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Posts Tagged ‘Eucharist’

Last week, I pulled a book off my basement bookshelves: St. Denis: A French-Canadian Parish. 

It’s a rather well-known sociological study, published in 1936, with an postscript briefly describing changes that had occurred by 1949. The book was from my parents’ home and was one of the few I took with me after their deaths. My father was a political scientist, not a sociologist, but had a few works from that field that were popular or of general

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My mother’s aunt, after whom she was named.

interest in the 50’s and 60’s. The other factor that I’m sure led to this book being on their shelves was my mother’s French-Canadian heritage. She was born in New Hampshire, but was first generation – everyone else in her family had been born in Quebec. In fact, since my mother was born in 1924, the emigration activity described in this book was her family’s story in a way – that very fluid border that existed between New England and Canada at the time through which young people who either had no work on family farms or simply wanted a different life passed constantly back and forth until probably the 1960’s. In 1973, we took a family vacation and visited some older  third cousins in Sayabec, Quebec, women who had lived in Lewiston (Maine) for over a decade in the 1950’s and 60’s and, of course had never had to speak a word of English during their time in the United States.

(My mother’s Catholic grammar school classes  in Maine were half in French and half in English. When she went to public school, everything was all English, all the time. The French-speaking children called their non-Quebecois classmates “Johnny Bulls.”)

So anyway, I did have a personal interest in this book, but more than that, a general interest in the subject matter, related to those persistent questions of religion and culture. What was the lived faith of these early 20th century Catholics like? How is it similar to mine? How is it different? How was faith enmeshed in culture? And can I find any clues at all as to why it has collapsed so completely in Quebec?

Well, it’s only one book centering on one tiny slice of life, but in terms of that last question, what came to me – not a very original thought – was that the intimate weaving of religion and culture gave faith its greatest strength – and was a factor in its collapse as well.

For as the study indicates, although St. Denis was, even in 1936, a very traditional rural culture, change was coming – economic pressure was prompting young people to seek amy-welbornwork in the cities and even in the US, and they were bringing back different values when they returned. Religious life was intimately tied to the rhythms of daily and seasonal life and was a largely uncontested worldview  – which we look at with nostalgia and yearning – but perhaps (perhaps) led to an experience of faith ill-equipped to cope with the spiritual questions raised in a more open culture (Not everyone believes as I do – and some of those people are good people – is it really necessary to do and believe all of this? I’m having experiences that I’ve been taught were sinful..and I still feel okay…was what they told me true at all? ) – simply because they weren’t raised.

I don’t know. Just guessing here.

Anyway, here are a few pages from St. Denis.  The first is just there to give you a taste in case you don’t want to click through. The second takes you to this link – a pdf I made of some pages related to the Mass. The first couple of pages relate to the role of the boys’ and mens’ choir – which have different liturgical functions. And then I’ve given you the entire chapter on the Mass, which I think you’ll find interesting. Note that, in this case, those laity who receive Communion don’t receive it during Mass. They go to Confession before Mass, and then Communion is distributed before Mass begins – my scant knowledge indicates that this is High Mass under discussion, and Communion was not distributed to the laity during High Mass. I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong!

 

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Excerpt from St. Denis.

I often think about what I believe is the greatest difference in the contemporary landscape in which the Church evangelizes today and say, the most frequently-encountered conditions of a hundred, two hundred or a thousand years ago. To me, that great difference is all about human choice, mobility, awareness and relative prosperity. Some of that is reflected in St. Denis – although these people certainly had more choice and mobility than say, a medieval peasant – still. Lives were fairly circumscribed, most people followed life paths determined by their families and human health and flourishing was highly dependent on how the forces of nature treated you this year. A spirituality of Let’s make this your Best Lent Ever and God wants you to use your unique gifts and talents to set the world on fire and wow, isn’t it great to know that God made you beautiful and wants you to have an exciting life?! ….

…would be…irrelevant.

Which is why, when I’m sorting through spiritual messages and discerning what’s real and what’s fake and opportunistic, one of the criterion I’ve taken to consider is: Would this expression of the Gospel and these spiritual stylings be equally applicable to me – in my world of mobility and choice – and to a 9th century Italian peasant – or to a person in a refugee camp – or an elderly person in a nursing home – or a child? 

Yes, our different circumstances do call for varied specific applications and challenges. But fundamentally – one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism. The basics of what we say should make sense to anyone, at any time, anywhere.

 

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As I mentioned, we’ve taken a quick trip to Colorado (first time)  for the weekend, thanks to Frontier Airlines beginning cheap flights out of Birmingham. Of course a part of the “cheap” means you can maybe take a Ziploc on board and you have to pay for the air you breathe, but hey. It works.

(Seriously – you can take a small “personal item” on board as part of the fare. Our backpacks with clothes, etc., fit that fine, and I also took my purse separately without them saying anything about it. Because it’s winter and winter clothes are fatter – and we didn’t want to wear hiking boots all weekend – I splurged on a carry on bag. Just one. It was fine, and we might have been able to do without the carry on. The plane was good, although J found the seat uncomfortable. I don’t know what the plane was, but it was for sure the quietest plane I’ve been on in a long time, maybe ever. They did say in the announcements that it was new.)

Friday night we stayed at a Residence Inn halfway between the airport and downtown. I’d thought about staying downtown that first night, but I’m glad I didn’t – it wouldn’t have been worth the double cost & need to pay for parking, and we got in late enough so that we wouldn’t be venturing out for any night life.

Saturday was rainy and, eventually snowy. The plan had been to spend time seeing things in Denver and perhaps Boulder and then make our way up to Estes Park, where we’d stay Saturday and Sunday night. Part of the plan worked, but I was concerned about the “snow” part of the forecast, considering my rental car was just a regular car – not an SUV or anything like that – and I had no idea what to expect in terms of roads and driving. As the day progressed, I decided it would be wiser to start the journey to Estes Park sooner rather than later, and it was a very good decision – I am not sure if I could have made it up if I’d waited until 5 or so – and the stress factor of driving that in the snow and in the dark would have been high.

So anyway, back to Saturday morning in Denver: very simple – Union Station, the glorious Tattered Cover Bookshop, the State Capitol building – exterior and the mile-high marker only, since the interior is only open during the week, the History Colorado Museum, lunch at Torchy’s Tacos (a good chain) and a drive-by of the Broncos stadium.

Observations: the History Colorado Museum was okay, but was missing a comprehensive, chronological history of either Denver or the state. Interesting stuff about a variety of subjects: Skiing, the RMNP, the presence of the Klan, the Japanese internment camp, the Chicano movement, the Dust bowl – but an organized, comprehensive, you know – history  – exhibit would strengthen the museum.

Secondly, many, many homeless folks around the capitol, with many of their effects scattered on the grounds. I was glad to see what looked like groups offering them help of one sort or another, including a mobile laundry. But still – seeing soaked clothing, blankets, chicken bones, etc. littering the state capitol grounds is expressive of what is left to do.

 

The drive to Estes was not the easiest drive I’ve ever done, but it wasn’t terrible at 3pm. We arrived at our hotel in one piece, checked in, chilled out, walked around a bit, then the younger one and I embarked on a longer walk. Our hotel is about a mile from the small downtown, and even in the sub twenty-degree weather, it was pleasant. Crisp, with the everyone in a cheery mood because, well, it’s vacation time and they were celebrating their Christmas tree lighting ceremony. After a bit, I called the older son and told him to walk down and meet us and we’d find dinner. We did – at a place where one of us could have an elk burger and another could have a game meatloaf.

 

Sunday morning – Mass at the lovely Our Lady of the Mountains. Packed 10 am Mass, intelligent homily.

Then it was time to …do something. I had not done a ton of research into this day, and what I had done confused me, and there was the snow issue – although by Sunday morning the roads in town were clear. Doing a bit more research Saturday night and chatting with a fellow at the visitors’ center five minutes before they closed indicated some direction – basically attempt a hike in the Rocky Mountains National Park, perhaps with snowshoes, and probably around one of a few easier lakes to get to .

So after getting ourselves ready back at the hotel, we headed to a very busy mountain gear supply store, where a conversation with one of the sales people gave me even more direction. We rented snowshoes and poles and set out.

We didn’t end up at any of the spots I’d thought, and the hike was probably harder than I’d anticipated, considering it was 1.2 miles mostly uphill. But it was the first trail we hit after a steady drive that nonetheless unnerved me since the park roads were still snow-covered, and so I really didn’t want to keep doing that not-fun activity. Plus, I saw the name of the trail destination to be a sign: Bierstadt Lake, named after the German landscape artist who painted so much of the American West  – including this lake and this area – and one of whose paintings of Yosemite is a star holding of our own Birmingham Museum of Art. Of course we have to hit the Bierstadt trail and see Bierstadt Lake.

Well, we first discovered that the snowshoes were unnecessary, at least for the hike up the mountain. The trail is a series of switchbacks up the mountain, down a much shorter distance through woods, and then to the lake. It wasn’t easy – but I did it! The youngest ditched the snowshoes first, followed by me about halfway up. The trail was packed, and moreover, it was narrow, making the snowshoes mostly an obstacle. They’re light, though, and it was less hassle to carry them than wear them. However, when we did the trail around the lake, the snow was deep, and the snowshoes fulfilled their promise – although they still weren’t necessary, honestly.

But getting to the lake? Worth it. Gorgeous, humbling and stunning. (Don’t worry – it looks like they are standing on the lake in the photo, but they are well on the shore.)

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The idea of cold weather activity has never appealed to me – I frankly never understand why people want to do it. Perhaps I’m still suffering from the ill-effects of my Maine-raised mother tossing me out to play in the snow in northern Illinois winters, assuring me that it would be enormously fun. I hated it.

But this? It was good. I finally understood that with the proper equipment (snowshoes excepted)..no, freezing and misery is not the only possible outcome of going outside in the cold. Took a while, didn’t it?

Oh – one more thing. On the trail, I spied a group of two men and one woman heading towards us. One of the man was wearing a UAB sweatshirt. Turns out he and the other fellow were Australians studying at UAB – So there we were, two groups from Birmingham meeting there in the Rocky Mountains. It’s pretty crazy, but to tell the truth, every time I travel, I run into someone with some connection to either me personally or wherever I’m living at the time. I imagine all those degrees of connections are far closer than we think – we just don’t know it because we’re not stopping to talk to every single person – and we’re not all walking billboards advertising our home.

img_20181118_160610Back into town, return equipment, stop at the grocery store, as well as at the Stanley Hotel, which is the inspiration for The Shining – King was staying there when he got the idea for the novel. Photo is of the son who’s read the book and seen the movie a couple of times (much preferring the latter, btw) doing his best Jack Nicholson-in-The-Shining performance.

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Now? Football one one TV, The Dark Knight on the other, and me here. Home tomorrow, but hopefully one more small adventure before we have to be at the airport.

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— 1 —

I’m still working on a couple of Japan wrap-up posts. I’d thought I would use one of them here, but nah. I’ll just toss up some recent news and links, instead.

First, saints:

Lots of interesting saints coming up this week (well…there are always interesting saints coming up in our calendar, aren’t there?), among them Camillus de Lellis – former gambler, soldier of fortune –  on July 14.

I wrote about him in The Loyola Kids’ Book of SaintsLoyola didn’t choose to excerpt from my book for the entry for their “Saints Stories for Kids” webpage, but you can read most of it at Google Books, here:

camillus de lellis

(Kateri Tekakwitha, whom we also remember on July 14, is also in the Loyola Kids Book of Saints, but the available excerpt on Google Books is pretty minimal, so…..)

— 2 —

Summer time for us usually means a lot more movie-watching in the evenings – a time for Mom to say…you get to play your video games and watch your stupid YouTube videos about video games, so now it’s my turn to pick. 

It’s not always easy. They get it. They understand that what we watch might be a little challenging for them to access at first, but that I try my best to share movies that are substantive and still engaging for them. By this point, they mostly trust me. I think what turned it was (speaking of Japan) The Seven Samurai. At first, they were deeply skeptical – a 60+ year-old dubbed, black-and-white movie? Even if it is about samurai?

Well, of course, it was fantastic. We split the viewing over two nights (this was last summer) and they were totally absorbed and engaged.

So, yeah, they trust me. Mostly.

— 3 —

This summer has been different. My older son works, and most of his shifts are in the evening, and much of the time he’s not working, he’s off doing other things. That’s how it goes! And it’s good – because you want them to be shaping their own lives.

So we’ve not watched a lot of movies this summer so far. Two recent viewings, though, one before Japan and one after:

On the Waterfront.  This was a film I used to show my morality classes in Catholic high schools. It is, of course, a great discussion-starter about the cost of doing the right thing, but it also offers a great opening to talk about evangelization and what it means to take the Gospel into the world – embodied, of course, in Karl Malden’s character, Father Barry:

Some people think the Crucifixion only took place on Calvary. They better wise up! Taking Joey Doyle’s life to stop him from testifying is a crucifixion. And dropping a sling on Kayo Dugan because he was ready to spill his guts tomorrow, that’s a crucifixion. And every time the Mob puts the pressure on a good man, tries to stop him from doing his duty as a citizen, it’s a crucifixion. And anybody who sits around and lets it happen, keeps silent about something he knows that happened, shares the guilt of it just as much as the Roman soldier who pierced the flesh of our Lord to see if he was dead… Boys, this is my church! And if you don’t think Christ is down here on the waterfront, you’ve got another guess coming!

Verdict: They though it was “a little slow” in parts, but liked it, especially as it built towards the end.

— 4 —

Earlier this week, we took on The Great Escape another long one, and another success. It’s based, of course, on a real escape from a German POW camp, and I’d say is about 60.2% faithful to history – with characters and time conflated of course, and well, you know there was no Steve McQueen racing a motorcycle to the Swiss border, right? That didn’t happen. Sorry.

Verdict: Very positive.

This, from the Telegraph, is a great graphic and verbal summary of the history behind the escape.  

On the night of March 24, 1944 a total of 220 British and Commonwealth officers were poised to escape by tunnelfrom North Compound, Stalag Luft III, the main camp for allied aircrew prisoners of war at Sagan in Nazi-occupied Poland.

The subsequent events, thanks to numerous books and the 1963 Hollywood epic The Great Escape, have become the stuff of legend. However the real story had nothing to do with Steve McQueen on a motorbike and over the top derring-do by a few men – in reality some 600 were involved.

Despite being meticulously planned by the committee known as the X Organisation, the escape was a far messier affair than we have previously been led to believe. Events unfolded in chaos with numerous hold-ups and tunnel collapses. Some pushed their way in line; others fled their post altogether.

Now, after corresponding with and interviewing survivors, and seven painstaking years of trawling through historical records in archives across Europe, prisoner-of-war historian Charles Rollings throws new light on the night of the ‘Great Escape’.

SPOILER ALERT: (Seriously, don’t read if you haven’t seen it, know nothing about it, and want to see it) – Be warned that if you’re thinking about showing this to younger or sensitive children: one of the things the movie is accurate about is the fact that most of the escapees were caught and killed. The jaunty theme and occasionally comedic aspects might lead you to think this is  a hijinks-and-fun-caper flick, but don’t think that. It’s very fast moving, enjoyable, has quirky characters and a couple of amusing set-pieces and has good lessons about resilience and standing up to injustice, but just know…most of them don’t make it.

— 5 –

Ah, okay, I said “links.” Here’s a link – a wonderful one:

How this classical Catholic school welcomes children with Down Syndrome:

Students with Down syndrome study Latin and logic alongside their classmates at Immaculata Classical Academy, a Catholic school in Louisville, Ky., that integrates students with special needs into each of their pre-K through 12 classrooms.

The school emphasizes “education of the heart,” along with an educational philosophy tailored to the abilities of each student. About 15 percent of students at Immaculata have special needs.

“When you look at these students with Down syndrome in a classical setting, it is truly what a classical education is all about — what it truly means to be human,” the school’s founder, Michael Michalak, told CNA.

— 6 —

Last week under this very take (#6), I shared a link about a former Catholic church in Boston being, er, transformed into a Dollar Tree store. 

Well, here’s some good news – another perspective from Baltimore:

Baltimore City is hurting. It is bleeding. It is in need of hope and healing. It needs Jesus Christ in the Eucharist—the source of all hope.

And yet, because of the danger in the City I have to close the Basilica at 4 PM every day. It can’t be open without a security guard. And we only have enough money to have a guard until 4PM.

THIS MUST CHANGE!

In my prayer, I know God is calling me to open the Basilica. He is calling me to make Him available to the people of Baltimore every single day in Eucharistic Adoration. He is asking me to offer his forgiveness in confession at all hours of the day. He is asking me to walk the streets and invite the people who live in my neighborhood to get to know Him. He is asking me to provide a sanctuary for those who are ill, lost, homeless, and hopeless. He wants young adults in our neighborhood to have a refuge to flee to after work and school.

I must provide that refuge here in the City. I honestly KNOW that God is demanding this of me.

I agree. I’m ready to help!

But in order to provide this refuge, I need your help. I will explain exactly what kind of help I need in a moment. But first I want to lay out what God is asking me to do at the Basilica.

— 7 —

While you’re waiting for those last Japan posts (should be over the weekend), in case you haven’t seen them – here’s what I have so far:

Also check out Instagram for photos. 

Some previous trip entries:

Mexico – spring 2018

London – spring 2017

Belize and Guatemala  – summer 2017

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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I had a friend – a saintly friend who died seven years ago next week – who, as I said, was saintly and much holier than I.

I have written about her before, mostly about the time I visited her a couple of months before she died of the cancer she had been fighting for years, and that was finally winning. She talked about how she felt about what was coming, and one of the things she talked about was Purgatory.

I can’t wait to go to Purgatory, she said. To have everything but love burned away. Nothing but love left.

Anyway, this is not about that.

One of the things Mollie used to mention was how watching people receive Communion was a spiritual act for her. To watch women, men and children each receive the Lord and walk away, Christ dwelling within, was something profound.

I get it. But at the same time, I want to say:

Stop staring at me.

For me, that moment of Communion is, indeed strong. Taking in the congregation as a whole, all of us, present in the moment of sacrificial Love, bound in and by Him, I know I’m living in what is most really Real and it’s a glimpse of Heaven. But still. Come on.

Stop staring!

The demise of the hand missal is what did it, and it was no accident. Many of you weren’t there, but in those post-Vatican II years of “renewal,” the anti-private prayer at Mass game was strong. THIS IS NOT PRIVATE PRAYER, they said. THIS IS LITURGY, WHICH MEANS WORK OF THE PEOPLE. YOUR PRIVATE PRAYER TIME COMES LATER.

Stop praying privately!

How that was supposed to work, I never really understood. I mean, even if I’m praying with others, I’m still here and I’m still praying out of my own self, which is not obliterated in the Community Borg..but anyway.

To this end, congregations were told to pay attention.  They were encouraged to be social before and after Mass in the sanctuaries. Missalettes were removed from pews so you could not follow along with the readings privately. The Proclamation of the Word was originally and primally an oral activity, and so two thousand years later, You Must Just Listen as a Community and May Not  Follow Along with Your Own Set of Private Eyes, despite the useful invention of moveable type and widespread literacy. Hand missals, full, not only of the prayers of the Mass, but prayers for Mass and other occasions, once ubiquitous, stuffed with holy cards that marked the owner’s journey from First Communion through marriage and parenthood, through prayers for lost keys and lost jobs and lost children, through sickness, through the inevitability of suffering, decline and death…pray for us! 

Gone.

 Mass is not the time for private prayer.

Post-Communion time was the prime battlefront. Kneeling was discouraged in some locations, with Standing as a Community, at the Ready to Welcome the Lord became the normal posture. Standing, yes, and singing. This is what expresses our identity as the Body of Christ. This moment is for visibly witnessing to this community and is not….NOT for private prayer.

STOP PRAYING.

And so we did. Yup. But most of us don’t sing, we don’t have anything to help us pray, so we stare instead.

Good job!

I’m sure more than a few of us come to that moment with Mollie’s spiritual vision and indeed, witnessing our brothers and sisters encounter the Lord is part of our own post-Communion prayer.

But I think most of us would welcome a little help, too.

Magnificat certainly fills a gap here. But why not revive that hand missal? They do still exist, you know. Or include a variety of private (yes, I said it) pre- and post-Communion prayers in missalettes?

There are, of course, quite a few small, hand-held Catholic prayer books out there that include these types of prayers. There are some good ones (recommend your favorites), but they tend to have a dated, crowded aspect about them – I think the market is there for a prayer book of this type that does not feel like it was printed from plates last used in 1950 and found in the church basement. Not  – let me repeat NOT with “contemporary” prayers penned by a committee, either.

Further, even if the current selection out there were to remain static, it seems to me that parishes would be doing a real service -an act of mercy, shall we say – by encouraging their use and making them available at low cost.

It is not a matter of going all fascist in the opposite direction now. It is about recognizing that people, in those moments after Communion, are seeking to deepen that encounter with the Lord. Many would welcome the use of prayers to do so, and it is the parish’s job to provide them with the opportunity and the means. Buy a bunch and sell them! Why not?

Let me interject another point here. I said that it’s not about being authoritarian in the “private prayer” direction either. What I mean by this plays off of one of my observations about this post-V2 era: how the liturgical changes, intended to bring the congregation more into the action of the Mass, did so by taking away the congregation’s freedom.

In the pre-Vatican II liturgy, all the burden was on the priest and the other ministers. It was their visible actions that defined the Mass and they were to be performed in specific ways, under pain of sin.

If you think about it, what the congregation did was almost irrelevant, as long as they didn’t touch the  Host and were present from one specific point to another.

Which, of course, in the eyes of liturgical reformers was part of the problem: the promotion of a minimalist, spectator role for the congregation.

Swing, pendulum!

….to the point at which the priest can do whatever the heck he wants, but the congregation’s incorrect actions are given the side-eye and finger-shake.

Members of the congregation are told that they must stand, sit and kneel as a group at these points, and they must sing and pray aloud…with gusto! (has anyone ever been in a congregation in which the celebrant orders the congregation to do a Do Over of a response with more vigor? I have) and they will not receive Communion if they dare to kneel and the children must march out for their own Liturgy of the Word, you must stand and march to Communion when the usher directs you to and you should not privately pray because…this is the liturgy, not your private prayer time

Now, in my limited experience, this is a Middle-Class Caucasian American Catholic problem.

When I have gone to Mass in Europe, when I have gone to Hispanic Masses in the US, when I have attended Easter Catholic liturgies…I don’t feel this. People come and go. Their postures are all over the place most of the time. A good portion of the congregation might be doing the same thing at any given time, but those that are doing something different…are fine.

And then Communion?

Scrum.

Which I like. It takes the pressure off.

So where was I in this blog post I was going to dash off in twenty minutes?

The post-Vatican II emphasis on the Participation of the People in the Mass has come, in many places, to somehow mean The Controlled Movement of the People in the Mass.  As we sit in churches  barren of décor, with nothing to read to help us focus and pray, we watch others walk up in the line when the usher greeter welcoming committee member tells them to, we watch the priest clean the vessels, and we wait for it all to be over.

But at least we’re all doing the same thing in community by God.

Prayer happens. It does. But I do think it’s time to get over that reflexive fear of Private Prayer! During Mass! and consider the possibility that some people’s experience of the reality of our Communion with the Lord and with each other, so profound at the moment, might be helped along by the provision of books with appropriate pre- and post-Communion prayers, and the encouragement to use them.

My true, real and deep pet peeve related to this involves school Masses. Catholic schools are about formation. About helping children draw closer to the Lord by giving them every resource we possibly can to help them focus on Him in this stage of life in which they are open and seeking, and in a culture that encourages them to focus on themselves instead of anything solid and real outside of themselves.

Magnifikid is good, but is a disposable and for Sunday Mass.

I would love to see a publisher produce an inexpensive, attractive, but not twee or childish Mass book especially for groups of CatmAGholic children. It would include the main parts of the Mass in English and Latin, the rite for Benediction, and a few pre and post Communion prayers. That’s it. Nothing more fancy than that. Sell it in bulk, teach schools how to teach their kids to use them, and boom. More choices, more active participation than just sitting and watching the first grade trail up the aisle, hands folded over chests for their blessing while not singing “Our God is Here.” Yes, there are children’s missals, but I am thinking about something that falls between that kind of vinyl-bound actual book and a flimsy pamphlet and that is not as picture heavy as a typical “Mass for Children” book. Something that a school or parish can publish in bulk and pull out for Masses and encourage children to use. Perhaps it exists? If so..tell me!

Note that this is not a screed against “how people act in Mass,” even though it may sound like it. Some bloggers do that. I don’t. I stand (or kneel or sit..whatever) in awe of every congregation of which I am a part and indeed, contemplating the diversity of people there and praying for their needs, whatever they might bed, forms a bedrock of my own experience at Mass.

But still, it  bothers me to see all of us – us – just..staring at the Communion line as it creeps up that aisle.

Because it is a struggle to focus, isn’t it? You are curious to see who’s there. You’re starting to think about what you have to do and where you have to go later. Your kids are poking at each other. You know you should be praying, and indeed you want to, for Jesus is here, right now, but you are not a Spiritual Master, it’s hard to concentrate, it’s hard to know what you want to say, what you could say, what you should say, and it’s really hard to know, simply, how to listen, since you know that’s what you should be doing right now, above anything else.

Different people are helped in this moment by different things: contemplating the congregation, the priest’s actions, the crucifix, the art in the church, listening to the music, singing the music, smelling the remaining scent of incense, fingering beads, closing one’s eyes and listening, opening one’s eyes and seeing.

And one of those things that can help are words printed on a page in a small book you’ve slipped in your purse or pocket, words that reflect what others – hundreds, thousands and millions – have found in this moment, in this Presence. It is good to have that book, to open it up right now in this place, present with your own quiet, noisy, still, moving, wandering crowd – to open it up in this Presence, see those words, and join them.

Soul of Christ, sanctify me
Body of Christ, save me
Blood of Christ, inebriate me
Water from Christ’s side, wash me
Passion of Christ, strengthen me
O good Jesus, hear me
Within Thy wounds hide me
Suffer me not to be separated from Thee
From the malicious enemy defend me
In the hour of my death call me
And bid me come unto Thee
That I may praise Thee with Thy saints

and with Thy angels
Forever and ever

 dorothyday-at-mass

Dorothy Day at Mass. Source.

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A Birmingham-based writer and acquaintance of mine had a piece about mental illness and faith published in the Washington Post today. It’s very good, and I’d recommend anyone in any kind of pastoral ministry read it:

The Scripture for this morning was John 16:16-24. The pastor read the verses aloud and said a short prayer. As soon as he began talking through his main points, I braced myself for the disappointment I knew was coming. I suspected he wouldn’t take this opportunity to discuss things such as depression and anxiety in the Christian life.

I was right.

Although much of what he said was good and biblical, he didn’t mention mental illness. Instead, he said if you aren’t experiencing joy, you should examine your life and repent of any sin that might be blocking it.

I don’t want to hijack Charlotte’s excellent piece for my own purposes – but, well, old habits are hard to break. My tangent is to observe how this attitude reflects the dangers of superficial religious practice in which definitions of things like “joy” and “peace” have been untethered from hundreds of years of tradition – which means, basically, “human experience” – and come to mean not much more than what the culture-of-the-moment says they mean.

For indeed, traditional, historic Christian spirituality may not have understood the nature of mental illness the way we do today, but it did embody an understanding of the complexities of the human person, accept a mystery of how our particular personalities interact with the transcendent, and provide understanding pathways of how to navigate that.

It also points out to me, once again, why emotion-based religious events are so terrible. Usually I say something like “inadequate” or “flawed” when I talk about this, but I think I’ll just move on and say that gatherings in which individuals are manipulated into a certain emotional state by music, environment, rhetorical tricks, guilt and even personal witness are terrible.  Defining “great worship today” by the tears shed or emotions felt by the hundreds swaying along to your music makes me think, Fascist! 

Back to Charlotte’s point. This is an important one, and I think her treatment is balanced and fair. It’s not, she says, that every word spoken should revolve around the reality of mental illness, but neither should it be ignored, especially when speaking of the practice of spirituality.

Therese Borchard has been writing about the issue of spirituality and depression for many years.

I know someone who read this book – A Catholic Guide to Depression –   and found it very helpful.

****

This brings another, somewhat related point to mind.

I was talking to someone who knew a younger teen who was experiencing some faith questions. In fact, this young person had reluctantly determined that he must be an agnostic. Why? Because he didn’t and couldn’t seem to feel anything. 

When I heard this, my heart cracked a little and then I experienced a moment of clarity, in which my sometimes inchoate skepticism about youth ministry all pulled together and made sense.

I thought about all of the youth ministry programs that I see and am somewhat familiar with, that my kids are invited to participate in. They’re all emotionally-based. One one level, they’re about the emotion of enjoyment and fun, based on the assumption that this is necessary in order to just get them in the door. Moving to another level, they tend to emphasize other emotions – joy, remorse, connectedness, excitement –  from retreats to Adoration events that feature praise music and personal witness.

What if you’re a kid who searches for evidence of truth mostly through your head and not through your emotions? 

Adults can look at all of this with some perspective. We can separate the emotion from the core of faith. We can understand that for a lot of us, that emotionally-based stage – the affective stage  – is important and maybe even necessary. It was for me, when I was a senior in high school, and was deeply moved and felt an individual, very emotional encounter with Christ at a class retreat at the Jesuit Retreat House in Atlanta. But that was one moment, and perspective taught me that there was more to faith. The holistic nature of Catholic spirituality taught me that this type of intensity was rare, and didn’t define faith – my faith.

But teens?

Most of them probably don’t understand this. I’d say that the vast majority don’t. They just haven’t lived long enough. And so picture a kid whose personality and character is not oriented towards truth-seeking via emotion. Perhaps this stuff even makes them feel uncomfortable. They’re in all of these youth ministry events in which they’re constantly preached at about feelings of joy and happiness as the definition of faith, in which other kids are crying because Jesus is so real to them…

…and they’re not feeling it. They’re not crying. It’s not intense for them.

Does that mean I maybe don’t have faith? At all?

*****

(What helps? Correctly defining faith, to begin with. Start here.)

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Early this past summer, Cardinal Sarah gave a talk at a conference in London in which he suggested that priests take another look at the ad orientem posture during Mass.

Many, many blog posts and articles have been written and passed around since, and I’m sure there are more to come if, indeed, some priests and bishops have been inspired by Cardinal Sarah’s gentle suggestion that if one is going to revisit the practice, the First Sunday of Advent would be a good time to do so.

I have written quite a bit on this matter before, and in a minute, I’ll link to some of those older blog posts, but for the moment, I just want to share some of what I’ve been thinking about on this score in the wake of the Cardinal’s talk and the fallout from it.  I offer these points in the hopes that they’ll be a help to the people in the pews who might be seeing this posture for the first time and are confused by it, as well as for priests who might be considering it.

  • This shouldn’t be a big deal. Both postures are permitted – and ad orientem is even assumed by the rubrics in the sacramentary.
  • If you see a priest celebrating Mass this way, don’t be shocked or offended. It doesn’t mean he hates you or thinks he’s better than you are. He’s praying. For you.
  • Celebrating Mass in this posture – facing the same way as the people in the congregation – was the norm for most of Catholic history. It is still the way the liturgy is celebrated in most Eastern Catholic Churches (not Maronite Rite, in my experience), Eastern Orthodox Churches and even in some High Anglican parishes and some Lutheran churches. Here, for example, are photos of  Lutheran services:
  • Source of photo on left. Photo on right. 
  • To flesh out this last point – here’s a blog post from a Lutheran blog on liturgy expanding on the logic of ad orientem.
  • So why did versus populum become the norm in Latin Catholicism? Many reasons, but when you read the literature of the liturgical movement on this score, the idea was that in turning the priest around (in conjunction with the vernacular) , the people would understand more of the Mass and feel more connected to the action at the altar. There is more, but I think that is the simplest way to look at it.
  • But as is always the case, change produces unintended consequences. We can argue about this all day – and who knows, we might! – but in my mind, the primary and quite negative consequence of versus populum has been pervasive expectation that the personality of the priest has an important and even central liturgical function.
  • In other words, ironically, the act which was supposed to involve the people more rendered the person of the cleric more important.
  • In the Mass, the priest is, of course, of central importance because he serves as in persona Christi. But the genius of the Roman liturgy historically is that the ritual supports his role at the same time as it buries and subsumes his individual personality under vestments, prescribed movements and words, not to speak of the roles that other ministers play. He does not wear his own clothes or say words of his own choosing. He must be present, but everything about what surrounds him in the moment points us to Christ, not this individual human being.
  • Which now brings us to possible complaints about this posture. These are simply an intensification of the complaints one hears about priest-celebrants all the time, and are reflective of the misplaced expectations congregations sometimes have of priests and which, in turn, I think are fed and enabled precisely by the versus populum posture, especially if a priest encourages it by his own liturgical stylings.
  • This childish notion that one’s experience of the liturgy is somehow dependent on whether or not Father is looking at us when he is praying to God is just that. Childish. Add to that concerns about how much he smiles, how friendly and welcoming he is, the jokes he tells and how relaxed he is, and you have, not The Most Well-Educated Laity in History at Mass, but a bunch of needy infants.  It also puts an inordinate amount of pressure on priests. Not only are they shoved up on pedestals, they are considered deficient if they fail to  warmly crack jokes and make eye contact in the process.
  • I’ll also be so bold as to offer some suggestions to parishes and priests considering incorporating this posture into liturgy.
  • Don’t make a huge deal of it. Explain things simply. Emphasize historical continuity, that the rubrics assume it, and that many, many other Christians experience worship in this way. Explain the purpose is to help everyone focus on God as a community. Extra points for mentioning that this is the way Thomas Merton celebrated Mass.
  • Consider making a joke or two about how the congregation might be relieved not to have to study your face through the entire Mass or something. I know! A joke!
  • Start with daily Mass, school Masses or special Masses for smaller groups.
  • Don’t elevate this change to The Most Important Thing About Our Parish. If it is a new initiative, consider coupling it with another new mission-oriented, Work of Mercy-type  initiative for the parish. (or 2!)
  • Catechize, explain thoroughly, but don’t clutch the podium, heave deep apologetic sighs, and generally act as if you expect the worst.

 

"amy welborn"

 

As I said, I’ve blogged on this before. Here are some links.

From a previous iteration of the blog, I crowdsourced for feedback on ad orientem in non-Catholic Christian traditions. 

Back in 2008, I had three days in a row of focused discussion of this issue.

First – and actually, this is one of my favorite blog posts – I posted a photograph of a TLM, and just asked people to respond to it. I called the post “Necessary Conversations” because I wanted to encourage people on all “sides” to express their responses and listen to each other.

The next day, I reflected on those responses. At the end of the post, I highlighted one of the responses to the photograph, a response I still think about when I’m in the pew, and the priest in chasuble passes me in the entrance procession:

I see a man offering a sacrifice. The man has a cross on his back.

The third day, I reflected a bit on clericalism in this context.

Finally, I’m going to reproduce part of a two-year old blog post here, just because I like it and it encapsulates so much of what I want to say pretty succinctly:

As it happens, last weekend, we attended Mass in South Carolina, and this happened:

"amy welborn"

It was at Stella Maris Church on Sullivan’s Island. Stella Maris is a lovely, tiny church.  I had hoped that it might be a little less crowded this time, since the summer season was, of course, over, but it was not to be.  The place was packed, with, I believe, the overflow area packed as well.  Fortunately, we got there just in time to get a seat in the main body of the church – which, as I said, is tiny and historic.  It can’t be physically expanded…so they just have to pack them in in whatever way they can.

Tons of servers, good music, solid, focused preaching. Post-Mass prayers, which, in my limited experience, are becoming more and more common in the southern Catholic churches.

And, of course,  the Eucharistic Prayer prayed ad orientem. The fact is, the sanctuary is too small to accommodate another freestanding altar, and that is just fine.  It was all done matter-of-factly with no fuss and it didn’t seem that the engaged, loudly-singing congregation felt excluded, alienated and crushed by clerical privilege, but who knows, I could be wrong.

 

 

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For years, I have been answering the question, “Why go to Mass?” for myself and others. You probably have, too. It  tends to comes up.

I answered it for high school students. I discussed it with adults. I talked about it, wrote about it. I answered it for my own children, and I contemplate it myself.

The answers we give teens and young adults these days – and let’s focus on them –  tend to flow from a particular focus: YOU.

Go to Mass because you will get something out of it. You will be happier. More at peace. You will feel closer to God. Your week will be off to a great start! It’s awesome!

There’s nothing (not much) wrong with this. Taking for granted that the salvation of one’s soul is, indeed, about yourself, other self-centric concerns aren’t ignored even by spiritual writers from the past. Francis de Sales:

Strive then to your utmost to be present every day at this holy Celebration, in order that with the priest you may offer the Sacrifice of your Redeemer on behalf of yourself and the whole Church to God the Father. Saint Chrysostom says that the Angels crowd around it in adoration, and if we are found together with them, united in one intention, we cannot but be most favourably influenced by such society. Moreover, all the heavenly choirs of the Church triumphant, as well as those of the Church militant, are joined to our Dear Lord in this divine act, so that with Him, in Him, and by Him, they may win the favour of God the Father, and obtain His Mercy for us. How great the blessing to my soul to contribute its share towards the attainment of so gracious a gift!

Introduction to the Devout Life

From a 1958 high school textbook:

His goodness to us in instituting the Blessed Sacrament is beyond measure. He comes to the altar at the call of the priest and comes to dwell in our souls and in our bodies, transforming us, comforting us, bringing that ‘peace which the world cannot give.’

Of course this is why we go to Mass. God graciously created us for life with him, and after Baptism, this is the core of it. Everything is there in Him, and there it is we find our true selves, which means we find peace and yes, happiness.

But when it comes to encouraging young people to go to Mass and like it, by George, I tire of the appeal to the self. I tire of the appeal to the self in relation to all contemporary spirit-talk, as a matter of fact.

For in a culture dominated by economics and the market, the line between evangelism and marketing is quite thin. It is challenging for evangelizers to make their case without thinking of their listeners as consumers who must be sold on the personal benefits of their product. Impossible, apparently

But the appeal to the self and its feelings is not enough, and it’s not true to authentic Christian spirituality, which is rooted, not most of all in how our spiritual acts will make us feel, but how they reflect our duty to love God and neighbor, since that is where authentic peace is found. The spiritual masters know a lot about the mystery of emotion, most of all that emotions can reveal, but emotions can also distract and conceal. Our emotions can tug us forward and lead us to a real place with God, but just as quickly, they can mislead us into thinking God is present where He isn’t – or absent when he is quite near.

So I am afraid that if I were to ever return to the classroom, my patience with coaxing, marketing and promising good feelings as a selling point for Mass would be shot at this point.  I wouldn’t even bother. As I have gotten older, as one does, and witnessed more and more suffering in the various circles of my life, near and far, the reasons for going to Mass have flipped. The urgency I feel (ah!) about me going to Mass, about my kids and everyone I know going to Mass is not about inspiring or soothing feelings we might derive from the experience.  After the basic, no-other-reason-is-necessary – duty to give thanks to God and join in Christ’s sacrifice, I really just want to say…….

the world needs prayer. You need prayer. I need prayer. Your friends need prayer. So many sick people. Have you heard? Violence. Despair. People afraid and lost.

How about we try to stop being so lazy and self-centered  and pray for each other?

You didn’t make it to Mass this week? Forget about yourself..don’t you care about anyone else enough to get out of bed, turn the phone off, put some decent clothes on and bring all the people you say you care about into the presence of the only One who can give any of us real peace in our suffering?

We are all so scattered, we are all so busy, and even when we take the time, our spiritual and corporal works of mercy reach one person at a time, for a moment.

Our hands, no matter how expert, can heal and cure, but not for all time, and only until the next pain strikes. Our understanding words can help, our contributions can turn life around, our time can save someone’s sanity. All of this is true.

This is what we can do, what we are called to do, what we are mandated to do.

But as we know to our frustration, even this, even at the level of the saints, is only so much.

In the Mass, those walls crumble. We enter into the Presence of Infinite Love poured out on Calvary for every person in the entire world. We are right there.

Knowing the hurt, confusion and fear, knowing the physical suffering, knowing the spiritual isolation that haunts the world, how can I say no to the chance to bring this mystery of human suffering into the presence of the greater Mystery of Love?

So there you go. My new pitch to the Kids:

Try to stop being such a selfish jerk. Go to Mass and pray for your mom. She needs it.

You think it will sell at youth group?

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…with better internet.

But I didn’t get a chance to blog last night. Hopefully tonight it will happen. Short version of yesterday:

Train from Rome to Orvieto. Orvieto holds the corporeal that is the center of the Eucharistic miracle that is the root of the Corpus Christi feast. The duomo is astonishing – and to me what makes it even more so is that as we drove east, you could still see Orvieto, of course, rising on the mesa, as I’d call it if it were in the US, and the duomo standing tall in the center – even from 30 km away.

Oh, and yes, I did get the car in Orvieto. It worked out great. Train from Termini to Orvieto – Hertz office right across the street from the train. We put our bags in the car and they let me just leave it there while we took the funicular up to the town and roamed for a few hours. Then back down, and out. Very easy.I’m glad I did that rather than finding the car in Rome, navigating my way out of Rome and then having to find parking in Orvieto.

We drove east, swung down by Lake Balsano just to take a look, then up to Sorano where we are now. The apartment is definitely funky, as you would expect from what is proabably a 14th or 15th century building, but it’s a really interesting place.

Mish-mash of photos below includes train ride to Orvieto, funicular up to Orvieto, reliquary chapel, front of duomo, St. Patrick’s well in Orvieto, various shots of Sorano. Our apartment is right below the green door, and that’s the kitchen from the steps leading to the small living/sleeping area, which is a level below the other sleeping area…more later.

Follow more as we go on Instagram (amy_welborn) and Snapchat (amywelborn2)

 

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Darn. 

Ah, but that’s the way it goes. After all my agonizing about how long to stay in Ferrara, and finally letting the palio sway me into this extra day….

….it poured.

Yup. It was cloudy at the start of the day, and the forecast definitely called for rain just at the time the palio festivities would begin – 3/4 o’clock. But I had hope, which I carried with us through the first part of the day.

Which began – about 11:30 – with Mass at the Cathedral.

There is, of course, no paucity of churches in this city, even not counting the closed ones. But there is also, as far as I know, no masstimes.org that’s maintains a Ferrara data base, so I just took the easy way out, popped by the Cathedral on my early morning walk, checked the Mass times, and decided we would do the 11:30.

(As I mentioned before, there is a church around the corner, but, as I figured out this morning, it has been given to some variety of Eastern Catholics. I peaked in on orthros (morning prayer), and Divine Liturgy would have been great, but it was a tiny congregation and I wasn’t up to that level of engagement, as in…why are the Americans from Alabama here??? Not they wouldn’t have been lovely, I’m sure, I was just not up to it. )

So to the Cathedral it was, into which, as is the case with most historic churches, tourists continued to stream during Mass. Which is fine, because it’s evangelization, and indeed many people did pause and listen to the homily and observe various others goings-on during the Mass.

And believe me, they had plenty of time to check in and out of that homily. It was, I am not kidding you, as long as the rest of Mass put together, as Lina LaMont would say.

So, we’ll backtrack.

Celebrant was a 40-ish, energetic priest. He was assisted by a deacon and a religious sister who helped with Communion. No servers. An organ played at entrance and recessional, but no hymns. Just instrumental. The only sung parts of the Mass were the Alleluia and the Sanctus (in Italian). The sequence was recited by the congregation. Roman Canon, which I believe is mandated for Corpus Christi. The priest spoke for a few minutes before Mass, preached for thirty minutes, and then spoke for five minutes at least at the end of Mass.

Now, I don’t speak Italian, but if I know the context of the speech, I can usually pick up the gist, and especially so with Catholic-talk. So I discerned that this priest, who preached very energetically, was emphasizing the importance of the Eucharist. He probably did a great job! But what struck me was this: as I mentioned, his homily was as long as the rest of Mass. His manner of celebration was on the way-casual end of “say the black and do the red.” That is, he seemed to do everything he was supposed to, and there was nothing odd or off, but the ritual outside the homily was informal and hurried – and little of it sung.

So, despite a religious culture that can still put on a bang-up and lovely, moving Corpus Domini procession, it seems to me that if understanding the importance of the Eucharist is a priority, letting your own voice dominate the liturgy and celebrating in a casual way is  counter-productive. The ritual itself sends a message. That does not mean stuffy and distant. It means letting the ritual itself communicate Who is among us via reverence, care and MUSIC. Thnx.

Then after Mass, the priest pointed to a small display to the side and explained things. What there was, in a frame, was a piece of cloth, apparently associated with the young man pictured beside it. Those who chose reverenced the relic. We did, with no understanding of who or what this was all about except, well, saints! Blesseds! Prayers! Always good.

I took photos and when we got back, figured out who this was and then immediately wished I had known at the moment. It was Rolando Rivi, a young (very young – 14 years old) seminarian killed by communists in 1945. NCR(egister) has the story:

In June 1944, Nazis troops occupied the seminary, and so all the seminarians were sent home. Rivi returned to his hometown of San Valentino, carrying his books with him to continue his studies there.

In San Valentino, the young seminarian never stopped wearing his cassock, despite the rising climate of violence. When his parents suggested he refrain from wearing it for his own safety, Rivi reportedly replied: “I study to be a priest, and these vestments are the sign that I belong to Jesus.”

The situation grew more difficult: Four priests were killed by the communist partisan brigades, and Father Olinto Marzocchini, San Valentino’s parish priest and Rivi’s spiritual father, was attacked and subsequently transferred to a more secure place.

Nevertheless, Rivi’s days were spent between service in his parish and his studies. On the morning of April 10, 1945, after serving Mass, the 14-year-old took his books and went to the nearby woods, where he was accustomed to studying. Yet this time, he never returned. At noon, his parents, worried because Rivi had not come back for lunch; they went to the woods and found his books on the ground and a sheet of paper, where the following words were written: “Do not search for him. He just came with us partisans for a while.”

Kidnapped and stripped of his cassock, Rivi was imprisoned and tortured by partisans for three days. Some of the partisans proposed to let him go, since he was only a young boy. But the majority sentenced him to death, in order to have “one less future priest.”

On April 13, Rivi was taken to a forest in the surroundings of Modena. The partisans dug a grave and had Rivi kneel on its edge. While he was praying, the young seminarian was killed by gunshots to the heart and head. His cassock was rolled into a ball, kicked around and then hung as a war trophy in the front door of a house.

 

Reconciling With History

After the Second World War, the official history of the so-called “Italian Resistance” exalted the partisan resistance to Nazi fascism and hid the crimes brought on in the name of this resistance.

This is exactly the reason why the “feast of faith” of Rivi’s beatification is such a blessed day for Italy, and it even can be considered a high point in the process of reconciliation in the so-called triangle of death.

After the Second World War, Rivi’s death was immediately described as a “private crime.” Yet journalist and historian Emilio Bonicelli gave great impetus to the cause of beatification. He read about the story of an English child who was miraculously healed of leukemia thanks to Rivi’s intercession, and this story brought wider recognition of the young martyr.

“This is how I met Rolando,” recounted Bonicelli, “and from then on, I fought to shed light on his story. In the forest where Rolando was killed, it seemed that hate won and that Rolando had been extinguished from history. But the Lord taught us there is no great evil that cannot lead to a greater good.”

 

I don’t know if the relic we reverenced was part of the cassock he was wearing when he was captured. I don’t think I will have a chance to get over to the Cathedral tomorrow to see, which is really too bad.

*****

Clouds starting building after Mass, and I started obsessively checking the palio Facebook page. They said an official announcement of the status of the day’s events would come at 2. So we attesnapchat-7320893137772186505.jpgmpted lunch, and every restaurant was full and not available for walk-ins. It was raining for real now, so we didn’t feel like hunting down an open restaurant any longer..
.so…McDonald’s it was. Which is why American fast food has a niche in Europe. When many restaurants operate mostly on reservations and only serve through part of the afternoon, the all-day American-style convenience…helps. (Image via Snapchat – download and add me at amywelborn2)

 

By the end of lunch, the announcement had been made that the show would go on, but sadly without the parade from the piazza in front of the Cathedral to the piazza where the race would occur. We walked up (about a km) to buy tickets, and then walked back to the apartment to change out of church clothes and take a little break. Then back over to the venue where after about ten minutes…it started raining. Hard. I heard English being spoken behind me, and I turned to the red-headed woman and asked if she knew what was going on. No more than I, so as we waited we chatted. She was Canadian, having come over from Tuscany/Rome on her way to Venice – sort of the reverse of our route, without the Venice part. She was hysterical talking about the trip over – for her even longer because she was from Vancouver. “It was horrible. I literally thought I was going to die. I thought – I can’t go on. I am going to die.” 

(Because of the discomfort of economy class. Yup, it’s cramped, made even more painful when you shuffle past The Royal High Class or whatever British Airways calls it, with their recliners in cubicles. And the fact that for the sake of helping us be more comfortable by giving lots of electronic gear plus the ability to charge our own at our seats, every seat now has a chunky metal box underneath, giving even less leg/foot space. I’m short and not tiny, but still smallish and I cannot imagine how bigger, taller people deal with these flights. But hey! I usually don’t complain because…I’m going to be in Europe in six hours. It’s still kind of Magically Weird to me.)

Oh, okay. The palio. Damn it, cancelled. Postponed til next Sunday. It’s certainly disappointing, but we did get to catch a bit of the spirit of the event as we watched the neighborhoods gather and cheer and just absorbed the moment. Theoretically we could come back and see it, but theoretically, there are more things on the other side of Italy that will probably take priority.

But you never know. Because…hahahahaha. still  have made no plans past next Friday morning, when we check out of the Rome apartment. Can you believe it? This is a record, even for me, queen of the last-minute Big Trip. We’ll talk about it tomorrow on the train or tomorrow night. The way things are going – which are fine, by the way – I am thinking that what we need is running room. By “we” I mean not me, by the way.

So, tomorrow it’s…bus to train station, train to Bologna, train to Rome, taxi to the apartment and then yup, say hello to Rome once again.

DSCN0227

A palio is a competition between neighborhoods. The most well-known is that of Siena, but other Italian cities have them as well. These images represent the various neighborhoods.

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Colors.

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Before the rains. This was a section for one of the neighborhoods. There was to be two footraces, a donkey race and then the horses. What I could never figure out is where the animals were being kept. 

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Instagram (amy_welborn) or Snapchat (amywelborn2)

 

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A bit of a post on mental trip prep, but first…drat. 

I had said I would be planning out loud, so here we go with the first instance of plans called into question by new information.

I have been all about Ferrara’s palio for the last weekend of May. Hooray for hundreds-year old tradition, color, medieval pageantry and horse and donkey races. Fun!

But then last night I realized….Corpus Domini is the last Sunday of May this year. In our language that’s Corpus Christi, and a major way it’s celebrated in many parts of Italy is "amy welborn"with an infiorata– a carpet of flowers arranged in intricate designs and pictures. There are a few large celebrations, beginning with Bolseno, the actual site of the Orvieto Eucharistic Miracle which  is, you know THE ORIGINS OF THE FEAST.

Oh, and the Corpus Domini celebration in Orvieto. Just a small thing.

(The corporal is preserved in the duomo in Orvieto, which is why it is the main pilgrimage site for the miracle)

What. To. Do.

The Ferrara accommodations are totally  refundable. Bolsena is an area I had been looking to visit right after Rome – Bolsena, Orvieto, Pitigliano, the Saturnia baths, various Etruscan things…but that would be the week after Corpus Domini. It would be quite possible to just stay an extra two days in Bologna, absorb some Ferrara vibes, see Ravenna, and then go down to this area for the feast….but is it such a big deal that it would be difficult to find accomodations, to get to the place..navigate? Looks pretty crowded. Probably. I don’t know. Darn it! I was liking this early Lent/ Easter thing until now.

What I will probably do – unless one of you has an inside track and some insight – is just hope that Ferrara won’t forget Corpus Domini among all the palio celebrations, and we’ll see some flower tapestries and a serious procession anyway – I have checked if any towns in Emilio-Romagna have well-known infiorata, but the only ones I can find are monasteries that are really not close to where we will be.

Anyway….

So…my prep work? Which is obviously inadequate and a sham?

Well, in terms of general travel research for the areas we’re visiting, an embarrasing number of hours spent on travel discussion boards – mostly TripAdvisor, Slow Travel and Fodor’s. General websites are okay, but I find discussion boards to be by far the most valuable, as you can follow the questions that real people are asking, get current information and search according to your own particular interest. Like last year when we were going to be spending a day in Vegas and I panicked over the “porn slappers” I had read stood on the streets handing out cards with explicit photos advertising escort services.

I mean, it’s really useful to be able to narrow the discussion down and see what Real People are Really Saying about Porn Slappers Today.

(Answer: Yes, they are there. Yes, it’s very sad because they looked to be mostly middle-aged Latino immigrants, male and female, illegal, I’d imagine. No, they didn’t hand any cards to us, the boys didn’t even notice them, and there were too damn many people on the sidewalk for them to even notice the cards under their feet. And I still hated Vegas.)

Books:

I’m of the view that guidebook companies should just abandon their sections on accommodations and restaurants – who even bothers with getting that information from even a year-old book anymore rather than online? But they’re still valuable, of course, in just showing you the sites. Right now, what I’m perusing are the Blue Guide: Northern Italy which I bought a few years ago for our Milan trip (it includes Emilia-Romagna) and DK guides. I checked out Secret Tuscany from the library – it was interesting, and I might check it out again before we leave and take some notes. I have the Oxford Archaelogical Guide to Rome which I’ve used in the past.

I’m more interested in educating myself on history and culture. I’m rereading Morton’s A Traveler in Italy, which is so wonderful. I’m reading A Traveler’s History of Italy. Over the next few weeks I’ll be reading up on my Medicis and other Renaissance points, as well as art history – mostly to help me help the boys.

Tonight I read Tilt: A Skewed History of the Tower of Pisa which could have done as a long magazine article, but then it wouldn’t have been encased in a quirky package like this:

"amy welborn"

It’s a good, easy read that explains the historical and cultural context of the campanile, not as much on the technical side of the construction, dispenses with the Galileo myth and gives good detail on the attempts to stabilize the structure – the most recent being, it seems, successful, and which involved not propping the tower up as others had attempted, but rather removing soil from under the higher end. No bibliography, though, which is irritating.

(Interesting note about the 1902 collapse of the campanile next to St. Mark’s in Venice, a structure which looked from the outside to be much more sound. Photos of the collapse actually exist because the cracks in the tower were noted, then observed to grow until finally no one could deny what was about to happen, the square was cleared, and cameras brought for the moment. You can the before, during and after photos here.)

As for their prep:

They, of course, know the itinerary. I’ve showed them the accomodations we have so far, gone over maps. I’ve scattered books around and on slow evenings we’ll leaf through some of them. We watched Gladiator and will do some other movies. Spartacus, maybe? Just to get us in the spirit of things. The other night, we watched the Rick Steves’ shows on Italian hill towns and Florence. Yes, Rick Steves is mocked and even reviled in some quarters. I mock him. But his programs are a decent intro to the areas, even though his voice really gets on their nerves and frankly puzzles them. Hah.

So yes, I am tempted to be an anti-Rick Steves snob myself, but when that creeps up on me, I must always remember this story.

Flashback to that first trip, back in 2006. We’d landed in Rome, it was the afternoon, and we gave up trying to keep everyone awake until evening. It was just too much. They were all napping, but I had a phone call to make to an acquaintance, and this was pre-internationally-capable cell phones, at least for us. (I actually did some work on that trip – I spoke a couple of times, had an interview, and we had a wonderful long lunch with a bunch of interesting Rome-based Catholic journalists). I left them all in the apartment on the Borgo Vittorio, and went to find a pay phone. Well, first I bought a phone card, as you did then. And perhaps still do. Then I found the phone and for the LIFE OF ME could not figure out how to use the card/phone combo. I mean…I just couldn’t. Nothing happened. So I got back to the apartment and told Mike, no I hadn’t made the call because I couldn’t figure out the damn phone. He flipped open Rick Steves’ book and pointed (in triumph, because I had been dissing RS, while he’d been studying his books) to one of those little drawings he has – that shows exactly how to use the cards (you had to tear off the corner). And that’s what Rick Steves is great for – he and his crew understand what is going to trip you up and confuse you and  just tell you how to manage in a very practical way.

Oh, back to prep. I have a couple of Great Courses – I bought them two years ago on sale – they are very good. We’ve watched some in the past, but over the next couple of weeks we will pick them up again and watch the lectures on some of the iconic Roman buildings.

We’ll watch this National Geographic special on the Brunelleschi’s dome.

And that will probably be it.

That’s the basics of mental prep. I’ll talk more about concrete prep – luggage, clothing, finding accomodations, etc – in a future post.

Oh, and I have a few links I have saved for myself on Pinterest here.

For all #Italy2016 posts, go here.

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