fold and if they do, it is in haste. Our Lord wanted to make it clear that no grave robbers were here.

As we have noted in the past, Scriptually speaking, gardens are only meant for the consummation of love between the Bridegroom and the Bride.  In times past, the enemy has been a source of division and fear within the garden.  Today is a new day and the enemy has everything to fear.  The reign of Christ the King has begun. The accuser of the breathern has been cast out. Here today, the Warrior-Bridegroom appears perfectly healthy and the enemy and his minions, they find themselves defeated and cowering in fear.

The guards were shaken with fear of him and became like dead men. (Mt 28:4)

To add insult to injury, the Lord rises with glorified wounds. Why? To remind the enemy that the mortal wounds He received have begun the salvation of all mankind of course.  They were the wedding present of the Bride to her Bridegroom which He shows freely with pride and honor. The devil had played right into the Father’s plan.

Again, in this garden the daughters of Eve are found.  This time, unlike the original Eve, they trust and believe the Bridegroom.  They are the now the daughters of the New Eve – Our Lady and thus His Church.  So what is the battle cry of the Warrior-Bridegroom?  It is the ancient greeting and response that signals the defeat of the enemy:

Greeter: Surrexit Christus! (Christ is risen!)

Response: Surrexit Dominus vere! (The Lord has risen indeed!)

Every general has his standard or colors.  For the Christian, it is the Paschal candle that is lit at the Easter Vigil.  The ancient prayer that prepares the Easter (Paschal) Candle is all we need to hear and understand St. Paul when he wrote,

Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor 15:55-57)

Truth, Goodness, and Beauty in Architecture

Thanks to the New Liturgical Movement blog, Dominican Brother Lawrence Lew has written a fantastic blog on truth and beauty in architecture:

by Br Lawrence Lew, O.P.

Aedes ChristiI recently came across an article by the art critic and philosopher Graham Carey in the Michaelmas 1949 issue of The Catholic Art Quarterly. At the time he was Chairman of the Catholic Art Association, and was on the Advisory Board of this journal. In the article Carey presents detailed plans for what appears to be an ideal “small country church which would be at once traditional and contemporary”, and he draws on a rich tradition of symbolic geometry and Christian iconography and Scriptural references. The result is fascinating, and I confess it drew me because he had, to my surprise, described the plan of an ideal church which I myself had envisaged over a decade ago, while doodling during a lecture!

However, it was Carey’s theological conclusion drawing on the transcendentals of truth, goodness and beauty, rather than his architectural plans, which I wish to share with our readership today. Carey said:

What is truth in architecture? Truth is a relationship of congruence between a thought and a thing. Absolute or ontological truth is the likeness between what things are and God’s idea of them, and ordinary relative truth is the likeness between what things are and what we think them to be. Architectural truth has two similar divisions. The principles of architecture ought to be closely related to God’s universal principles. In other words, the architectural theology should be sound. And secondly, the material expression of the principles should be adequate. The building should be what it seems to be. Such is truth in architecture; its spirit the true theology, and its body expressing that theology truly…

What is goodness in architecture? Goodness is the relation of things to their final causes. Here again we get two meanings to one word. Goodness means that the final cause of a thing is what God wants it to be. A good man’s purpose is the same as God’s purpose for him. But goodness also means a congruence between what he himself wants and what he succeeds in achieving. A good building is one which has a good purpose, one congruent with the needs of man as God created him, and it is also one that fulfills its purpose whatever that purpose may be. A church may be good in the former sense, and an atomic bomb in its latter. A really good building is good in both senses; it has a noble use, and its structure serves that noble use nobly.

And what of beauty? Beauty is the radiance of perfection in a thing, a perfection which the mind may understand directly through the service of the senses. If a thing is what it should be, true and good, it will appear as it should, beautiful, to anyone who has a mind capable of receiving beauty… The beauty of architecture is a direct result of the truth and goodness of architecture. This is the meaning of Lethaby’s often misunderstood dictum that, given truth and goodness, beauty will look after herself.

Expereincing Reconciliation with the Body of Christ

For modern Catholics, the Rite of Reconciliation is the sacramental act of entering the confessional, confessing one’s sins, receiving a penance, making an act of contrition, obtaining absolution, and leaving the confessional reconciled with the Living God. Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE THAT! What I am trying to say is hard to explain, but I’ll try.

I think if there was more public ceremony we might take it more seriously. Gone are the days of public penances (I would be forever on the liturgical chain gang) and with it the understanding of the effects of grave sin upon the community. Today, we approach sin and confession as if it is a private affair, and in a certain sense, it is. That being said, every sin is social and affects the Body of Christ – especially the grave ones.

I tripped over this video at Chant Blog that demonstrates the reception of penitents on Maundy Thursday in preparation for the Triduum celebration. The rite finds its origin in the diocese of Salisbury, England circa Eleventh Century. It is a rite filled with noble simplicity. To read more about these rites check out this pdf prepared by D.H. Frost entitled, Interpreting a medieval church through liturgy. Beneath the video is a translation of what is being chanted.

“Venite, venite, venite, filii; audite me : timorem Domini docebo vos.” (“Come, children, hearken to me: I will teach you the fear of the Lord.”) Notice the prostrations and even the bare feet. Then, the priest, with due reverence, leads and accompanies the penitent like a bride being introduced to her groom. Outstanding!

Divine Music

Music lovers and disciples of St. Cecilia, I thought you would enjoy this:

Those who read music are familiar with the C that may appear after the clef sign. It’s often that this designation for 4/4 time stands for “common.” Not true. This C is not even a C. The most common time, in the morning of music, was “perfect” time, have three beats to the bar. This trinity of beats was considered analogous to the three Persons of the Trinity. Naturally-or symbolically-a complete circle, with the connotations of God’s completeness and perfection, was used as its sign. 4/4 time, on the other hand, was not perfect and complete, and so its symbol was an incomplete circle…the C that is not a C.[1]

[1] Peter Klein, ed., The Catholic Source Book: A Comprehensive Collection of Information about the Catholic Church, 3 ed. (Dubuque, Iowa: ACTA Publications, 1999), 473.

Re-thinking Liturgical Roles…

This past Monday, my Pastor and I were kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament preparing for Reposition. During the singing of the Tantum Ergo, he turned to me and asked, “Do deacons repose the Blessed Sacrament?” I replied, “I have no idea. You are wearing the humeral veil… don’t you?”  We shrugged our shoulders and continued as usual with him reposing and placing our Lord back into the tabernacle. Afterward, he asked me to research his question.

So, I did. I was surprised to discover that it is the deacon who exposes and reposes our Lord even if a priest is present and/or he is not the presiding minister. The Order for the Solemn Exposition of the Holy Eucharist in paragraph 51, concerning reposition states:

If the exposition is to be interrupted, the deacon (or in his absence, a priest, even the presiding minister) immediately removes the blessed sacrament from the monstrance and places it in the tabernacle.

Paragraph31 in the ritual also states the same – even if the period of exposition begins during Holy Mass.

Once I shared my findings, a close friend asked, “How do we explain this to the parishioners since it would appear that the deacon is of a higher rank than the priest? Is it that deacons are like worker bees?” Initially I said said, “Sure” because it was a quick answer but then I realized the great disservice that would be perpetuated by such an analogy. So, I thought through a different answer and composed an email.

If you would permit me, I would like to share the email (although this version is cleaned up – DQ should never quickly write an email and hit send without proofing it, especially at 7 am):


I thought about the worker bee image as an analogy to illustrate the relationship of service between a deacon and priest, especially during adoration. I think while the worker bee image makes it easier for everyone to understand, it is an incorrect one. I think the real challenge is that we are looking for the most efficient way to explain this relationship which translates to the quickest way and, thus, falls short of the theological truths that reveal the vocation.

The following explanation is longer to give to someone but I think it is much closer to the truth. The risk of the worker bee analogy is that it can easily cheapen the dignity of the vocation. It is like saying my wife is just a housekeeper or we are just admin assistants.The worker bee image implies a group working for the good of the whole completing whatever task is assigned to them. The service of the deacon, especially during a liturgy, has a very specific focus and service.

The role of the deacon is to serve the priest in all things that pertain to the altar and the liturgy. It is not a case of dignity (priest is higher than the deacon or that the deacon works for the priest) but a case of function. This type of service is what we were ordained for. The following is the mental challenge that I believe we need to overcome:

Many of the liturgical actions that our priests have been ministering are by way of exception not ministerial duty.

Our current state finds us positioned in such a way that particular duties have been ascribed to priests that are not part of their ministerial priesthood. Why can they function in them and not the laity? They were ordained deacons first. The greater can always serve in a lesser position, but not the other way around. Those who are not ordained have been a special gift to the Church – our Lord provided in our need. For these reasons, the pervasive attitude (which we have discussed multiple times) that Extraordinary Ministers of Readers and Holy Communion demand they have a right to serve and be seen, or to serve when and how they want – I find offensive. Not because I am ordained, but because none of us ever have a right to serve whether we are laity or clergy. The Church suspended a number of liturgical laws and traditions that date back to 494 (Leonine Laws) in order to find a way to assist the priest until the institutes (Instituted Lectors and Acolytes) and order (Deacons) could be reestablished – then phase the extraordinary ministries out. But sadly, and mostly because of lack of training and boundaries, everyone believes these are permanent delegations and they have a right to serve in these ministries.

Priests are ordained for sacrifice which is directly linked to the forgiveness of sins and governance. Deacons are neither coming in to take over priestly actions and duties, nor are we married “wanna be priests”. Some liturgical actions, or duties, were never intended to be fulfilled by them. But, as you know, the deprivation in vocations to the Permanent Diaconate has been basically lacking for 22 years in the diocese (Add to the fact that it was suppressed for 1000 years in the Western Church and we are all still learning how to relate to one another).

Within the liturgy, there are certain tasks and duties that are more perfectly seen and understood by someone serving in persona Christi[1] The deacon provides a sacramental image of Christ the Servant.

Deacon Rex H. Pilger, Jr., Ph.D. in describing the duties that are part and parcel of the deacon’s ministry, also reminds us that a priest and bishop are also deacons,

The munera[2] bestowed on the deacon: proclaiming, preaching, and teaching the Gospel, administering baptism, receiving wedding vows, burying the dead, custodian of the Most Blessed Sacrament, viaticum to the dying, care of the sick, and concern for the poor are still very much the responsibility of the priest and bishop. (The latter, of course, confers the munera.)[3]

This must be understood properly in order to maintain a clear functional and ontological separation between the deacon and the presbyterate/episcopate whose ministry is ordered to sacrifice. While service always requires self-donation, priests (includes bishops) through their actions and words (This is my body…) sacramentally offer themselves through a complete donation as Christ the Priest.

I think a greater temptation for our parish is not that the deacon is higher than the priest but “Why do we need deacons? Laypeople can do whatever needs to be done.” The sacramental grace communicated at ordination provides the Church with a living sign or a living icon of Christ the Servant. The deacon’s simple service of the altar, word and charity is wrapped up in the word serve.

Here again, Deacon Pilger sheds some light on the “why” which may be seen in the:

practical dimensions of diaconal ministry. In the Roman Rite, deacons, together with bishops and priests, are ordinary ministers of Baptism. And, it is through the initial sacrament that the call of Christ the Servant comes: the baptized are called to serve God and neighbor. It is through diakonia that the minister of Baptism — bishop, priest, deacon, or even, in emergency, a layperson — communicates the call. At the beginning of Mass, the deacon may lead the assembly in penitence — pleading the mercy of Christ on his people — the (non-sacramental) forgiveness of sins….. At the altar, the deacon visibly serves, and, as he kneels from the Epiclesis through the first elevation of the chalice, leads the rest of the assembly in adoration as Christ becomes especially Real under the appearance of the gifts of bread and wine. (The deacon’s ordination also involved an epiclesis over the kneeling ordinand, the invocation of the Holy Spirit that strengthens the gifts received at Confirmation.) The deacon elevates and ministers the chalice, the Blood of the new Covenant, shed for the forgiveness of sins. He invites the Sign of Peace. And, finally, he may dismiss the faithful with the most appropriate commission: “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”

The three orders serving in their unique liturgical roles together, provide an HD picture of the person of Christ and the Blessed Trinity. I do not think these are the exact words we need to say but what we need to communicate. I hope this helps. Thanks for asking the question. Maybe we can continue the discussion to figure out the best way to “package the message” for those who have questions.


[1] Omnium in Mentum, October 26, 2009: Article II makes a clarification to separate the ministerial functions of the Bishop/Priest and deacons “Those who are constituted in the order of the episcopate or the presbyterate receive the mission and capacity to act in the person of Christ the Head, whereas deacons are empowered to serve the People of God in the ministries of the liturgy, the word and charity”. Presently, there is an argument concerning the nature of the clarification. The understanding of this author, who entrusting himself to the explanations of the diaconal formation team and canonists, is that the deacon serves in persona Christi by way of imageo dei and not as capitas or the head.

[2] Munera: assigned service, function, duty

[3] Pilger, Jr., Ph.D, Rex H., Homiletic & Pastoral Review, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, CA, November 2006 (pp 23-27)

Litany of the Saints: Order & Beauty Revealed

One of the most moving points during an ordination is when the ordinandi lay prostrate at the foot of the altar offering their lives in service to the People of God. During this period, the Bishop, priests, deacons, seminarians, religious and lay faithful, pray to God  for the ordinandi by chanting the Litany of the Saints. The reasoning is so they might be strengthened by the grace and power of the Holy Spirit to accomplish the task(s) that is(are) being set before them.

The moment (which lasted a little over eight minutes for mine) is solemn. It is a profound sung silence. It is a moment, when through prayer, it would seem that eternity and time both are in snych with each other. For the wives, it is here where the impact of the commitment and the reality of ordination suddenly rushes in upon them.

It is the moment most people remember. It is also the moment that brings about the most questions. The most frequent question afterward is, “How do you decide the organization of the Litany.” And, is there a definite organization. So, I thought we would examine the deep beauty and organization of the Litany of the Saints.

Introduction to a Litany

Fr. John Hardon, S.J. in his Modern Catholic Dictionary proposes a very helpful description and definition of the Litany of the Saints:

Believed to be the most ancient of the litanies used in the Church. Already prescribed by Pope Gregory the Great in 590 for a public procession of thanksgiving at the end of a plague that had devastated Rome. In a somewhat different form, it was mentioned by St. Basil in the fourth century. Called the Litany of the Saints because it is made up of petitions addressed to various saints of different classes, and to Mary, the Queen of the Saints. In its present form, after invoking forty-eight individual saints and thirteen groups of saints, the litany begs for deliverance from a dozen evils and makes some thirty intercessions, including “that you would deign to humble the enemies of Holy Church” and “grant peace and unity to all Christian people.

Litany of the Saints: General Organization

Immediately in the description, one can see that in general, there is a definite organization:

  • Invocation of the Blessed Trinity
  • Invocation of Mary, Queen of Saints
  • Invocation of forty-eight individual saints organized into thirteen groups
  • Intercession against about twelve human deprivations or evils
  • Intercession for thirty needs or areas that require grace
  • Intercession for unity of mind and heart manifested through peace among the People of God

Litany of the Saints: Particular Organization

Litanies always open with the Kyrie Eleison formula directly addressed to the Blessed Trinity. The invocation is for the Godhead to grant grace and mercy to those praying the litany. Immediately following is the invocation of the Blessed Virgin Mary with a highlight upon the title, Queen of All Saints. Sometimes in the abbreviated form we only hear Mary, Mother of God. Naturally, her angelic court is addressed prior to the company of saints.

Hierarchy of the Saints of God

The organization is done by categories with internal ecclesial hierarchical rankings:

  1. Apostles
  2. Evangelists
  3. Disciples
  4. Commemoration of the Holy Innocents
  5. Martyrs (St. Stephan the proto-martyr is first)
  6. Confessors arranged by their rank in life
    1. Popes
    2. Doctors
    3. Bishops
    4. Abbots
    5. Priests
    6. Monks
  7. Virgins

The most interesting section of the litany is the Confessors. This section typically includes the patron(s) of the diocesan and local Church, founders of orders, local saints and even former bishops of the diocese who are unknown outside the immediate area. St. Sylvester is usually the first saint named within the Confessors, except when the local patron is placed on top. During the Diocese of Arlington Diaconate ordination, all the patron parish saints were included in this section for the ordiandi. Unfortunately, the hierarchy is not strictly followed, not to mention abbreviated forms for the sake of time, which contributes to confusion.

Following the patrons come the Fathers of the Church (Ambrose, Augustine, Gregory, Jerome), then bishops and so forth. In some litanies the confessors section is divided into two sections in accordance to their rank:

  1. Bishops and priests (top section)
  2. Monks and hermits (bottom section)

Last but not least are the Virgins. Of interest, are the virtues who later began saints: Faith, Hope and Charity – daughters of St. Sophia.

If you attend enough liturgies where the litany is chanted or recited you will notice the great variety. Even with the variety there is always an intrinsic unity found in the structure. If you are looking for absolute lack of deviation you will have to go to parishes run by the Order of Preachers (Dominicans). They have mandated and regularized the Litany of Saints within their own territories and order.

The Litany of the Saints is a beautiful prayer to remind us of the unity with the family of God who have gone before us. We should every once in a while break in out and pray it with our families and friends. It is a good reminder that not only are we not alone but,

since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us cast aside every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us (Hebrews 12:1)

All holy men and women of God…ora pro nobis!

Novena for the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit: Day Four


Thou in toil art comfort sweet, Pleasant coolness in the heat, solace in the midst of woe.

The Gift of Fortitude

The Gift of Fortitude By the gift of Fortitude the soul is strengthened against natural fear, and supported to the end in the performance of duty. Fortitude imparts to the will an impulse and energy which move it to under take without hesitancy the most arduous tasks, to face dangers, to trample under foot human respect, and to endure without complaint the slow martyrdom of even lifelong tribulation. “He that shall persevere unto the end, he shall be saved.”


Come, O Blessed Spirit of Fortitude, uphold my soul in time of trouble and adversity, sustain my efforts after holiness, strengthen my weakness, give me courage against all the assaults of my enemies, that I may never be overcome and separated from Thee, my God and greatest Good. Amen.

Our Father and Hail Mary ONCE.
Glory be to the Father SEVEN TIMES.

Act of Consecration, Prayer for the Seven Gifts

Χαῖρε Θεοτόκος (Hail the God-Bearer)

As we begin 2011, it is the Μήτηρ Θεοῦ or the Mater Dei (Mother of God) who ushers in the secular calendar. Though secular society celebrates the New Year by pointing us to love, fortune and resolution, the Church has stationed her like a rampart that she may once again point us to He that is “the Way, the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6). Here she stands at fixed “bearing” God to the world.

It is right that we honor her today for all her assistance and intercession before the Godhead on our behalf. The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom invites us to join in praying,

It is truly right to bless you, O Theotokos, ever blessed and most pure, and the Mother of our God. More honorable than the Cherubim, and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim, without defilement you gave birth to God the Word. True Theotokos we magnify you.

We should not be remiss in giving the Advocate of Eve her due. St. Irenaeus of Lyons (150-202) in Against Heresies, III, 22.4, describes her as the Cause of Our Salvation. Our Lady is the proximate cause of our salvation by virtue of her Fiat. Thus, St. Gregory of Nazianzus rightly says in his Epistle 101 that

If one does not acknowledge Mary as Theotokos, he is estranged from God.

For this reason, it is incumbent upon us to find an apologetic to share with those who do not understand this expression of our faith the benefits of a relationship with the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Johann George Melchior Schmidtner circa 1700

One of my favorite, and frankly, unusual titles for Mary is the Untier of Knots or Undoer of Knots. St. Irenaeus in the same section in which he clothes her with the title, Cause of our Salvation also shares this popular German title:

Mary, by becoming the channel of our Salvation, is defined as the source of eternal salvation for those who tasted death through Eve. Mary’s role in the Father’s plan was to undo the knots of disobedience and death.

But Eve was disobedient; for she did not obey when as yet she was a virgin. And even as she, having indeed a husband, Adam, but being nevertheless as yet a virgin (for in Paradise “they were both naked, and were not ashamed,” (Gen 2:25) inasmuch as they, having been created a short time previously, had no understanding of the procreation of children: for it was necessary that they should first come to adult age, and then multiply from that time onward), having become disobedient, was made the cause of death, both to herself and to the entire human race; so also did Mary, having a man betrothed [to her], and being nevertheless a virgin, by yielding obedience, become the cause of salvation, both to herself and the whole human race. And on this account does the law term a woman betrothed to a man, the wife of him who had betrothed her, although she was as yet a virgin; thus indicating the back-reference from Mary to Eve, because what is joined together could not otherwise be put asunder than by inversion of the process by which these bonds of union had arisen; so that the former ties be canceled by the latter, that the latter may set the former again at liberty. And it has, in fact, happened that the first compact looses from the second tie, but that the second tie takes the position of the first which has been canceled. (Emphasis mine)

As we enter into this new calendar year, may Our Lady travel with us through the entire year and point us to Jesus. Thus, we will see the truth of the Coptic Liturgy as it proclaims:

The golden incenser is the Virgin, and its pleasant scent is our Saviour.