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Saturday, January 7, 2012

Visions of Beauty and Grace

     A nut fudge sundae at our local Dairy Queen was the perfect way in which to celebrate our Christmas concert success. I wound up enjoying the ice cream treat seated next to Catherine, Mary Caroline, and Madeleine, three little girls in our musical family group, who excitedly told we about their favorite Veggie Tale episodes as a snow storm whipped up outside. It was really quite delightful to relish in the warm and cozy Christmas-i-ness of the event.
    The next day was December 8th, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. This is the day when Catholics celebrate their belief that Mary, the Mother of God, was conceived free from Original Sin through a special grace bestowed on her from God. Since this is a Holy Day of Obligation, I attended mass with my parents at the Immaculate Conception Chapel at Mount St. Mary's College in Emmitsburg, MD. The chapel was spacious and beautifully decorated, making me feel as if I had stepped inside of an old European church. The ushers, altar servers, and choir members were all seminarians from the Mount, and their beautiful Latin chants seemed to ascend to heaven in unison with swirling incense at the altar.
    My parents and I were unexpectedly asked by a young usher if we would like to carry up the gifts (bread and wine) for the priest to consecrate. We responded in the positive, and reverently set about our task. It felt like a special blessing from Our Lady allowing us to participate in this memorial of the sacrifice of her Son. What more generous mother could anyone have than Mary, "full of grace", who bore Christ Jesus and lent him fleshly substance? She stands before the throne of God always, serving as the most perfect bridge between the humanity and the divinity. She is only a creature, and yet her humility and obedience to the will of God won her the crown of the Queen Mother of Heaven and Earth and assured that all generations will call her blessed.

    After receiving Holy Communion and the final blessing from the priest, I rushed to the back of the church and signed the book of prayer intentions, marking down everyone I could think of for whom I usually, friends, pen-pals, CAF members, librarians...? And then I lectured myself for forgetting those who slipped my mind! Oh, well. It’s the thought that matters, really, so a little prayer goes a long way on the road to being all-encompassing.
    Three days after this blessed occasion, I had the less than awe-inspiring experience of coming down with a miserable cold, accompanied by all the colorful trappings: an acutely painful sore throat, nausea, stomach cramps, head congestion, a runny nose......yuck! Fortunately, I had two things to console me: one was a book from the library entitled Isaac Watts Remembered by David Fountain, and the other was a Loreena McKennitt CD called "The Book of Secrets".

    The book dealt with the life and times of the English Non-Conformist preacher and poet, Isaac Watts, otherwise known as "The Bard of Southampton". He composed such famous hymns and carols as "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross," "O God, Our Help in Ages Past," "Shepherds, Rejoice", and "Joy to the World." In the course of reading his biography, I learned that he lived a life filled with intermittent persecution, lost love, and ill health. Nevertheless, he still managed to maintain a certain presence of mind based on his conviction that God would see him through any and all difficulties.

    The CD by Loreena McKennitt included a haunting recording that paired Alfred Noyes's famous poem, "The Highwayman", with music by Loreena. A friend of mine told me I would find it riveting, and indeed I did! The combination of the vividly tragic romantic ghost story set in 18th century England, the ethereal vocals of L.M., and her admirably well-suited tune was sheer magic. I did some research on Alfred Noyes and discovered that he was another English convert to Catholicism. (I say “another” because I tend to run into them a lot!)

    I find it interesting how many great artistic minds who find themselves attracted to the mysterious gray areas of life are often drawn to high church practices. Alfred Noyes, Sir Walter Scott, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and many other famous literary figures all embraced either High Anglicanism or Catholicism before their deaths. Of course, some of them tended to be quite "anti-Papist" in their early writings, but as time marched on, they came to the conclusion that the richness of high church  practices were not in opposition to the purity of Christian life. Rather, they gave it dimension, wholeness, and beauty that appealed to the God-given senses of man.

The Immaculate Conception Chapel


  1. Talking of CS Lewis and Tolkien...

    It's a clip of an EWTN programme on the Catholic undercurrents to Tolkien's writings. Fantastic debate!

  2. Hi, Alex Wyndham!

    Thanks for taking the time to read through my blog and post comments. Unfortunately, I am unable to acces yahoo videos because I have a slow-speed internet connection :-( However, I might be able to watch the above clip at the library at some point - along with all the other yahoo videos people have sent me!

    There were a lot of excellent programs running on EWTN leading up to the Pope's visit to the UK. I wish I could have got someone to record them for me, but everyone was too busy and I don't have cable TV. I think a DVD may have put together covering the major events of the Papal visit. Have you ever seen anything of the sort?