Monday, October 22, 2012

The Week in Review: The Russians are Coming with Sandwiches

This last week I started a part-time job at a deli not too far from the DSPT. Zarri’s Delicatessen in Albany, CA features sandwiches, sliced meats, and a variety of products such as pastas, sauces, wines, olive oils, etc. It’s owned by an upstanding Catholic family, and the owner likes to hire DSPT students so he can talk philosophy with them. After a few conversations with him, I’d say he qualifies as what Fr. Ludwig (my ancient philosophy professor) would call “a philosopher with a day job.” The other employees are a fun bunch, given to making smart-aleck remarks to each other as they make sandwiches or slice up some dry salami. I’m sure that once they get me trained on everything, you could walk in there and hear me singing “O sole mio” as I carve up some porchetta. The extra cash will most definitely help: try as I do to live simply, the Bay Area is an expensive place, and on top of that my car received some needed repairs, which were spendy—I went in for an oil change and ended up with five or six other things which I knew needed to be handled at some point, but didn’t realize were so urgent as they were. You’re probably thinking, “Oh Nick, you got taken by some seedy mechanic into paying for fake repairs’—sed contra, I could tell in the three-mile drive home how much better the car was performing. Still… I would have preferred to save that money, but c’est la vie.

Just yesterday for Mass I attended the Divine Liturgy at Our Lady of Fatima Russian Byzantine Catholic Church in San Francisco. Allow me to anticipate your questions: “Nick, what in the Samuel F. Hill is a Russian Byzantine Catholic Church, and why would a Russian church name itself after a Portuguese apparition?” As to the second question, no idea. As to the first, let me introduce a fact that may surprise you: technically speaking, the “Roman Catholic Church” is just one of twenty-two “Catholic Churches”, all of which are in communion with the Holy See and recognize the Pope as their head. See, the word “church” can mean different things: it can refer to your local parish; it can refer to the diocese, what’s usually called the “local church” in canon law, headed by the bishop; it can refer to the universal church, that is, the worldwide communion of “local churches” under the headship and authority of the Pope; or it can refer to a particular group of local churches which share a common historical and liturgical heritage, and are thus organized as their own sui iuris or “self-governing” churches, while still in communion with Rome. These sui iuris churches are the products of historical circumstances which caused them to develop differently from the Latin or Roman churches (i.e. most of the Catholic Church, numerically speaking). They are usually grouped under the name “Eastern Catholic Churches” because they all have their historical roots in parts east of Rome, from India to the Holy Land to the Ukraine and Russia, Greece and Albania. In most cases these churches were at one time part of the communion of the Orthodox Church, but later came into communion with Rome and were allowed to keep their own liturgical and cultural heritage. So: the “Russian Byzantine Catholic Church” is a Catholic Church which was at one time part of the Russian Orthodox Church, but broke away and came into communion with Rome. The “Byzantine” part of the name means that it follows the Greek liturgical tradition. Byzantine Catholic Churches refer to the Mass as the “Divine Liturgy” and will celebrate it in some of the different forms they’ve used through the centuries, such as the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, or of St. Basil the Great, or of St. James.

I went there because I have a great love for liturgy, and for Eastern Catholics liturgy is one of their defining attributes; their liturgy is one of the things that makes them who they are. As such, they tend to celebrate it with great care, which results in great beauty. This particular parish had recently moved into the downstairs area of a Roman Catholic church, but it’s small space was beautifully decorated with icons and ornamentation. Incense permeated the air, accompanied by the tinkling of the bells attached to the thurible (i.e. the thing what you incense with). Most of the liturgy was chanted, some parts by the deacon or priest, some parts by the choir with its mellifluous harmonies. (Sorry, “mellifluous” is one of my favorite words, and I couldn’t resist the chance to use it.) The only part of the liturgy in Russian was the first reading, read first in English, then in Russian. The rest was in English, apart from the typical Hebrew (amen, alleluia, hosanna) or Greek (kyrie eleison) words we always use in our English renditions. The prayers of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom are ornate and poetic; I think that the new translation of the Latin-rite Mass recaptures much of this quality in our own liturgy. The whole thing is a very sensate experience. It moves body and soul closer to God. The Second Vatican Council called the liturgy “the source and summit of the Christian life,” and celebrating it in a way that captures the entire person, body and soul, helps one to realize that: you are at the wellspring of grace, the apex of the spiritual life here on earth. The Latin rite liturgy (whether done in English or Latin), when done well, can be just as beautiful and moving as the Eastern liturgy I’ve described. I think more people would come to know the truth of the faith if they were to see it so beautifully enacted. It’s always there, but it’s sometimes hard to see.

I seem to be on a Russian kick of late: I was drinking White Russians a few weeks ago; I went to the Russian Catholic Church yesterday; and on Saturday I watched the classic film The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming (nominated for three Oscars when released back in the 1960s). Purely coincidence, I assure you.

A round-up from classes:

Intro to New Testament: We’ve been talking about narrative criticism, that is, using the structure of the Gospels as stories to interpret them. For example, by noticing certain elements of the structure of Matthew’s gospel, you can see how much it draws from and connects to Judaism. It seems to be divided, by a series of narratives and dialogues, into five sections… like the Torah and its five books (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy). As he begins his gospel with the genealogy of Jesus, the very first words are, in Greek, “biblios geneseos,” which we usually translate “The book of the generations,” but could just as easily be translated “book of Genesis.” And where does Matthew’s Gospel end? With Jesus on a mountaintop. Where does the Torah end? With Moses on a mountaintop. The whole point is that Jesus is the new Moses, the fulfillment of God’s promise to the patriarchs, the true Lamb who takes away the sins of the world. Neat, eh?

Aristotelian Logic: Have you ever gotten tangled up in reading a sentence with lots of negations in it? Something like “He is not a non-factor.” Huh? We learned a way to clear up such phrases, through a technique called obversion. To get the obverse of a phrase, you change the verb and the predicate, reversing the negations so that they mean the same thing, but are stated positively: “He is not a non factor” becomes “He is a factor.” Or “All men are non-women” becomes “No men are women.” It may seem trivial, but it can be useful if someone tries to trick you with multiple negations in a sentence: “Did you take my sandwich?” “Uh… I didn’t not take your sandwich.” “So you took my sandwich?” “Uh… yeah.”

History of Ancient Philosophy: Funny how Aristotle keeps coming up in different classes. You’d think he was important or something. One interesting thing learned from discussing him in this class: Whether he’s discussing the nature of poetry, or rhetoric, or physics, or ethics, he goes about it all in the same way. He identifies the four causes of a thing, and thereby comes to know it. See, I told you that the four causes were useful!

Philosophy of Nature: Oh, poor Philosophy of Nature… I think you’ll get your own post later this week.

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