Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Church Chat: Liturgical Edition

It seems that many Catholics are unfamiliar with the names of the various items used or worn in the liturgy. It’s quite understandable: you may see these things on a weekly basis, but you don’t necessarily hear them referenced or addressed. I thought I’d share a few of these with you.

(Unlike previous versions of “Church Chat,” I won’t be giving the roots of these words.)

For Mass, the priest is vested with several pieces of liturgical accoutrement: sometimes a priest will wear a garment called an amice, which covers the shoulders and ties around the torso, so that his regular clothes are not visible; the long-sleeved white garment which reaches from neck to ankles is the alb; if the alb is loose-fitting, it is bound by a cord around the waist called the cincture; the long neckband which reaches the shins or ankles (depending on the height of the priest) is the stole; the over-garment, the one you really see, is the chasuble

When leading another sort of liturgy other than Mass, the priest might wear a long black robe called a cassock, with a white over-garment reaching the waist or knees called a surplice, as well as the aforementioned stole. For some events he may wear a cape, confusingly called a cope (really, we change one vowel?).

A deacon, in addition to the aforementioned alb, has a stole of a different style, which sits on one shoulder and is draped across the torso, being fastened at the waist. He may also wear a dalmatic, which looks somewhat like a chasuble, except that it has sleeves.

A bishop, in addition to the usual priestly vestments, has a few other noticeable items: the staff he carries, meant to resemble a shepherd’s crook, is called a crozier. The tall hat with the tassels in the back is called a miter. The smaller, yarmulke-looking item that covers the top of the head is called a zucchetto. An archbishop will wear a band which encircles his neck and has a short protrusion at opposite ends; this is the pallium.

Several items are used in offering the sacrifice of the Mass. The cup which holds the Precious Blood is a chalice. The small, shallow plate which holds the hosts is the paten. Other hosts are held in a bowl-like or chalice-like container called a ciboriumOn the altar one will find a corporal, a small white cloth on which the chalice and paten are set. The water and wine used for the consecration are held in small (usually glass) containers called cruets

Hope this helps!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Points of Interest

An assortment of things I've run across that you may find of interest....

  • I'm sure you can remember cartoons, TV shows, or movies that featured a character in a moral dilemma being advised by an angel on one shoulder and tempted by a devil on the other. Did you ever wonder where this idea came from? Actually, this is a very old idea in Christianity. An excerpt from The Life of Moses by St. Gregory of Nyssa (335-394 AD), one of the greatest Fathers of the Church:
"There is a doctrine (which derives its trustworthiness from the tradition of the fathers) which says that after our nature fell into sin God did not disregard our fall and withhold his providence. No, on the one hand, he appointed an angel with an incorporeal nature to help in the life of each person, and, on the other hand, he also appointed the corruptor who, by an evil and malificent demon, afflicts the life of man and contrives against our nature." (Book II, paragraph 45)
This is consonant with the notion that God allows us to be tempted in order that we might grow stronger in virtue by cooperating with His grace, turning toward God and away from sin. I'm not sure we'd go so far as to say that God appoints a demon to afflict us. But still... I bet you thought some animator made this up. Nope.
  • There's an old story that our roads are the width they are today because they were patterned after train rails, which were patterned after carriages, which were patterned after Roman chariots -- so that the width of roads has not changed in 2,000 years! I'm not sure this is true, but there is at least one feature of our society that we do owe directly to the Romans: law. For example, the five basic categories we have today of circumstances which invalidate a contract are the same as they were in ancient Roman law! The survival of this principle is thanks to the medieval canon lawyers, particularly Gratian, who retrieved, collected, integrated and codified the wide assortment of civil and Church law which had survived into the second millennium. The Napoleonic Code was largely based on these surviving bits of Roman law, and its influence spread as France marched across Europe in the early 1800s. This code was then carried into the New World as the nations of Europe colonized the Americas and Africa. That same legal framework undergirds our Constitution. So, you can thank Gratian and St. Raymond of Penyafort for the Bill of Rights.
  • When you hear an atheist or agnostic argue against the existence of God, what do they most often say? It's usually some variation on one of these two points: 
1) If God is perfectly good, why is there evil?
2) We can explain the natural world apart from God; we don't need a "God of the gaps," because there are no gaps. 
I can't think of any argument I've heard from an atheist that doesn't boil down to one of these two points. So guess what St. Thomas listed as the two objections to the question of whether God exists in his Summa Theologica? From ST I, Question 2, Article 3:
Objection 1. It seems that God does not exist; because if one of two contraries be infinite, the other would be altogether destroyed. But the word "God" means that He is infinite goodness. If, therefore, God existed, there would be no evil discoverable; but there is evil in the world. Therefore God does not exist.
Objection 2. Further, it is superfluous to suppose that what can be accounted for by a few principles has been produced by many. But it seems that everything we see in the world can be accounted for by other principles, supposing God did not exist. For all natural things can be reduced to one principle which is nature; and all voluntary things can be reduced to one principle which is human reason, or will. Therefore there is no need to suppose God's existence.
Go here to read his replies to the objections. 
The point is: folks, we've been over this before. If you're going to deny that God exists, at least come up with something original. Next time you hear an atheist or agnostic make one of these arguments, point them toward Thomas' argument. Perhaps they'll be surprised that someone who lived 800 years ago had already thought of their clever questions and answered them.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Everyday Philosophy

Previously in this space I have made the argument that we all employ philosophical reasoning every day without knowing it, because logic and demonstration simply are the way that human beings think. This extends, too, to phrases we use that assume a certain philosophical principle. Let me give you a few examples of what I mean...


When we receive information, we gain new insight or understanding about the thing in question; we come to know it better. Have you ever considered what a funny sounding term this is, though? Compare it to the synonymous words I used a moment ago: "understand"--all right, this new knowledge now "stands under" me so that it lifts me up to new heights; "insight"--OK, this new knowledge allows me to "see into" this thing, to apprehend it more clearly. But what about "information"? Actually, this very word assume's an Aristotelian theory of how we come to know things. I've mentioned before Aristotle's theory of form and matter, that everything consists of the possibility-of-being (matter) and the essential what-it-is-that-makes-it-what-it-is (form). Aristotle said that when we perceive a thing, we come to know it so that the form of the thing is impressed onto our intellect; its essence, its form, becomes a part of us: that is, we are "in-form-ed" by the thing. Which connects to this phrase...

"Takes one to know one"

When your intellect receives the form of the thing, Aristotle concluded that it rightly can be said that in some way you become the thing that you know. If I know what a nightingale is, it's because the form of nightingale has been impressed upon my intellect, so that I participate in the form or essence of "nightingale-ness;" I cannot know it unless it's a part of me. For Aristotle, it really does take one to know one.

"Haters gonna hate"

A phrase used by the kids these days to mean "You have a prejudice or bias against my idea which is causing you to react negatively to it without considering its merits; that is, because you already hate it, you can do no other but hate." This (I say with tongue in cheek but hoping it can get the message across) is an example of the Aristotelian-Thomistic principle of agere sequitur esse, or "action follows being." A thing will behave according to its nature determined by its essence, its form, the sort of thing it is; and by looking at the actions of a thing, you can determine what sort of thing it is. Dogs bark and cats meow. Woodpeckers peck wood and woodchucks chuck wood (that is, if woodchucks could chuck wood). Human beings act rationally. (Well, some of them, anyway.) So, if you see someone hating, clearly they're a hater... 'cause haters gonna hate.

If you have ever used any of these phrases, congratulations: you're an Aristotelian!