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"amy welborn"

On today’s Solemnity of All Saints, our hearts are dilated to the dimensions of Heaven, exceeding the limits of time and space.

-B16

"amy welborn"

 

From a homily of St. Bernard, used in the Office of Readings today:

Why should our praise and glorification, or even the celebration of this feast day mean anything to the saints? What do they care about earthly honours when their heavenly Father honours them by fulfilling the faithful promise of the Son? What does our commendation mean to them? The saints have no need of honour from us; neither does our devotion add the slightest thing to what is theirs. Clearly, if we venerate their memory, it serves us, not them. But I tell you, when I think of them, I feel myself inflamed by a tremendous yearning.
  Calling the saints to mind inspires, or rather arouses in us, above all else, a longing to enjoy their company, so desirable in itself. We long to share in the citizenship of heaven, to dwell with the spirits of the blessed, to join the assembly of patriarchs, the ranks of the prophets, the council of apostles, the great host of martyrs, the noble company of confessors and the choir of virgins. In short, we long to be united in happiness with all the saints. But our dispositions change. The Church of all the first followers of Christ awaits us, but we do nothing about it. The saints want us to be with them, and we are indifferent. The souls of the just await us, and we ignore them.
  Come, brothers, let us at length spur ourselves on. We must rise again with Christ, we must seek the world which is above and set our mind on the things of heaven. Let us long for those who are longing for us, hasten to those who are waiting for us, and ask those who look for our coming to intercede for us. We should not only want to be with the saints, we should also hope to possess their happiness. While we desire to be in their company, we must also earnestly seek to share in their glory. Do not imagine that there is anything harmful in such an ambition as this; there is no danger in setting our hearts on such glory.
  When we commemorate the saints we are inflamed with another yearning: that Christ our life may also appear to us as he appeared to them and that we may one day share in his glory. Until then we see him, not as he is, but as he became for our sake. He is our head, crowned, not with glory, but with the thorns of our sins. As members of that head, crowned with thorns, we should be ashamed to live in luxury; his purple robes are a mockery rather than an honour. When Christ comes again, his death shall no longer be proclaimed, and we shall know that we also have died, and that our life is hidden with him. The glorious head of the Church will appear and his glorified members will shine in splendour with him, when he forms this lowly body anew into such glory as belongs to himself, its head.
  Therefore, we should aim at attaining this glory with a wholehearted and prudent desire. That we may rightly hope and strive for such blessedness, we must above all seek the prayers of the saints. Thus, what is beyond our own powers to obtain will be granted through their intercession.
 Let us consider that Paradise is our country, as well as theirs; and so we shall begin to reckon the all saints daypatriarchs as our fathers. Why do we not, then, hasten and run, that we may behold our country and salute our parents? A great multitude of dear ones is there expecting us; a vast and mighty crowd of parents, brothers, and children, secure now of their own safety, anxious yet for our salvation, long that we may come to their right and embrace them, to that joy which will be common to us and to them, to that pleasure expected by our fellow servants as well as ourselves, to that full and perpetual felicity…. If it be a pleasure to go to them, let us eagerly and covetously hasten on our way, that we may soon be with them, and soon be with Christ; that we may have Him as our Guide in this journey, who is the Author of Salvation, the Prince of Life, the Giver of Gladness, and who liveth and reigneth with God the Father Almighty and with the Holy Ghost.
These are thoughts suitably to be impressed on us, on ending (as we do now) the yearly Festivals of the Church. Every year brings wonders. We know not any year, what wonders shall have happened before the circle of Festivals has run out again, from St. Andrew’s to All Saints’. Our duty then is, to wait for the Lord’s coming, to prepare His way before Him, to pray that when He comes we may be found watching; to pray for our country, for our King and all in authority under him, that God would vouchsafe to enlighten the understandings and change the hearts of men in power, and make them act in His faith and fear, for all orders {402} and conditions of men, and especially for that branch of His Church which He has planted here. Let us not forget, in our lawful and fitting horror at evil men, that they have souls, and that they know not what they do, when they oppose the Truth. Let us not forget, that we are sons of sinful Adam as well as they, and have had advantages to aid our faith and obedience above other men. Let us not forget, that, as we are called to be Saints, so we are, by that very calling, called to suffer; and, if we suffer, must not think it strange concerning the fiery trial that is to try us, nor be puffed up by our privilege of suffering, nor bring suffering needlessly upon us, nor be eager to make out we have suffered for Christ, when we have but suffered for our faults, or not at all. May God give us grace to act upon these rules, as well as to adopt and admire them; and to say nothing for saying’s sake, but to do much and say little!
Some from B16.

Today we have the joy of meeting on the Solemnity of All Saints. This feast day helps us to reflect on the double horizon of humanity, which we symbolically express with the words “earth” and “heaven”: the earth represents the journey of history, heaven eternity, the fullness of life in God. And so this feast day helps us to think about the Church in its dual dimension: the Church journeying in time and the Church that celebrates the never-ending feast, the heavenly Jerusalem. These two dimensions are united by the reality of the “Communion of Saints”: a reality that begins here on earth and that reaches its fulfillment in heaven.

On earth, the Church is the beginning of this mystery of communion that unites humanity, a mystery totally centred on Jesus Christ: it is he who introduced this new dynamic to mankind, a movement that leads towards God and at the same time towards unity, towards peace in its deepest sense. Jesus Christ — says the Gospel of John (11:52) — died “to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad”, and his work continues in the Church which is inseparably “one”, “holy” and “catholic”. Being a Christian, being part of the Church means being open to this communion, like a seed that dies in the ground, germinates and sprouts upwards, toward heaven.

The Saints — those proclaimed by the Church and whom we celebrate today and also those known only to God — have lived this dynamic intensely. In each of them, in a very personal way, Christ made himself present, thanks to his Spirit which acts through Scripture and the Sacraments. In fact, being united to Christ, in the Church, does not negate one’s personality, but opens it, transforms it with the power of love, and confers on it, already here on earth, an eternal dimension.

In essence, it means being conformed to the image of the Son of God (cf. Rom 8:29), fulfilling the plan of God who created man in his own image and likeness. But this insertion in Christ also opens us — as I said — to communion with all the other members of his Mystical Body which is the Church, a communion that is perfect in “Heaven”, where there is no isolation, no competition or separation.

Angelus 2010

Like beloved children, therefore, we also receive the grace to support the trials of this earthly existence — the hunger and the thirst for justice, the misunderstandings, the persecutions (cf. Mt 5:3-11) — and, at the same time, we inherit what is promised in the Gospel Beatitudes: “promises resplendent with the new image of the world and of man inaugurated by Jesus” (Benedict XVI,Jesus of Nazareth, Milan 2007, p. 72). The holiness, imprinted in us by Christ himself, is the goal of Christian life. Blessed Antonio Rosmini wrote: “The Word impressed himself in the souls of his disciples with his physical presence… with his words… he had given to his own this grace… with which the soul immediately perceives the Word” (Supernatural Anthropology, Rome, 1983, pp. 265-266). And we have a foretaste of the gift and the beauty of sanctity every time that we participate in the Eucharistic Liturgy, the communion with the “great multitude” of holy souls, which in Heaven eternally acclaim the salvation of God and of the Lamb (cf. Rev 7:9-10)

Angelus 2007:

Indeed, Christians are already saints because Baptism unites them to Jesus and to his Paschal Mystery, but at the same time they must become so by conforming themselves every more closely to him. Sometimes, people think that holiness is a privileged condition reserved for the few elect. Actually, becoming holy is every Christian’s task, indeed, we could say, every person’s! The Apostle writes that God has always blessed us and has chosen us in Christ “that we should be holy and blameless before him… in love” (Eph 1: 3-5). All human beings are therefore called to holiness, which ultimately consists in living as children of God, in that “likeness” with him in accordance with which they were created. All human beings are children of God and all must become what they are by means of the demanding process of freedom. God invites everyone to belong to his holy people. The “Way” is Christ, the Son, the Holy One of God: “no one comes to the Father but by me [Jesus]” (cf. Jn 14: 6).

Homily 2006:

The Church’s experience shows that every form of holiness, even if it follows different paths, always passes through the Way of the Cross, the way of self-denial. The Saints’ biographies describe men and women who, docile to the divine plan, sometimes faced unspeakable trials and suffering, persecution and martyrdom. They persevered in their commitment: “they… have come out of the great tribulation”, one reads in Revelation, “they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rv 7: 14). Their names are written in the book of life (cf. Rv 20: 12) and Heaven is their eternal dwelling-place.

The example of the Saints encourages us to follow in their same footsteps and to experience the joy of those who trust in God, for the one true cause of sorrow and unhappiness for men and women is to live far from him.

Holiness demands a constant effort, but it is possible for everyone because, rather than a human effort, it is first and foremost a gift of God, thrice Holy (cf. Is 6: 3). In the second reading, the Apostle John remarks: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (I Jn 3: 1).

It is God, therefore, who loved us first and made us his adoptive sons in Jesus. Everything in our lives is a gift of his love: how can we be indifferent before such a great mystery? How can we not respond to the Heavenly Father’s love by living as grateful children? In Christ, he gave us the gift of his entire self and calls us to a personal and profound relationship with him.

Consequently, the more we imitate Jesus and remain united to him the more we enter into the mystery of his divine holiness. We discover that he loves us infinitely, and this prompts us in turn to love our brethren. Loving always entails an act of self-denial, “losing ourselves”, and it is precisely this that makes us happy.

Thus, we have come to the Gospel of this feast, the proclamation of the Beatitudes which we have just heard resound in this Basilica.

Jesus says: Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed those who mourn, the meek; blessed those who hunger and thirst for justice, the merciful; blessed the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted for the sake of justice (cf. Mt 5: 3-10).

In truth, the blessed par excellence is only Jesus. He is, in fact, the true poor in spirit, the one afflicted, the meek one, the one hungering and thirsting for justice, the merciful, the pure of heart, the peacemaker. He is the one persecuted for the sake of justice.

The Beatitudes show us the spiritual features of Jesus and thus express his mystery, the mystery of his death and Resurrection, of his passion and of the joy of his Resurrection. This mystery, which is the mystery of true blessedness, invites us to follow Jesus and thus to walk toward it.

To the extent that we accept his proposal and set out to follow him – each one in his own circumstances – we too can participate in his blessedness. With him, the impossible becomes possible and even a camel can pass through the eye of a needle (cf. Mk 10: 25); with his help, only with his help, can we become perfect as the Heavenly Father is perfect (cf. Mt 5: 48).

Finally, if you are still reading..some insight on the propers for today’s Mass.  And why singing “We are Called” is such an impoverished choice…
"amy welborn"

From a 1945 9th grade religion textbook. It seems to me that prints made from vintage illustrations like this would sell very well. 

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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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(optional memorials today)

Paulinus of Nola, first: 

The Father of the Church to whom we turn our attention today is St Paulinus of Nola. Paulinus, a contemporary of St Augustine to whom he was bound by a firm friendship, exercised his ministry at Nola in Campania, where he was a monk and later a priest and a Bishop. However, he was originally from Aquitaine in the South of France, to be precise, Bordeaux, where he was born into a high-ranking family. It was here, with the poet Ausonius as his teacher, that he received a fine literary education. He left his native region for the first time to follow his precocious political career, which was to see him rise while still young to the position of Governor of Campania. In this public office he attracted admiration for his gifts of wisdom and gentleness. It was during this period that grace caused the seed of conversion to grow in his heart. The incentive came from the simple and intense faith with which the people honoured the tomb of a saint, Felix the Martyr, at the Shrine of present-day Cimitile. As the head of public government, Paulinus took an interest in this Shrine and had a hospice for the poor built and a road to facilitate access to it for the many pilgrims.

While he was doing his best to build the city on earth, he continued discovering the way to the city in Heaven. The encounter with Christ was the destination of a laborious journey, strewn with ordeals. Difficult circumstances which resulted from his loss of favour with the political Authorities made the transience of things tangible to him. Once he had arrived at faith, he was to write: “The man without Christ is dust and shadow” (Carm. X, 289). Anxious to shed light on the meaning of life, he went to Milan to attend the school of Ambrose. He then completed his Christian formation in his native land, where he was baptized by Bishop Delphinus of Bordeaux. Marriage was also a landmark on his journey of faith. Indeed, he married Therasia, a devout noblewoman from Barcelona, with whom he had a son. He would have continued to live as a good lay Christian had not the infant’s death after only a few days intervened to rouse him, showing him that God had other plans for his life. Indeed, he felt called to consecrate himself to Christ in a rigorous ascetic life.

In full agreement with his wife Therasia, he sold his possessions for the benefit of the poor and, with her, left Aquitaine for Nola. Here, the husband and wife settled beside the Basilica of the Patron Saint, Felix, living henceforth in chaste brotherhood according to a form of life which also attracted others. The community’s routine was typically monastic, but Paulinus, who had been ordained a priest in Barcelona, took it upon himself despite his priestly status to care for pilgrims. This won him the liking and trust of the Christian community, which chose Paulinus, upon the death of the Bishop in about 409, as his successor in the See of Nola. Paulinus intensified his pastoral activity, distinguished by special attention to the poor. He has bequeathed to us the image of an authentic Pastor of charity, as St Gregory the Great described him in chapter III of his Dialogues, in which he depicts Paulinus in the heroic gesture of offering himself as a prisoner in the place of a widow’s son. The historical truth of this episode is disputed, but the figure of a Bishop with a great heart who knew how to make himself close to his people in the sorrowful trials of the barbarian invasions lives on.

Paulinus’ conversion impressed his contemporaries. His teacher Ausonius, a pagan poet, felt “betrayed” and addressed bitter words to him, reproaching him on the one hand for his “contempt”, considered insane, of material goods, and on the other, for abandoning his literary vocation. Paulinus replied that giving to the poor did not mean contempt for earthly possessions but rather an appreciation of them for the loftiest aim of charity. As for literary commitments, what Paulinus had taken leave of was not his poetic talent – which he was to continue to cultivate – but poetic forms inspired by mythology and pagan ideals. A new aesthetic now governed his sensibility: the beauty of God incarnate, crucified and risen, whose praises he now sang. Actually, he had not abandoned poetry but was henceforth to find his inspiration in the Gospel, as he says in this verse: “To my mind the only art is the faith, and Christ is my poetry” (At nobis ars una fides, et musica Christus: Carm., XX, 32).

Paulinus’ poems are songs of faith and love in which the daily history of small and great events is seen as a history of salvation, a history of God with us. Many of these compositions, the so-called Carmina natalicia, are linked to the annual feast of Felix the Martyr, whom he had chosen as his heavenly Patron. Remembering St Felix, Paulinus desired to glorify Christ himself, convinced as he was that the Saint’s intercession had obtained the grace of conversion for him: “In your light, joyful, I loved Christ” (Carm. XXI, 373). He desired to express this very concept by enlarging the Shrine with a new basilica, which he had decorated in such a way that the paintings, described by suitable captions, would constitute a visual catechesis for pilgrims. Thus, he explained his project in a Poem dedicated to another great catechist, St Nicetas of Remesiana, as he accompanied him on a visit to his basilicas: “I now want you to contemplate the paintings that unfold in a long series on the walls of the painted porticos…. It seemed to us useful to portray sacred themes in painting throughout the house of Felix, in the hope that when the peasants see the painted figure, these images will awaken interest in their astonished minds” (Carm. XXVII, vv. 511, 580-583). Today, it is still possible to admire the remains of these works which rightly place the Saint of Nola among the figures with a Christian archaeological reference.

Life in accordance with the ascetic discipline of Cimitile was spent in poverty and prayer and was wholly immersed in lectio divina. Scripture, read, meditated upon and assimilated, was the light in whose brightness the Saint of Nola examined his soul as he strove for perfection. He told those who were struck by his decision to give up material goods that this act was very far from representing total conversion. “The relinquishment or sale of temporal goods possessed in this world is not the completion but only the beginning of the race in the stadium; it is not, so to speak, the goal, but only the starting point. In fact, the athlete does not win because he strips himself, for he undresses precisely in order to begin the contest, whereas he only deserves to be crowned as victorious when he has fought properly” (cf. Ep. XXIV, 7 to Sulpicius Severus).

After the ascetic life and the Word of God came charity; the poor were at home in the monastic community. Paulinus did not limit himself to distributing alms to them: he welcomed them as though they were Christ himself. He reserved a part of the monastery for them and by so doing, it seemed to him that he was not so much giving as receiving, in the exchange of gifts between the hospitality offered and the prayerful gratitude of those assisted…..MORE.

There is lots to be said about the other two, and many are saying it elsewhere today, so I won’t repeat that. I’ll just point to this interesting post by Stephanie Mann arguing that Fisher, not More, was a stronger advocate for marriage – the context of the post was the Synod of Bishops:

Further, I think that his position as bishop makes him the better patron saint of a Synod of Bishops. Although he was not able in his own day able to persuade the Convocation of Bishops to stand firm against Henry and Cromwell, perhaps his intercession today will lead the cardinals and bishops to uphold what the Church has taught throughout the centuries, as Fisher stated before Henry VIII at the Legatine Court: “Whom God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.” He did manage to unite his brother bishops to limit Henry’s supremacy under God’s law, but he was ill when Convocation was meeting in 1532 and even though the bishops contacted him, they did not follow his advice.
But since these two saints should not be opposed to one another in any way, rather than proposing that St. John Fisher is the better patron for the Synod, I would say that he and St. Thomas More, as they are joined in memory on the Church’s calendar of saints, should also be patrons together!
St. John Fisher’s prayer for holy bishops from a 1508 sermon preached during the reign of Henry VII:

Lord, according to Your promise that the Gospel should be preached throughout the whole world, raise up men fit for such work. The Apostles were but soft and yielding clay till they were baked hard by the fire of the Holy Ghost.

So, good Lord, do now in like manner again with Thy Church militant; change and make the soft and slippery earth into hard stones; set in Thy Church strong and mighty pillars that may suffer and endure great labours, watching, poverty, thirst, hunger, cold and heat; which also shall not fear the threatenings of princes, persecution, neither death but always persuade and think with themselves to suffer with a good will, slanders, shame, and all kinds of torments, for the glory and laud of Thy Holy Name. By this manner, good Lord, the truth of Thy Gospel shall be preached throughout all the world.

Therefore, merciful Lord, exercise Thy mercy, show it indeed upon Thy Church. Amen.

 

From Be Saints: 

From Be Saints!

I also have a chapter of St. Thomas More in The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints.

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Today was the day. I don’t often do tours, but given the concentration of interesting and quality food production in Emilia-Romagna, and to make sure we got the most of the experience, a tour seemed in order this time – and it was a good thing, too.

We went with Laura Panella, and she was great. She took us to four family-owned producers, we learned, we tasted, we had a nice lunch…a good day!

Parma is a bit less than an hour train ride from Bologna.  Since the Parmesan production occurs in the morning, that meant…we needed to get ourselves going a little earlier than we have been. A lot earlier. It’s good that the train station is only a couple of blocks from our apartment  – that short walk lessened the pain a bit.

And as it turned out, the train was late. Only about fifteen minutes, but enough to stress me out. I hadn’t considered that possibility. Which was stupid. Would we miss the cheese production? Would they have pack it all into the forms before we got there?

(No.)

The train was packed from Bologna to Modena, when 3/4 of the passengers – a lot of students – disembarked. At Parma, we hopped off, met Laura at her car parked nearby, and off we went.

First, to the Parmesan Reggiano factory owned by this farm.  And no, we were not too late – we were able to see much of the process. We arrived after the milk and rennet had been mixed and curds were starting to form. While that continued, we saw the storeroom, learned about the various levels of Parmesan, how it is tested, what care is required – the turning, mostly done by a robot, even in this small factory – and the labeling. We were then able to see the workers removed the curds which just sort of rolled into shape, then this huge ball was cut in two, and each half stuffed in a plastic form. It would rest there for a day or so, then move to steel, and then be freed to age. This facility is near Bibbio, which claims to be the site of the invention of Parmesan – by monks, of course, who wanted a cheese that would keep. The invention is memorialized in a roundabout by a statue representing a huge chunk of cheese and the typical knife used to slice it. Some photos – and the video is via Snapchat, which I keep telling you to keep up with, so you can follow our travels in almost real time…as much as I can manage to fool with it.

 

The earlier (not earliest, which occurred long before we arrived) stage of letting the curds settle out of the milk. The vats are cone-shaped and go down into the floor. 12 vats which produce 24 wheels of cheese a day. 

 

What is happening here is that the curds are pulled together and up with a paddle, then gathered in cloth which is hung from the stick in order to allow liquid to escape. That one big ball is then cut in half, and those two hung in the same manner. In the lower right hand photo, you can see how the whey is being pumped out of the vat – it is traveling directly to a truck outside, which then takes the whey to become part of pig feed. 

 

The balls are removed , floated in water for a second to make them easier to handle, then hoisted up into the plastic forms. In the top left photo, they have been removed from the forms and are floating in sea-salt water to give a bit of flavor while they wait for the steel, curved forms and the imprinting from a plastic form. 

 

Image originally posted on Instagram. 

There’s also a short video I originally put on Snapchat here on Instagram.  Also, a quick survey of my purchases from today is on Snapchat…for the next 24 hours…(amywelborn2)

Then to the winery. Lambrusco typical wine of the region, as the vineyard owner explained, since the food of the area tends to be heavy, a lighter wine is important. We saw the vines, learned about the process of making the various wines, and tasted. Well, I tasted. Lovely wines. What was so interesting to me was that 60-70% of the wineries products are purchased by local families who bring in these huge containers (I can’t remember the name…perhaps one of you knows it) when the Lambrusco is ready, have it filled, and then take it home to bottle it themselves to have their wine for the year.  The rest is sold to local delis and groceries – no exportation, it’s just too expensive, and not worth it.  Under three Euros a bottle. I wish I could have purchased more, but we are only at the beginning of our trip, and two bottles is about as much as I want to cart around Italy for two weeks.

I asked the owner – the granddaughter of the original owner – if she’d been to the US, and she said no, but she’d been to Mexico – as it turns out, many of the same places – Chichen Itza, Merida, Tulum – to where we traveled a couple of years ago, so that was a fun conversation.

And now…meat. Which is very…meaty.

Another family business, with the 82-year old owner still about. They produce Parma ham, coppa, pancetta…etc. We learned about all of these different cuts, and of course, the curing process. Entering the curing room, you’re hit with incredibly strong smells I can only describe as..meat. With some sea salt and mold mixed in, Phew. It was not exactly delicious-smelling to my senses. The tasting was interesting to me because eating these meats right there, without benefit of refrigeration or industrial production, it is much more evident that these are cured, not cooked meats. It’s hard to describe, but there was a sort of fleshiness about them that I suppose is the way it’s supposed to be, but was still a bit of a surprise.

 

In the lower left photo, coppa is being tested by inserting a long pick made from a horse bone, used because it is porous and therefore can take in the scent of the meet quickly and then just as quickly release it. 

Lunch!  I honestly cannot tell you where we ate – I was so turned around by that point, and I forgot to take a card. Somewhere between Parma and Emilia-Reggerio, is all I can say. I think. We had a simple, but good meal of cured meats (of course), an assortment of ravioli, stuffed with pumpkin (typical of the region), swiss chard, potato and turnip greens, in a light butter sauce. The boys had “chocolate salami” – basically chocolate biscotti with hazlenuts – and I had a corncake that you dip in moscato wine. Oh, and Lambrusco, of course. Very nice, and nice people running the place.

Finally, the balsamic vinegar, which is not what you find in stores,most of which is made via flavoring additives. This is the place we visited, and received a tour and instruction from the owner. The tasting was illuminating – such a clear and interesting difference between, say 10- and 25-year aged vinegars. Quite complex. You can read more about it here.

 

Laura then drove us back to Parma and, at my request, dropped us at the  centro where we could see the duomo and baptistry, then walk to the train. I hadn’t bought return tickets, but knew generally when the trains ran, and we hit it almost perfectly, arriving at the station about ten minutes before a train was departing for Bologna.

Baptisteries are lovely things. Constructed in an era when baptisms only occurred at most twice a year in the “mother church” of the diocese, they were made for crowds. I couldn’t get a great shot, but the inner area of this font is made for four priests to do the baptizing at once – and how do they get in? A board was put over the water, that’s how. (Information learned from Fr Augustine Thompson’s wonderful Cities of God.).

The cathedral is covered –  covered in paintings. The most well -known is in the cupola, a Carreggio Assumption which:

…features the Virgin Mary ascending through a sea of limbs, faces and swirling drapery.

The imagery of the Assumption has been met with some bemusement over the years, with a contemporary comparing it to a “hash of frogs’ legs” and Dickens commenting that the scene was such that “no operative surgeon gone made could imagine in his wildest delirium.

Even from a distance, it’s pretty wild. 

Correggio Assumption Parma

 

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