30 November 2011

30 November - Saint Andrew; Ktenia me Ryzi

Weather: On St. Andrew's day we feel the cold, even in bed. 

Andrew bright and clear, brings a prosperous year.

If on St. Andrew's day in the evening, much dew or wet remains on the grass, it betokens a wet season to follow; if the grass is dry, so will the season be.

Fill a glass to the brim with water and let it stand all night.  If any of the water has run over the side by morning, expect a wet year; if none of the water has escaped, then it will be a dry year.

“At Patras, in Achaia, the birthday of the apostle St. Andrew, who preached the gospel of Christ in Thrace and Scythia.  Being apprehended by the proconsul AEgseas, he was shut up in prison, severely scourged, and finally, being suspended on a cross, he lived two days on it, teaching the people.  Having besought our Lord not to permit that he should be taken down from the cross, he was surrounded with a great brightness from heaven, and when the light disappeared he breathed his last.”

Come, follow Me, I will make you fishers of men.

Today is the feast of Saint Andrew, the first disciple of Our Lord, who spent his life leading people to Christ, starting with his own brother Simon (Peter), and including the unnamed boy with five loaves and two fish, whose lunch fed the multitude (John 6:1-15).  He is said to have been martyred in Patras, Greece, by being tied to an X-shaped (decussate) cross, where he preached for two days before dying.

This feast was once important enough to have not only a vigil, but also an octave (which ends on 7 December).

You can read more about the life and ministry of Saint Andrew here. The Golden Legend follows up the life of the saint with several of his miracles, including an interesting story about a bishop whom he saved from being ensnared by the devil in the shape of a beautiful woman.

As seen yesterday, unmarried women invoke his help in finding a husband.

He is the patron (understandably) of those who take their livelihoods from the waters - not only fishermen, but fishmongers and fish dealers - and even those for whom fishing is not an occupation but a hobby, such as anglers.  If for some reason the fish aren't biting, say a quick prayer to Saint Andrew.  He'll understand.

Please pray for fishermen and mariners and those who make their living from the sea.

He is the patron of the countries of Greece, Russia, Romania, and Scotland, of the Greek province of Achaia and its capital Patras (where Andrew was martyred); of the Italians cities of Amalfi, Antey-Saint-Andre, Cartosio, Conflenti, Grognardo, and Samolaco; the German cities of Berchtesgaden and Lampertheim; of Burgundy, France; Encinasola, Spain; Luqu, Malta; and Plymouth, England; of the dioceses of Constantinople, Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Victoria, British Columbia.

“When the blessed Andrew had come to the place where the cross was made ready, he exclaimed and said, ‘O good cross, long wished for and now made ready for a desirous spirit, I, without care and joyful, come to thee, so that thou, rejoicing, mayst receive me, the disciple of the one who hung on thee, my master Christ’.”

“We beseech Thee, O omnipotent God, that blessed Andrew Thine apostle may implore aid in our behalf; so that, absolved from the charges against us, we may also be rescued from all dangers.  Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who lives and reigns with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, O God, world without end.  Amen.”
Suffrage of Saint Andrew the Apostle, from the Primer, or Office of the Blessed Virgin Marie (1599).

For dinner tonight, the main course should be fish or seafood, fixed in the manner of one of the countries of which he is a patron, like this Greek recipe for KTENIA ME RYZI (Scallops with Rice):

Finely chop 1 onion.
Wash 2 pounds of scallops.
Preheat oven to 400° F.

Sauté the chopped onion in ¼ cup of butter until golden.  Add the scallops and simmer for 15 minutes, turning the scallops occasionally.   Remove from heat and drain the juice from the scallops.  Add enough water to the juice to equal 1-1/2 cups.

In another pan, brown 1 cup of uncooked rice in 2 tablespoons of olive oil until golden, and place in a 2-quart casserole.

Add 1 teaspoon of salt to the reserved juice, and pour it over the rice.  Cover casserole and bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes.

Stir in scallops and onion and bake for another 10 minutes.  Sprinkle with chopped parsley, if desired.

To accompany this repast? Perhaps St. Andrew's Ale, from the Belhaven Brewery Company of Scotland.  Or a Chardonnay from St. Andrew's Estate in Adelaide Plains, Australia.

For dessert, you can find a recipe for Saint Andrew's Walnut Cake here and one for "Tandry Wigs" (also called Tandrew Cakes), which seem to be a lot like the St. Catherine Wigs of November 25th. 

29 November 2011

29 November - St. Andrew's Eve

Tomorrow being the feast of Saint Andrew, tonight is St. Andrew's Eve, and another day for trying to figure out who you will marry.

To Andrew all the lovers and the lustie wooers come,
Beleeving through his ayde, and certaine ceremonies done,
(While as to him they presentes bring, and conjure all the night)
To have good lucke, and to obtaine their chiefe and sweete delight.

When you retire for the night (and hopefully you have the room to yourself), take off all your clothes and say a prayer to Saint Andrew (like the following), asking for a worthy husband, and oh-by-the-way, can you know what kind of person he will be.

"Deus, Deus meus, O Sancte Andrea, effice ut bonem pium acquiram virum;
hodie mii ostende qualis sit cui me in uxorem ducere debet."

"Heavenly patron, Saint Andrew dear
Please won't you show me a picture clear
Of the man whom thou hast chosen for me?
Whether he handsome or homely be,
Or young in years or maybe old,
Or still and shy, or loud and bold;
I do not mind his manner and way,
Just make him love me, this I pray."

Then climb into bed.  You should dream of your future husband (let's hope you are wearing something in your dream).  And the nights being really chilly right now, it would take a great deal of determination to get into bed with nothing on.

Also, if you hear any barking dogs tonight, note their location - your future husband will come from that direction.

You can try the apple peel again.  Take an apple and peel it, keeping the cut peel in one continuous piece.  Then throw it gently over your left shoulder and see if it resembles a letter of the alphabet.  If so, that is the first letter of the name of your future spouse or someone who is very interested in you.  If not... well, you won't be getting engaged any time soon.

If you wish to learn the color of your true love's hair, take hold of the latch of the house door and repeat three times, "Gentle love, if thou lovest me, show thyself".  Then open the door quickly and make a rapid grasp through it into the darkness; you should then find in your hand a lock of his hair.

To learn which of the persons present will likely marry one day, set a vessel filled with pure water on the table.  Inscribe little foil cups with the names of those seeking their fortune, and also a few inscribed with the names of priests. Set them all afloat in the water.  If a young man’s cup clings to a young lady’s cup, or vice versa, the two will be sweethearts.  BUT! It is only when the male and female cups get a priest between them that they can look forward to marriage.

In Poland it is called Andrzejki.  (On-jay-kee)  Learn your fortune by dropping melted wax through the hole of an old-fashioned (and large) key into a bowl of cold water; let it solidify, then take the resultant shape out.  Hold it up to a wall with a light behind you (a candle is traditional); the shape of the shadow cast on the wall tells your future.  The interpretation of the shape is up to you, but here are some shapes and their meanings to give you a few ideas:
Airplane - a journey
Apples - success
Balloon - your troubles won't last long
Bell - unexpected news
Bird - good news very soon
Boat - a visit from a friend
Bridge - you will receive an offer
Car - good fortune is on its way
Cherries - your love affair will be happy
Clouds - trouble ahead
Clover - happiness
Cow - prosperity
Crown - your wish will come ture
Cup - success will follow your efforts
Daisy - you will be happy in your love
Dog - you have a true friend
Dragon - there is a sudden change coming
Faces - you will attend a party with many friends
Geese - you will have unexpected visitors
Grapes - much happiness is in store
Guitar - you will be happy in love
Hand - friendship and success
Hat - a new occupation
Head - new opportunities
Heart - a trustworthy friend
Hen - happiness at home
Letters of the alphabet - initials of friends or loved ones
Jug - good health
Key - all doors will be opened for you
Ladder - a promotion
Ring - engagement or marriage in your future
Ship - successful journey
Snake - you have an enemy
Square - comfort and peace
Star - good luck and success
Tent - a journey
Tower - you will be offered a good opportunity
Trees - a change for the better

A group of unmarried girls can take off their left shoes, line them up heel to toe from the back of the room (opposite the door), and then take the shoe at the very back of the line and move it to the front of the line.  Continue doing this until a shoe fully crosses the threshold of the door - the owner of that shoe will be the first to marry.

Write a different man's name on each of several pieces of paper and put them under your pillow.  In the morning, reach under your pillow and pull out a piece of paper - the name on it will be the name of your future husband.

In Romania, tonight is the Night of the Vampires, who are supposed to come out and entice people to their destruction (time for garlic necklaces).

First rule for tonight: Don't talk to vampires.  They will stand outside your window trying to get in, but don't listen to them.

Also, the animals will be talking tonight, but don't listen to them either.  To do so is to invite very bad luck, and maybe even death.

There are several ways to see the face of your future spouse.  To dream of him, place sweet basil or a wooden comb under your pillow. Or take a lit candle out to a spring or well, and look into the water to see his reflection there.  No well handy?  Then stand before a mirror with a candle on either side of you, and you should see him looking over your shoulder. (And if you notice somebody standing next to you, but there is still no reflection, get that garlic up around your neck quick!)

And if all else fails, wearing a belt of garlic around your waist is supposed to bring suitors, none of them the blood-sucking kind.

27 November 2011

1st Sunday in Advent

Weather: The last Sunday of the month indicates the weather for next month.


O come, O come Emanuel
And ransom captive Israel...

Today is the first Sunday in Advent, Dominica prima Adventus, and the beginning of the Advent Season.  It is also the beginning of the Liturgical Year.

During Advent, the Church prepares herself for the Feast of Christmas, with prayer and works of penance and charity.  The days between now and Christmas Eve are penitential in tone – something of a Little Lent.  The liturgical color is violet (with the exception of the third Sunday – Gaudete – when the rosacea color is worn), and the mood is both solemn and joyful.  Advent is more than just waiting for Christmas.  It is more than a Child being born.  We anticipate not only Our Lord’s First Coming but also His Second, and to that end must ask ourselves, as we should each day, “Am I ready to meet Him?  Will he say to me, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’ or ‘Depart from me – I know you not!’?  Are there sins unconfessed?  Have I done as He commanded, or have I buried the talent He gave me?”

We prepare for a new baby in the family by getting together the materials that will keep the newborn clean, healthy, and comfortable.  We set up the nursery, we clean it and keep it clean, we make and keep appointments with our physicians, we listen to the wisdom of those who have been through this, we spend a lot of time making sure that everything is ready and in place for the reception of this newest miracle.  There is joyful anticipation, and there is also trepidation.

Advent is like that.  The nursery is ourselves, which, contrary to popular opinion, is not cleaned once and then left.  No one would clean a room once and expect it to stay that way.  Sin enters and dirties the cleanest soul, and the only way to get rid of it is by confession, penance, and absolution.  Accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior is all fine and good, but you should not expect him to be some kind of Merry Maid who automatically cleans up after you.  Confess your sins, as often as need be, to keep the room clean.

Make and keep appointments with your priests and spiritual advisors, for your soul’s health.  Read theologically sound treatises to strengthen you on the path; the Church Fathers (and Mothers) have been through this – listen to them and apply their wisdom to your own life.  Spend a lot of time getting ready for Him.  Then you will have more joy at the thought of His coming, and less trepidation.

Fisheaters has a good overview and ways to celebrate.   The most famous tradition is the Advent Wreath with four candles; the first, the candle of the Patriarchs, is lit tonight.  Also well-known are Advent Calendars, which usually start on December 1st and go until December 24.  Commercially made calendars have religious pictures and a verse of scripture behind each door, or a piece of chocolate, or a small ornament.

Less well-known are Jesse Trees, wherein one reads the appropriate Bible story or verses before placing the night's ornament on the tree.  It is based on Isaiah 11:1-2,
And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots: and the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and fortitude, the spirit of knowledge, and of the fear of the Lord.

All of these (except possibly the chocolate) are good ways to spiritually strengthen us and remind us of the real reason for the season: He is Coming!

Lights!  Glitter!  Action!

Many, if not most, people have already put up their Holiday tree, decorated the house, put up the outside lights (which will stay there until March, because nobody is going out in the ice and snow to retrieve them), and started playing endless loops of carols.  The stores certainly have been doing this for the last month.  There is a mad rush to make everything magazine-worthy - perfect Holiday Entertaining with perfect-but-never-tried-before Holiday Recipes, perfect Holiday Presents wrapped in perfect Holiday Gift-wrap, perfect Holiday Decorating with the latest in perfect Holiday Ornaments... all accompanied with perfectly pasted-on Holiday Smiles and Good Cheer, and surrounded by perfect Holiday Music.

By the time Christmas arrives, everyone is sick of it. 

This year, try something different.  Treat Advent as it should be treated - as a time for spiritual reflection and anticipation of Our Lord's Coming.  Strengthen your faith by reading a theological book - we should be able to explain our faith at all times; if you cannot, it is time to put in some study.  Increase your works of spiritual and corporeal mercy - alms if you can, but prayers are something anyone can do.  Read the prayers and verses that accompany each candle, calendar day, or Jesse Tree ornament with your family at night.

I'm not asking you to give up the decorating, et al, until Christmas Eve (which is when it was traditionally done, by the way).  Certainly shopping for presents is in order.  But maybe this year, put off the decorating until a week before, perhaps to celebrate the beginning of the Golden Nights on December 17.  That way, you won't be tired of Christmas when it finally arrives, and you can go on celebrating for the Twelve Days following.

[For those of you who have put up the lights on your houses and yards - thank you!  They are a lovely sight on the commute home at night.]

25 November 2011

25 November - Saint Catherine of Alexandria

Weather: As at Catherine foul or fair, so will be next Februare.

“The birthday of St. Catharine, virgin and martyr, under the emperor Maximinus.  For the confession of the Christian faith, she was cast into prison at Alexandria, and afterwards endured a long scourging with whips garnished with metal, and finally ended her martyrdom by decapitation.  Her body was miraculously conveyed by angels to Mount Sinai, where pious veneration is paid to it by a great concourse of Christians.”

Today is the feast of Saint Catherine of Alexandria, one of the most popular saints of the Middle Ages, usually recognized in the pantheon of Virgin Saints by the appearance of a spiked wheel near her. 

Her story, a highly embellished version of which you can read in The Golden Legend, was of a young Christian noblewoman, well-educated, who upbraided the emperor for his persecution of Christians and debated with the pagan philosophers sent to persuade her by learned arguments to apostatize; instead, her arguments converted them. After being beaten and imprisoned, she was condemned to be tortured to death between wheels spiked with nails and knives, which would tear her flesh as they turned.  Instead, the wheel to which she was bound broke into pieces, putting an end to that.  This so enraged the emperor that he had her scourged and beheaded, and thus she achieved the crown of martyrdom. 

Catholic Online adds: "Maxentius' blind fury against St. Catherine is symbolic of the anger of the world in the face of truth and justice.  When we live a life of truth and justice, we can expect the forces of evil to oppose us.  Our perseverance in good, however, will be everlasting."
One of the favorite medieval and renaissance depictions of St. Catherine concerned her 'Mystic Marriage' to Our Lord.  As the story goes, she was the daughter of the king of Egypt, who died when she was fourteen.  She succeeded him to the throne, and her subjects urged her to marry.  She answered them, saying that her husband must have four gifts: he must be so nobly born that all would worship him; he must be so great that he would not be indebted to her for being made a king; he must be so beautiful that the angels should desire to see him; and he must be so benign as to forgive all offenses.  And her subjects despaired because they knew of no such man.

However, Our Lady appeared to a hermit and told him to take the pictures of her and her Son to Catherine, telling her that the Spouse she sought was Jesus.  Catherine gazed upon the picture of Our Lord and fell in love, desiring no one else.  In a dream, she was borne into His presence, but He turned from her, saying that she was not fair enough.  When she awoke, she went immediately to the hermit, asking how she could make herself worthy; the hermit instructed and baptized her.  That night, Mary appeared in a vision, and presented Catherine to Jesus, who gave her a betrothal ring.  And from that time, she despised all worldly things.
As a virgin saint, she is the patron of never-married women:

  • unmarried girls
  • maidens
  • spinsters
  • old maids

From the spiked wheel of her martyrdom, she is the patron of those who work with wheels in some form:

  • mechanics and wheelwrights
  • millers
  • potters
  • spinners
  • turners
  • knife grinders and sharpeners

For her reputed wisdom and education, she is the patron of collectors and disseminators of knowledge:

  • archivists, libraries and librarians
  • educators and teachers
  • scholars, schoolchildren, and students
  • scribes, secretaries, and stenographers

For her debating skill and persuasive language, she is invoked by those who need such skills in their work:

  • apologists and philosophers
  • attorneys, barristers, jurists, and lawyers
  • preachers and theologians  

As one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, she was invoked against tongue diseases and sudden death.  

Sour ol’ Naogeorgus crabbed:
St. Cathern favors learned men, and gives them wisdom high,
And teacheth to resolve the doubts, and always giveth aid
Unto the scolding sophister, to make his reason staid.
What should I tell what sophisters on Cathern’s day devise?
Or else the superstitious joyes that maisters exercise.

It is her patronage of unmarried women that gave rise to the traditions associated with today; this is a day not only to hopefully dream of a future husband, but also to ask for one:
"A husband, Saint Catherine,
A handsome one, Saint Catherine,
A rich one, Saint Catherine,
A nice one, Saint Catherine,
AND SOON, Saint Catherine!"

(I've always like this prayer.  There is a hint of impatience in the final request.)

The one who would like to dream of her future husband should place a piece of wedding cake under her pillow, and her wish is sure to be gratified... providing that the piece of wedding cake has previously been passed through a wedding ring. [Now explain to your mother why there are crumbs and a smoosh of icing under your pillow]

This is a little more involved: Three to seven young women, no more or less, must assemble in a room where they are safe from interruption.  As the clock strikes 11 pm [2300 for military types], each must take from her bosom a sprig of myrtle, which has been worn there all day, and fold it up in a bit of tissue-paper.  They must then light up a small chafing dish of charcoal, and on the lighted coals each must place nine hairs from her head and a paring of each of her finger and toe-nails. [Since time is of the essence here, you might want to have all of this ready beforehand]  Each young woman must sprinkle a small quantity of myrtle and frankincense in the charcoal [which will hopefully rid the air of the odor of burning hair and nails], and while the odoriferous vapor rises, fumigate the tissue-wrapped packets of myrtle in it.  Then go to bed while the clock is striking the hour of midnight, placing the myrtle exactly under the head.

The instructions assure us that each young woman will be sure to dream of her future husband; HOWEVER, once again, the whole hour's performance must be passed in perfect silence.  Good luck with that.

From Observations of the Popular Antiquities of Great Britain: 
 "A writer in 1730 observes, "St. Catharine is esteemed in the church of Rome as the saint and patroness of the spinsters; and her holiday is observed, not in Popish countries only, but even in many places in this nation; young women meeting on the 25th of November and making merry together, which they call Catharning."    "Camden, in his 'Ancient and Modern Manners of the Irish' says, "Formerly women and girls in Ireland kept a fast every Wednesday and Saturday throughout the year, and some of them also on Saint Catharine's Day; nor would they have omitted it, though it happened on their birth-day, or they were ever so ill.   The reason assigned for this custom was, that the girls could get good husbands, and the women better ones, by the death or desertion of their living spouses, or at least by an improvement of their manners." "

Spinster (unmarried woman) comes from spinster (spinners, an occupation that kept women – young and old – busy).  From one definition of spinster to the next is a short leap, especially with the aid of the wheel motif, and St. Catherine became the patron of those who employed the spinning wheel and reel. In the days of the workhouse, spinning was the task of the young girls, and St. Catherine’s Day was one of their few celebrations.  They would go, decked with gaily-colored ribbons, with the workhouse master in procession around the city; the tallest girl, crowned and carrying a scepter, was the Queen.  The group would stop at the principal houses and sing, while begging for money from the inhabitants:

Here comes Queen Catharine, as fine as any queen,
With a coach and six horses a-coming to be seen:
And a-spinning we will go, will go, will go,
And a-spinning we will go. 

Some say she is alive, and some say she is dead,
And now she does appear with a crown upon her head.
And a-spinning, etc. 

All you that want employment, though spinning is but small,
Come list, and don’t stand still, but go and work for all.
And a-spinning, etc.

If we set a-spinning, we will either work or play,
But if we set a-spinning, we can earn a crown a day.
And a-spinning, etc.

And if there be some young men, as I suppose there’s some,
We’ll hardly let them stand alone upon the cold stone.
And a-spinning, etc.

Then it was back to the workhouse, where newly-bought spinning wheels and reels awaited, although any young men hearing the last verse might take that as an invitation to pay the young women a visit, and accompanied them accordingly.

Spinners make thread – thread is used to make lace.  The lace-makers also considered St. Catherine as their patroness and celebrated her day –“Cattern Day” – with cakes and ale.  At some point, Saint Catherine was merged with “Queen Catherine” – Katherine of Aragon or Katherine Parr, depending on locality – and stories of the goodness of one or the other of the queens purported to account for the celebrations.

Workhouse girls were not the only ones to go about singing and begging for good things today.  Children started the day by “Catterning”, which, like the “Clemmening” two days previous on St. Clement’s Day, resembled the exact same begging at the beginning of the month on All Soul’s Day.  Instead of singing:

“A soul cake! A soul cake!
Pray you, good mistress, for a soul cake!
One for Peter, two for Paul,
Three for Him that made us all…” etc.

Today’s processions resounded with variations of the following:

Cattern' and Clemen' be here, here, here,
Give us your apples and give us your beer;
One for Peter, two for Paul,
Three for Him who made us all.
Clemen’ was a good man,
Cattern’ was his mother:
Give us your best,
And not your worst,
And God will give your soul good rest.”

With the charitable proceeds of their endeavors, the children managed to have a small feast in celebration.  This, of course, was kiboshed by Henry VIII, who possibly felt (like our own politicos) that any extra money should be given to the government – who would then dole it out to those deemed worthy of its largesse – rather than to a ragtag group of children out for fun.  Therefore, ol’ faithful hound Cranmer wrote: “…the Kyng’s majestie therefore, myndinge nothing so moche as to advance the true glorie of God without vaine superstition, willith and commaundeth that from henceforth all suche superstitious observations be loste and clyerlye exstinguished…”

(Modern governments substitute: “…minding nothing so much as to advance the true glory of the Constitution without the interference of vain Christianity…” but the effect is the same.)

Whereas the men (at least the blacksmiths) feasted well on Saint Clement's Day, two days previous, today it is a feast of women.  What a splendid time for a Girls Night Out! 

If you can find the wheel-shaped pasta, use it in tonight's dinner.  Pick your own favorite pasta recipe.

Saint Catherine Cakes from northern France were made in the shape of a heart, and given to women over the age of twenty-five to encourage them to find a husband [I don’t think they needed much encouragement; hopefully the good taste of cakes mitigated the pity and the exasperation of their families.]  If you have heart-shaped cake pans, today would be a good time to use them.

You might try making "Saint Catherine's Wigs"  (and another recipe here) or Cattern Cakes, which, from their description, sound a lot like cinnamon rolls, with the addition of caraway seeds.  So either use one of the recipes online (you will need to convert the measurements, as they all seem to be based in England), or get yourself a can of whoppin' cinnamon rolls, press a few caraway seeds into the dough before baking, and make life easy on yourself.  We spend so much time being torn and broken on the wheels of our own making; perhaps today is a good day to sit back and let the wheel turn on its own without us. 

And remember:
Saint Catherine’s night! You may believe
Tomorrow month is Christmas Eve.

['tomorrow month' being a short way of saying "a month from tomorrow"]

Soon the evergreen Laurel alone is seen,
When Catherine crowns all learned men.
Then Ivy and Holly Berries are seen,
And Yule log and Wassail come round again.

22 November 2011

22 November - Saint Cecilia

“AT Rome, St. Cecilia, virgin and martyr, who brought to the faith of Christ her spouse Valerian and his brother Tiburtius, and encouraged them to martyrdom.  After their death, being arrested by order of Almachius, prefect of the city, and exposed to the fire, from which she came out uninjured, she terminated her glorious sufferings by the sword. “

Saint Cecilia, with Saints Paul, John, Augustine, and Mary Magdalene

Today is the feast of Saint Cecilia, martyr, patroness of music (of church music especially), of musicians, composers, singers, poets, and the Academy of Music in Rome.  She is also the patroness of instrument makers, most notably luthiers (those who build string instruments:  guitars, harps, dulcimers, violins, etc.)

While, in truth, not much is known about her, except that she was martyred, a charming legend grew up about the musical saint.

She is said to have been a young noblewoman, possibly blind, who wanted no other husband than her Heavenly Spouse, and to Him she sang praises day and night.  Her wishes, however, were overborne, and she was married to a pagan nobleman called Valerian.  She convinced her husband to respect her vow of virginity by allowing him – once he had been baptized by Pope St. Urban – to see the angel (heretofore invisible to him) who joined her as she sang.  His brother Tiburtias was also converted. Discovered burying the bodies of martyrs, the brothers were arrested, beaten with rods, and condemned to death by decapitation.

While burying her husband and brother-in-law, and a third martyr who, strengthened by their example, suffered death with them, Cecilia was arrested, tried, and condemned.  At first she was to be suffocated in her bath; having survived this, the sentence was changed to beheading.  The executioner so bungled his job that she lingered, like Nearly-Headless Nick, for three days before entering into the glory of Heaven.

Her body, at first buried in the catacomb of San Callisto, was transferred in the 9th century to the church built over the ruins of her house in Rome, called Santa Cecilia in Trastevere.

Dear Saint Cecilia, one thing we know for certain about you is that you became a heroic martyr in fidelity to your divine Bridegroom. We do not know that you were a musician but we are told that you heard Angels sing.  Inspire musicians to gladden the hearts of people by filling the air with God's gift of music and reminding them of the divine Musician who created all beauty. Amen.

(P.S. Could you also inspire our liturgists to remember that the music at Mass is for the Glory of God, not entertainment for the congregation?  And that we are not in a cocktail bar, at a Broadway musical, or watching "America's Next Greatest Singing Talent Evah!"?  Thank you.  Amen.)

There are several activities you can do in honor of the day:
  • Send a note of appreciation to your liturgist, choir, or schola (if indeed you appreciate their efforts.  My postscript to the prayer above notwithstanding, it is rare that I do not appreciate the efforts of our parish Music Master). 
  • If you have any instruments lying around the house, which are no longer played, donate them.  Your local school or church might be able to use them, or contact your local philharmonic orchestra.  They usually know where old but still playable instruments can be best utilized. 
  • Attend a concert of sacred music, or put on a CD of Gregorian chant or Handel's Ode for Saint Cecilia's Day.

And to make the day special, a recipe for "Cecilias", a marzipan confection, can be found here at Catholic Culture.

Artwork: Raphael, 1516-17, The Saint Cecilia Altarpiece. Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna.

20 November 2011

Stir Up Sunday; Plum Pudding and Mincemeat

Today is popularly known as 'Stir Up Sunday', from the traditional collect of the day: "Stir up, we beseech Thee, O Lord, the wills of Thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of Thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen."

The schoolboy's rendition of the above collect was:
"Stir up, we beseech thee, the pudding in the pot
And when we get home, we'll eat it all hot!"

This collect was a signal to cooks and housewives that it was time to make the Christmas puddings, or at least stir together the ingredients for the puddings, some of which, like the Widow's Mincemeat, will be stored in spirituous liquor until baking or steaming time (Christmas Eve).

Aha!  But it is not as easy as that.  The pudding must be made of thirteen ingredients, to honor Christ and his Apostles. For luck in the coming year, each member of the household – including guests and servants, if you have them – must give the batter a stir, stirring from east to west in honor of the Three Kings (some say clockwise with eyes shut), and making a wish as they stir.

You can read a page here devoted to the customs of Stir-up Sunday (aka Christmas Pudding Day) by Mandy Barrow, which includes a recipe with a few more than the requisite thirteen ingredients.  Oh well.  The remaining three ingredients can be in honor of Paul, Mark, and Luke.

This 1880 recipe comes from The Appledore Cook Book by Maria Parloa:
“One quart of bread (bakers’ is the best), one quart of milk, six eggs,  one cup of brown sugar, one of molasses, one of suet, one teaspoonful each of cinnamon, clove, allspice, mace, and nutmeg, one cup of currants, one of raisins, one quarter of a pound of citron.  Boil the milk, and pour on the bread; let this stand one hour; then stir into it the sugar, spice, suet, raisins, and currants; beat the eggs to a froth, and stir in.  Have ready a deep earthen pot well buttered, and turn the mixture into it, and bake four hours, or steam five. Serve with rich wine sauce.”

Good Housekeeping in 1886 offered this recipe for Christmas pudding:
“Ten eggs, one pound of beef suet, one pound of raisins, one pound of dried cherries or currants, one pint of milk, one pound of flour, on-quarter pound of citron cut in thin slices.  Put the flour and suet together; rub the fruit, also, in a little flour.  Beat the eggs very light, leaving out the whites of five.  Add all the ingredients gradually into the batter.  If it is thicker than cupcake batter, add a little more milk, then put a teaspoonful of ground ginger, one of powered cinnamon, two nutmegs, teaspoonful of powdered cloves, grated rind of a lemon, wine glass of wine, one of brandy, a little powdered mace, one pint of bread crumbs.  Dredge the fruit well with flour to prevent it sinking to the bottom, scald the bag well and rub it well with flour, leaving plenty of room for the pudding to swell and stop the hold with dough.  Let the water be boiling.  This size pudding will take four hours boiling.  Pour brandy over the pudding.  Bring to the table burning.”

If you follow the custom of adding small silver (or silver-ish, but NO PLASTIC) charms to your pudding before cooking, wrap them in waxed paper first, and remind your guests to be on the lookout.  A sixpence was the original lucky piece, signifying wealth, but later charms included a thimble (spinsterhood), button (bachelorhood), pig (very good luck), ring (marriage), boot (travel), wishbone (a wish come true) or horseshoe (good luck).

And if for some reason your pudding refuses to steam in the proper cannonball shape, you can always boil it in liquid and call it Plum Porridge.  Also known as Plum Broth or Pottage, it predated the pudding and was “a sort of soup with plumbs”, eaten as the first course at Christmas dinner.  “It was made by boiling beef or mutton with broth, thickened with brown bread; when half boiled, raisins, currants, prunes, cloves, mace, and ginger were added, and when the mess had been thoroughly boiled it was sent to table with the best meats.”  Plum Porridge for a crowd in 1801 included:
40 pounds of leg of veal
6 shins of beef
50 fourpenny loaves
60 pounds of double refined sugar
250 lemons and oranges
40 pounds each of raisins and currants
30 pounds of prunes
And then the spices: 3 ounces of cochineal, 1 ounce of nutmeg, and ½ ounce each of cinnamon and cloves.
And then the liquids: 6 dozen bottles each of sack, old hock, and sherry.

Maria Parloa’s Plum Porridge is a bit easier and sober: “Into one quart of boiling milk stir two spoonfuls of flour mixed with cold milk; put in a handful of raisins and a little grated nutmeg.  Boil twenty minutes.  Season with salt and strain.”

The Widow prefers to stir up Mincemeat for her Christmas pies, but like fruitcake and plum-pudding, it is an acquired taste.  Pity those poor souls who are faint of tongue and cannot appreciate such delicacies!  At one time, the eating of Mince Pies was a test of religious opinions.  The Puritans, who did their level best to suppress Christmas altogether, so connected the pies with Christmas and all its pagan/Popish traditions, that anyone eating them was suspected of belonging to the unpurified Anglican Church, if not (horror upon horrors) a Papist!

“All plums the prophet’s sons deny,
And spice-broths are too hot;
Treason’s in a December pie,
And death within the pot.”

“The high-shoe lords of Cromwell’s making,
Were not for dainties – roasting, baking;
The chiefest food they found most good in,
Was rusty bacon and bag-pudding;
Plum brothe was Popish, and mince-pie –
O! that was flat idolatry!”

So call me Popish.

An old recipe for Mincemeat included “a pound of beef suet, chopped fine; a pound of raisins, ditto, stoned; a pound of currants, cleaned and dry; a pound of apples, chopped fine; two or three eggs; allspice, beat very fine [does that mean ground?], and sugar to your taste; a little salt, and as much brandy and wine as you like. [Whoopee!] A small piece of citron in each pie is an improvement, and the cover or case should be oblong in imitation of the crèche or manger where our Saviour was laid…”

But today, the Widow is stirring up this 18th century recipe for MINCEMEAT:

Peel 5 – 10 apples (depending on size) and shred to equal 5 firmly packed cups.
Juice, and grate the rind of 1 lemon and 1 large orange.
If you are using suet (1/2 pound), make sure it is finely ground.  When no suet is available, I substitute butter (unground).

Simmer 1 pound of ground lean beef in 2 cups of water in a large covered kettle for about 10 minutes.  Then add the shredded apples; ¾ cup each of diced candied lemon peel, orange peel, and citron; 1 pound of raisins; 1 pound of dried currants; the juice and rind of the lemon and orange; the ground suet (or butter); 3-3/8 cups of dark brown sugar; and 1-½ teaspoons each of salt, ground allspice, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, mace, and nutmeg.

Let the mixture come to a hard boil, turn the heat to low, and simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring to keep it from sticking.  Make sure the ingredients are evenly distributed.  Let the mixture cool.

Now stir in 1 cup of brandy (or bourbon) and 1 cup of rum or sherry.  Fill 4 quart-size jars or 1gallon jar.  Store in a cool, dark place for about three weeks (or longer.  Trust me, it will last until Christmas baking day.)

11 November 2011

11 November - Saint Martin; Veterans Day

The weather of St. Martin’s Eve (yesterday, November 10) is supposed to indicate the weather for the winter, and where the wind is, there it will be for the coming winter.

If All Saints Day brings out the winter, St. Martin’s Day will bring out summer.

Around St. Martin’s day, we can expect some warm weather.  This is called St. Martin’s Summer, better known in the New World as Indian Summer.
At St. Martin’s Day, winter is on his way.

If there is a frost before Martinmas, the winter will be mild.

If ducks do slide at Martintide, at Christmas they will swim;
If ducks do swim at Martintide, at Christmas they will slide.

If the geese stand on ice, they will walk in mud at Christmas.

If Martinmas is fair, dry, and cold, the cold in winter will not last long. 

If the wind is in the south-west at Martinmas, it will remain there until after Christmas (Candlemas for the optimists), and we shall have a mild winter up to then and no snow to speak of.

Wind north-west at Martinmas, severe winter to come.

If the leaves of the trees and grape vines do not fall before Martin’s Day, a cold winter may be expected.
At Tours, in France, the birthday of blessed Martin, bishop and confessor, whose life was so renowned for miracles that he received the power to raise three persons from the dead. 

Today is the feast of Saint Martin of Tours (c316-c394), the Apostle of Gaul, the Roman soldier turned bishop.  Most people recognize him as the soldier who divided his cloak to cover a beggar shivering at the gate of Amiens, and received a vision of Our Lord wearing that same half, saying “Martin has clad me in this robe.”  The saint was once so popular and important that his feast had an octave.  His richly endowed shrine at Tours became so great a place of pilgrimage that it was known as a second Jerusalem. Martin’s cape or cappela, held as a relic and carried into battle, is said to be the origin of the word ‘chapel’ as the place where the relic was kept, and that the ‘chaplain’ was originally the person entrusted with its care. He is the patron of Tours, of beggars, and of tavern-keepers and vine-growers, the latter due to the festive traditions of this day.

It is the day of Martilmasse,
Cuppes of ale should freelie passe;

Today, traditionally, the wines of the season are first tasted (and of course, one taste is never enough, is it?), which make nice accompaniments to the traditional dinners of Roast Goose or Black Pudding.  Remember to ask Saint Martin to dine with you, by sharing your dinner with someone who has nothing to eat.  As a day of great feasting and revelry, Martin’s name became synonymous with noisy drunks, and the upset stomach that followed the exuberant dinners was known as “mal de Saint-Martin”.

In the German region of Swabia, this was a day to give presents to the schoolmaster in the form of a fat goose, with corn to feed it, and wine and a large cake for the preceptor’s enjoyment.  Keeping with this tradition, this would be a good opportunity for us to send cards of thanks to our children’s teachers (or to our own).  The goose is optional.

Sour old Naogeorgus, who couldn’t stand that papist custom of celebrating whenever possible, wrote these verses on the feasting on Martin’s day (you can almost see him roll his eyes, and thank God that he was a Protestant and didn’t have such awful enjoyment of life…):

To belly cheare yet once againe doth Martin more encline,
Whom all the people worshippeth with rosted geese and wine;
Both all the day long and the night now ech man open makes
His vessels all, and of the must oft times the last he takes,
Which holy Martyn afterwarde alloweth to be wine;
Therefore they him unto the skies extol with prayse devine,
And drinking deepe in tankards large, and bowles of compasse wide
Yea, by these fees the schoolemaisters have profite great beside;
For with his scholars every one about do singing go,
Not praysing Martyn much, but at the goose rejoyceing tho’,
Whereof they oftentimes have part, and money therewithall;
For which they celebrate this feast, with song and musicke all.

Saint Martin used to call on the children of Belgium to see if they had been good (a trial run for Saint Nicholas Day).  Those who had blotted their copybook were likely to find a whip tossed on the floor as a hint of their fate, while apples, nuts, and other treats were given to the good children.  At nightfall, all would join in lantern-lit processions through the streets, with bonfires and merry-making to round out the day’s festivities.

When the dailie sportes be done,
Round the market crosse they runne,
Prentis laddes, and gallant blades,
Dancing with their gamesome maids,
Till the Beadel, stout and sowre,
Shakes his bell, and calls the houre;
Then farewell ladde and farewell lasse
To the merry night of Martilmasse.

Young ladies would try the hemp-seed charm, by walking around a table at midnight, scattering the seed.  The future husband would hopefully appear behind the sower with a scythe in his hand in the action of mowing, and the young lady would need to escape before the scythe reached her, or there might be an accident.

The old phrase “All my eye and Betty Martin”, signifying ‘nonsense!’ or ‘baloney!’, is said to be a corruption of the Latin invocation, “Mihi beata Martine” (“grant to me, blessed Martin”).  Seems rather far-fetched to me, but who am I to argue with tradition?  

Catholic Culture has more celebrations of this popular saint's day, including a cookie called "Saint Martin's Horseshoes", an easy recipe, and one that will keep the children busy forming the 'horseshoes'. 

O blessed bishop who loved Christ the King with all thine inward parts and did not fear the sovereignty of the empire.
O Martin, sweetness, medicine, and physician.   
O holiest soul, which, if the sword of the persecutor had not taken away, nevertheless would not have lost the martyr’s palm.
Pray for us, most blessed Martin.
That we be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
O God, Who perceiveth that we withstand from no virtue of ours, grant graciously that by the intercession of blessed Martin Thy confessor and bishop we may be fortified against all adversities.  Through Christ our Lord, Thy Son, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, O God, world without end.  Amen.
In the United States, this is also Veterans Day (in Canada, Remembrance Day) formerly Armistice Day, when the guns fell silent, marking the end of the World War, the War to End All Wars.  Please pause for two minutes at the eleventh hour - 11:00 am - to remember those who have served their countries - and vow to make sure that the guns really do fall silent.

For the souls of the veterans in my life: father, step-father, husband, uncles, cousins, friends, ancestors who survived to take up their bounty lands, ancestors who died leaving widows and orphans…
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May their souls rest in peace.  Amen.

03 November 2011

3 November - Saint Hubert

Today is the feast of Saint Hubert, Bishop of Liege, (died 727).

His legend says that he was a profligate young man, interested only in worldly pursuits, most especially hunting.  While enjoying the chase on a holy day (Good Friday in some accounts), he came upon a stag of brilliant whiteness, with the Crucified Christ illuminated between its antlers.  This vision - and the accompanying message that if he didn't change his ways, he was headed for hell -  operated powerfully on Hubert; he renounced the world and took holy orders, eventually becoming the bishop of Liege, where he labored successfully in the conversion of souls in the area of Ardennes.

Naturally, he is the patron of hunters and of dogs, and by extenuation, invoked against hydrophobia, a peril to which hunters are liable.  In France, Belgium, and Luxembourg, Saint Hubert's day signaled the formal commencement of the hunting season.  Huntsmen and their dogs attended Mass in the morning, where all would receive a blessing.  The ceremony done, the horn is sounded, and it is "Yoicks and away!"  Special loaves of bread are blessed at Mass and carried home, where everyone takes a bit as a protection against rabies.  This protection is extended to the dogs, horses, and other animals, who are fed pieces of the blessed bread as well.

The traditional outdoor meal on Saint Hubert's day is hot green pea soup, garnished with sausages an lean bacon.

My God! because Thou art infinite goodness, I love Thee above all things, and repent with my whole heart of my offenses against Thee.  Grant me the grace of holy perseverance.  Have compassion on me, and, at the same time, on the holy souls suffering in Purgatory.  O Mary, Mother of God, come to their assistance with thy powerful intercession.

Say one Our Father, one Hail Mary, and the Prayer to Our Suffering Savior for the Holy Souls in Purgatory.

02 November 2011

2 November - All Souls Day; Uova in Purgatorio; Pan de Muerto

Memento Mori

Today, the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, we honor our dead and pray for their souls.  Prayers and Masses should be offered for the Church Suffering, always holding before us our own mortality and the four final things – Death, Judgment, Hell and Heaven.  The novena prayer today reminds us that we have been granted time to confess our sins – but who knows when that time will end?  “This night thy soul shall be required of thee.”

"On this day is observed the commemoration of the faithful departed, in which our common and pious Mother the Church, immediately after having endeavored to celebrate by worthy praise all her children who already rejoice in heaven, strives to aid by her powerful intercession with Christ, her Lord and Spouse, all those who still groan in purgatory, so that they may join as soon as possible the inhabitants of the heavenly city." — Roman Martyrology

Fish Eaters writes an in-depth article with customs, prayers, a recipe for SUGAR SKULLS, and excerpts from The Golden Legend.

Catholic Culture has more information and activities, including recipes like FAVE DEI MORTI (Beans of the Dead) and DRY BONES COOKIES.

On both sites is information regarding the indulgences available for this day and for the week following.  Consider dedicating all of your prayers, rosaries and Masses in the month of November for the Holy Souls.

Woe to me, unhappy being!  So many years have I already spent on earth and have earned naught but hell!  I give Thee thanks, O Lord, for granting me time even now to atone for my sins.  My good God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee.  Send me Thy assistance that I may apply the time yet remaining to me for Thy love and service; have compassion on me, and, at the same time, on the holy souls suffering in Purgatory.  O Mary, Mother of God, come to their assistance with thy powerful intercession.

(Say one Our Father, one Hail Mary, and the Prayer to Our Suffering Savior for the Holy Souls in Purgatory.)

Wild celebrations are not in keeping with the tone of the day, anymore than would be on Memorial Day or the anniversary of a loved one's death, but nothing says we must mourn-without-ceasing all day, or that we must eat dust and ashes (or the equivalent). This is a family day.  Many spend the day at the cemeteries where their loved ones are interred, cleaning the graves and putting fresh flowers on them, before sitting down to enjoy a picnic lunch.  Of the traditional food of the day, Soul Cakes have been dealt with in a previous post – remember to offer up a prayer with each Soul Cake that you eat.  UOVA IN PURGATORIO (Eggs in Purgatory) would be a suitable breakfast or lunch dish; for tea, enjoy the lovely Mexican sweet-bread called PAN DE MUERTO (Bread of the Dead).


You will need a large saute pan with a tight cover for this.

Split 1 clove of garlic and run a toothpick into each piece.  
Mince 1 onion.
Mince thyme and basil to equal 1/2 teaspoon each.  Mince parsley to equal 1 teaspoon.

Heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil in the pan and brown the garlic slowly.  Add the minced onion and cook slowly for 10 minutes.  Add 2 cups of tomato sauce, the herbs, and salt and pepper to taste.  Cook for about 15 minutes, stirring often.  Remove the garlic and discard.

Carefully break 8 eggs into the sauce, spacing them apart.  Spoon the sauce over them, cover the pan, and cook the eggs slowly for about 20 minutes, or until they are cooked through.  Meanwhile, toast 8 thin slices of French or Italian bread.  When the eggs are done, carefully spoon them onto the toast slices with the sauce and top with a sprinkling of grated Romano cheese.

There are several recipes online for the bread; this is one I found in an old magazine 30 years ago and have made every year:

Heat 1/4 cup of milk to boiling, stirring to prevent curdling; remove from heat.  Stir in 1/4 cup of butter until melted, 1/4 cup of sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.  Set aside. (Keep mixture at about 110 degrees F.)

In a large bowl, mix 1 package of active dry yeast with 1/4 cup of warm water until dissolved; let stand 5 minutes.  Slowly stir in warm milk mixture until well blended.

Separate 1 egg; reserve the white.  Add the yolk and 1 whole egg to the milk/yeast mixture, then add 3 cups of flour, one cup at a time, mixing well with each addition.  Turn out the dough onto a floured surface.  Knead dough until smooth.  Grease a large bowl. Place the dough in  bowl and turn the dough over to coat with oil; cover with a dish towel, and let rise in a warm place until double, about 90 minutes. Grease a baking sheet.

Punch down dough, and turn out again onto a floured surface.  Knead until smooth.  Divide dough into fourths, setting one fourth aside.  Roll the remaining pieces into ropes.  Pinch one end of the three ropes together and braid them.  Form the braided dough into a circle and pinch the opposite ends together.  Place the circle on the greased baking sheet.

Divide remaining fourth of dough in half and roll each piece into a rope.  Use scissors or a knife to slice the ends of each rope about 1/2 inch; spread the cut sections slightly apart to form the 'bones'. Cross the bones on top of the braided dough.  Cover loaf with a dishtowel and let rise for about 30 minutes.

Now preheat the oven to 350 ° F.  In a bowl, mix together 1/2 teaspoon of anise seed, 1/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon, and 2 teaspoons of sugar, and reserve. In another bowl, beat the reserved egg white lightly.  Brush the entire top of the bread with the egg white; sprinkle the sugar/spice mixture between the 'bones'.  Bake for about 35 minutes or until done.

A slice of that, and a cup of hot chocolate beaten to a froth.... mmmmmm.