The Alma Redemptorist Mater and Hermann the Lame

Last Saturday eve was the turn of the season and the turn of the year.  The long march of the second phase of Ordinary Time that began after the second Vespers of Pentecost in May ended this November 30 at the First Vespers of the First Sunday of Advent and a new season and new liturgical year began; we now await the coming of the Lord and the Feast of the Incarnation on December 25.

In the Traditional calendar of the Catholic Church’s Latin Rite the seasonal Marian antiphon or anthem changed.  There are four Marian antiphons spaced through the different seasons of the year: the Alma Redemptoris Mater that is sung from the vigil of the First Sunday of Advent to the Feast of the Presentation on the February 2, the Ave Regina Caelorum that is sung from Compline on February 3 to Compline on Holy Thursday, the Regina Coeli that is sung from Holy Saturday night (coinciding with the Easter Vigil) until the Saturday following Pentecost, and the Salve Regina that is sung from Trinity Sunday to the Friday that follows the Feast of Christ the King.  These Marian antiphons are sung at the close of Compline, the last prayer of the day, and were traditionally sung at the close of the Mass to offer all our prayers to God through Mary’s hands.

The current hymn, the Alma Redemptoris Mater:

Alma Redemptoris Mater, qui pervia caeli porta manes, et stella maris, succurre cadenti, surgere qui curat, populo: tu quae genuisti, natura mirante, tuum sanctum Genitorem, Virgo prius ac posterius, Gabrielis ab ore sumens illud Ave, peccatorum miserere.

This great hymn celebrates the wonder of the Virgin giving birth to her Creator and begs for her aid to help those of us who are not worthy, yet seek to rise above our sins.  Tradition ascribes its composition, along with the Salve Regina, to one Hermann Contractus, Hermann the Lame, during the early part of the eleventh century.  In fact Hermann Contractus  was born on February 18, 1013, making this year the 1000th anniversary of his birth.  Hermann Contractus’ life is interesting as it relates to the unity between the East and the West.  He was born the son of a Count, an aristocrat, in Althausen in what is now southern Germany and died a monk on the island of Reichenau in Lake Constance on the current border between Switzerland and Germany on September 21, 1054, the year of the great schism between the churches of Rome and Constantinople.

Hermann was crippled and unable to move without assistance for his entire life, but through extraordinary effort accomplished so much intellectual work and contributed these two Marian hymns that gave so much to the character of the Church during the second millennium.  Interestingly enough Hermann is credited with knowledge of the Latin, Greek, and Arabic tongues.  Arabic, think of it, a lame monk living on an island in a lake on the modern border between Switzerland and Germany knew both Greek and Arabic in the year 1054.  He died half a century before the Crusades.  This shows that undoubtedly the link between Europe and the East had not been completely broken despite the tumult that had occurred in the previous four centuries since the rise of Islam.

Pray for the unity of the Church for the unity of East and West that we may breathe with both lungs once more: pray the Rosary Monday for the See of Constantinople, Tuesday for the See of Antioch, Wednesday for the See of Jerusalem, Thursday for the See of Alexandria, and Friday for the See of Carthage; for their liberty and their salvation and the restoration of their ancient position as pillars of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church in communion with the See of Peter in Rome; for the conversion of the Jewish people and the conversion of the Muslim peoples.

The Feast of St. Andrew: November 30, 2013

Today is the feast day of the first called Apostle, brother of St. Peter and founder of the church of Constantinople St. Andrew.  Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist who went along with the beloved disciple St. John to follow our Lord at the direction of John the Forerunner.  He later introduced his younger brother Simon to the Lord who made of him Peter the Rock on which He built his Church.

Tradition records that St. Andrew went north after Pentecost to found the church of Byzantium on the Bosporus, the future site of Constantinople and later preached in what is now Russia and in what we now call the Ukraine but what was then broadly called Scythia.  He was martyred in the Peloponnese in southern Greece, crucified by the Roman governor.  St. Andrew is the great patron of the East, the older brother of Simon Peter the founder of the See of Rome.  Peter was ordained Prince of the Apostles not by his own choice or merit, but by the will of God.  The East and the West are brothers, the East older while the West is younger but with the Apostolic See of Rome given primacy by its founder, its history, and the inscrutable divine Will.  Pray for the unity of the Church, the unity between East and West, and to paraphrase Bl. John Paul II that the Church may breathe with both lungs once again.

Pray the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary on Monday for the See of Constantinople, for its liberty and its salvation, and the restoration of its ancient position as a pillar of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church in communion with the See of Peter in Rome and for the conversion of the Muslim peoples.

Message of Pope Francis to the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I on the Feast of St. Andrew


The See of Antioch (The other See of St. Peter)

The city of Antioch was in many ways the mother of the Church in the Roman world.  It lay just inland from the northeast corner of the Mediterranean Sea in modern-day Turkey in the region of Hatay near the current border between Turkey and Syria.  The city became a great metropolis following the conquests of Alexander that opened up the highway of trade from India and the east to the Mediterranean.  Antioch, during Roman times, was in a highly favorable location at the western terminus of the Silk Road and took full advantage of this to profit in the exchange of goods between distant Asia and the rest of the Roman Empire.  During the apostolic age Antioch was the third city of the Empire after Rome itself and Alexandria.  It was here that the Prince of the Apostles seems first to have moved to after leaving Jerusalem and he became the city’s first bishop before moving on to Rome.  Paul and Barnabas also spent much time preaching and winning converts in the city.  St. Luke, companion of St. Paul and author both of the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles was a native of Antioch.  And it was in Antioch that the name of Christian was first applied to believers in Jesus Christ and members of the Church.

After the age of the Apostles had ended the church in Antioch continued to supply the Church with great teachers and martyrs.  St. Ignatius of Antioch’s, who himself was a hearer of the apostles, letters written on the way to his martyrdom in Rome provide us with a fascinating glimpse of the Church during the decades following the death of the apostles, and give ample evidence of the primacy of the church of Rome even at that early date.  St. Ignatius’ Feast Day is October 17.

Following  Ignatius the city continued to supply the Church with bishops and martyrs, among them Babylas who suffered martyrdom under the reign of Decius during the middle of the third century.  The church of Antioch expanded its reach to become the leading church of the East, and second only in primacy to Rome, by the ascension of Constantine to power during the early fourth century.  The church there unfortunately was also a place of discord and a birthplace for heresy.  Paul of Samosata in the third century was bishop of Antioch and denied the divinity of Jesus Christ.  And the ideas of Arius, while first publicly proclaimed in Alexandria, have their roots in Antioch.  The Arian heresy which also denied the divinity of Jesus Christ but were far more successful than Paul’s troubled the Church for three centuries following the Edict of Milan.

Antioch continued to form a part of the Pentarchy, the five great Sees (Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria) of Roman times but fell into decline after the rise of Constantinople in the fourth century.  Constantinople became master of the East religiously, politically, and economically and Antioch suffered both from the Christological disputes and the resulting schisms in the Church, and from the depredations of the Persian Empire during the epoch of wars between Rome and Persia that stretched from the third to the seventh centuries during which Antioch and/or its hinterland were often battlegrounds.  The Muslims conquered Antioch in 638 AD and the city was now on the front lines of the almost constant warring between the Constantinople and the Caliphate and its importance in the Christian world rapidly diminished.  The Orthodox Church was unable regularly to supply a patriarch for the city as its Muslim political masters showed a preference for their Monophysite rivals, hostile as they were to Constantinople.  The Byzantines briefly reconquered the city in 969 before losing it again to the Turks during the following century.  Antioch was taken by the Crusaders in 1098 and they established the Latin Patriarchate of Antioch which endured for more than a century and a half before the Turkish reconquest of the city and the martyrdom of its last resident Latin Patriarch in 1268.  The city of Antioch has more or less disappeared from the map since that time and the site is now occupied by the Turkish city of Antakya.  The Pope continued to appoint Latin Patriarchs of Antioch, none of whom were able to take residence in the city after 1268, until the Patriarchate was abolished in 1964.  There are now a whole host of Patriarchs of Antioch, five at last count; none of whom actually reside in the city.

Pray the Sorrowful Mysteries on Tuesday for this ancient and once great apostolic See of the Church: for its liberty and its salvation, and the restoration of its ancient position as a pillar of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church in communion with the See of Peter in Rome and for the conversion of the Muslim peoples.  We should also remember the currently suffering land of Syria which forms the patrimony of this ancient See in our prayers, if we can find the heart.