Monthly Archives: March 2013

The Regina Caeli and the Alleluia

Now that Easter has come I post two questions and answers on this beautiful season from my Question Time column in The Catholic Weekly. The first is on the “Regina Caeli”, which replaces the “Angelus” during the Easter season.  It is question 130 in my book Question Time 1. The other is on the rich meaning of “Alleluia”, and is question 268 in Question Time 2. Both books were published by Connor Court in 2012.

130. The “Regina Caeli”

Since I was a little girl I have always said the Angelus at midday. Sometimes, however, I have noticed that after Easter my friends invite me to say a different prayer, the “Regina Caeli”, which I do not know. Could you tell me something about this prayer?

Your friends are correct in inviting you to say the “Regina Caeli”, which is said in place of the Angelus during the Easter season; that is, from Easter Sunday to Pentecost Sunday inclusive.

The “Regina Caeli”, or “Queen of Heaven”, is a beautiful Marian prayer, shorter than the Angelus, which expresses joy at the Resurrection of Jesus. Unlike the Angelus, there is no one commonly used English translation, but for the sake of those who do not know it, I offer the following as one of the more frequently used versions. The prayer is said with the leader saying the first line and the others saying each alternate verse.

Queen of Heaven, rejoice, Alleluia.

For he whom thou didst merit to bear, Alleluia.

Has risen as he said, Alleluia.

Pray for us to God, Alleluia.

Rejoice and be glad, O Virgin Mary, Alleluia.

For the Lord has truly risen, Alleluia.

Let us pray. O God, who by the Resurrection of thy Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, has been pleased to fill the world with joy, grant, we beseech Thee, that through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, his Mother, we may receive the joys of eternal life, through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

As is evident, the “Regina Caeli” overflows with the joy proper to the Easter season. The Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Heaven, is invited to rejoice at the Resurrection of her Son. In the final prayer we ask God the Father that, as we have been filled with joy through the Resurrection, so we may come to experience the joys of eternal life. Thus the sobriety of Lent, with its fasting and preparation for Our Lord’s death, gives way to rejoicing as we commemorate the Resurrection of Jesus and are moved to ask for our own resurrection to eternal happiness in Heaven.

Of unknown authorship, the prayer has been traced back to the twelfth century. The oldest musical score is kept at the Vatican in a manuscript from the year 1171. Around the year 1200 the “Regina Caeli” appeared in a manuscript of the Old Roman chant tradition, where it was used as the antiphon of the “Magnificat” in the Divine Office for the octave of Easter. The “Regina Caeli” was used by the Franciscans as the Marian hymn after Compline in the Divine Office in the first half of the following century. Together with the other Marian anthems, it was incorporated into the Minorite-Roman Curia Office which, through the efforts of the Franciscans, was soon popular everywhere. Pope Nicholas (1277-80), ordered this Office to replace all the older Office books in the churches of Rome. In 1742, Pope Benedict XIV decreed that the “Regina Caeli” was to be prayed at the ringing of the Angelus bell during the Easter season. Like the Angelus, it is customarily sung or recited standing.

The prayer has been set to music in both the familiar Gregorian chant version and in polyphony. Among the famous composers to set the “Regina Caeli” to music are Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Pietro Mascagni, who used it in the Easter procession of his opera “Cavalleria Rusticana”. Given its antiquity, its beauty, expressing the joy proper to the Easter season, and its Marian character, it is highly desirable that the “Regina Caeli” be learned by all and recited during the Easter season.

268. The meaning of “Alleluia”

One of the things I like most about the Easter season is the increased use of the word “Alleluia” in the Mass. I know it is an exclamation of joy but what does it actually mean and where does it come from?

The word “Alleluia”, sometimes spelled “Halleluia” or “Halleluja”, means essentially “Praise the Lord” or “Hail the one who is”. It is made up of the Hebrew verb for praise (“Allelu”) and the proper name of God, “the One who is” (“ia”), as in the name Yahweh. The latter recalls the answer God gave when Moses asked him for his name: “I am who I am”, Yahweh (Ex 3:14). The word “ia” is thus not the generic name for God, but the specific name for the God who revealed himself to the Israelites as “I am”.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church comments on the name of God: “In revealing his mysterious name, YHWH (‘I AM HE WHO IS’, or ‘I AM WHO I AM’), God says who he is and by what name he is to be called. This divine name is mysterious just as God is mystery… God, who reveals his name as ‘I AM’, reveals himself as the God who is always there, present to his people in order to save them” (CCC 206-207).

The expression “Alleluia”, incorporating this specific divine name, is found in the Old Testament in several places. For example, in the Book of Tobias we read: “The gates of Jerusalem will sing hymns of joy, and all her houses will cry, ‘Hallelujah! Blessed be the God of Israel!’ and the blessed will bless the holy name forever and ever” (Tob 13:17). The English translation used here renders “ia” as “the God of Israel”. And it is clear that “Hallelujah” is a cry of praise, of great rejoicing, of blessing God’s holy name.

The expression appears again at the beginning and end of Psalm 113, or in other versions of the Bible such as the Vulgate or Septuagint, at the beginning of Psalm 114. At the end of that psalm we find: “He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the LORD!” (Ps 113:9) Again, the expression “Praise the Lord”, or “Halleluja”, comes at a time of particular rejoicing, when a barren woman has conceived a child. The expression “Praise the Lord” comes as the last verse of the so-called “Hallel” psalms, or psalms of praise: Psalms 113-118. It also occurs frequently in Psalms 146-150 at the end of the psalter.

In the New Testament, “Hallelujah” occurs only in the Book of Revelation, in the description of the praise given to God in the heavenly liturgy. For example, “After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, ‘Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power to our God, for his judgments are true and just…’” (Rev 19:1-2). The expression comes several more times in the same chapter, including: “Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty thunderpeals, crying out, ‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready…’” (Rev 19:6-7).

As we see in these texts, “Alleluia” or “Hallelujah” is always used as a hymn of praise of almighty God in the context of worship and great rejoicing. It was used in the Hebrew liturgy and it was incorporated untranslated into the very earliest Christian liturgical texts. For Christians, especially at Easter time, the word takes on the added meaning of a hymn of praise to God for the glorious Resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ. “Alleluia” is thus our supreme expression of rejoicing, praise and thanksgiving. We should unite our hearts and minds with our lips when we pronounce this word, lifting up our hearts in exultant praise of God.

St Augustine sums it up: “So now, my brethren, I urge you to praise God: this is what we all say to one another when we say Alleluia. ‘Praise the Lord,’ you say to the one you are addressing, and he says the same to you; and by urging one another in this way, people do what they are urging the other to do. Praise God with the whole of yourselves; it is not only your tongue and your voice that should praise him, but your conscience your life, your deeds” (On Psalm 148, 1-2).

Devotion to St Joseph

Now that the feast of St Joseph (March 19) is upon us, I offer two questions answered in my column in the Catholic Weekly. The one on devotion to St Joseph is question 284 in my book Question Time 2, published by Connor Court in 2012, and the other was sent recently to the Catholic Weekly.

284. Devotion to St Joseph

Can you tell me something about devotion to St Joseph? Some of my friends have great devotion to him but I have never really managed to have much. Is this devotion something new in the Church?

It is only natural to have devotion to the one chosen by God from all eternity to be the husband of Mary, the Mother of God, and the guardian – or, as I like to say, the spiritual father – of Jesus, the Son of God. St Joseph, while a silent and rather inconspicuous figure in the Gospels – he is sometimes called “Joseph the silent” – thus had a very special role to play in the history of salvation.

Even though he was a descendant of the royal family of King David, Joseph was a simple craftsman. He must have felt overawed and even unworthy when faced with the responsibility of taking care of the Son of God and being the head of the Holy Family. He was undoubtedly the person who spent the most time with Jesus, working with him in his workshop and teaching him his trade. St Joseph was always docile to the will of God, responding immediately when God manifested his will to him on three occasions in dreams (cf. Mt 1:20-25; 2:13-15, 19-21).

The liturgy for the feast of St Joseph on 19 March uses Scriptural texts to highlight some of his many virtues. The Entrance Antiphon reads: “Behold, a faithful and prudent steward, whom the Lord set over his household.” The Prayer over the Gifts says that “Saint Joseph served with loving care your Only Begotten Son, born of the Virgin Mary”. And in the Preface we read: “For this just man was given by you as spouse to the Virgin Mother of God and set as a wise and faithful servant in charge of your household to watch like a father over your Only Begotten Son, who was conceived by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Although one of the apocryphal gospels says that Joseph was an old man when he married Our Lady, we like to think of him as young and strong, living in complete continence with Mary by a special grace of God. It is not clear when Joseph died, although he is not mentioned in the Gospels at the time of Our Lord’s public life so it is probable that he died sometime before then.

Devotion to St Joseph developed very early in the history of the Church. It appears to have originated in the East at the beginning of the fourth century, particularly among the Copts in Egypt. Nicephorus Callistus relates that there was a beautiful chapel dedicated to St Joseph in the fourth-century basilica in Bethlehem built by St Helen, the mother of the Emperor Constantine.

In the West the name of St Joseph appears in local martyrologies of the ninth and tenth centuries, and in 1129 the first church was dedicated to him in Bologna. In the twelfth to fourteenth centuries, Saints Bernard of Clairvaux, Thomas Aquinas, Gertrude and Bridget of Sweden all had devotion to him.

In the fifteenth century, St Bernardine of Siena and St Vincent Ferrer had great devotion to St Joseph, giving rise to a great flowering of the devotion from then on. In the same century, John Gerson composed an Office of the Espousals of St Joseph, and during the pontificate of Sixtus IV (1471-84), his feast was added to the Roman Calendar, to be celebrated on 19 March.

The nineteenth century saw a new flourishing of devotion to St Joseph, especially among workers, and in 1870 Pope Pius IX solemnly declared him patron of the universal Church. In 1889 Pope Leo XIII wrote the encyclical Quamquam pluries promoting devotion to St Joseph and, on the centenary of this encyclical in 1989, Pope John Paul II wrote Redemptoris custos. In 1955 Pope Pius XII introduced the feast of St Joseph the Worker, to be celebrated on 1 May. St Joseph is the patron saint of the UniversalChurch, of carpenters, travellers, house hunters, and of a happy death.

There is every reason to have devotion to this great saint, who has so much to teach us. If Mary was given to us by Jesus from the Cross to be our mother (cf. Jn 19:26-27), then St Joseph can be considered our father. The fourth commandment, “Honour your father and mother”, certainly requires that we honour Joseph and Mary, our spiritual parents.

St Joseph’s dilemma

I have always wondered about St Joseph’s reaction when he discovered that Our Lady was carrying a child which was not his. What were his options and why did he decide to send Mary away quietly? What does this mean?

St Matthew relates the events to which you refer: “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to send her away quietly. But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your  wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ … When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his wife, but knew her not until she had borne a son; and he called his name Jesus” (Mt 1:18-21, 24-25).

First of all, it is important to understand the marriage customs of that time. Mary and Joseph were betrothed, meaning they were considered legally married. After the betrothal it was the custom for the bride to continue living with her family for about a year, after which her husband would take her to his home. St Matthew tells us that Our Lady and St Joseph had not yet come to live together, so it was within that first year that Mary came to be with child. Joseph would have become aware of this mystery sometime after Mary returned from helping her kinswoman Elizabeth in the three months before the birth of John the Baptist (cf. Lk 1:39-56).

What were his thoughts? While we cannot know for certain because it has not been revealed, we can only imagine that Joseph would have been completely bewildered. On the one hand it was obvious that Mary was with child and the child was not his. On the other hand he would not have thought for one instant that Mary had had relations with another man. He knew her too well to think that. She was so pure, so innocent, so holy. Not for nothing does the Second Vatican Council call her “model of the virtues” (LG 65). All in all, still not understanding, Joseph would have believed that it was more possible for Mary to have conceived the child without a man than for her to have committed a sin.

What were Joseph’s options? Given that he and Mary were betrothed and they had not yet come together, if she indeed had carnal relations with another man she was guilty of adultery and both she and the man were to be stoned to death outside the walls of the city (cf. Deut 22:23-24). Clearly, Joseph would not have contemplated denouncing Mary and having her stoned to death.

But to remain with her and give the impression that the child was his would not have been proper either. Another option was to divorce her publicly, to give her a writ of dismissal, as permitted by the law of Moses (cf. Mt 19:8). But publicly sending away his pregnant wife before they had even come to live together was proclaiming to the world that she had done something wrong and subjecting her to public shame. This too was unthinkable.

The third option was simply not to take Mary home with him to begin their married life together. In this case Our Lady would not be rejected or dismissed, but rather simply abandoned by her husband. If anyone suffered public shame by this course of action it would be Joseph, not Mary. St Matthew tells us that this is what Joseph decided to do: “… her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to send her away quietly” (Mt 1:19).

While this was clearly the best of the three options in that it protected Mary’s reputation, it was still one which wrung Joseph’s heart. Not to be able to spend the rest of his life with the woman he loved and who loved him was something which would have been sheer agony for him.

We can thus understand his overwhelming relief when the angel appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 1:20-21). Overjoyed, Joseph obeyed and took Mary home with him. By publicly giving him the name Jesus, Joseph was making himself legally the father of Jesus.

Not for nothing does St Matthew call Joseph “a just man”. He is a saint for all to imitate, a model of holiness and of so many virtues.

Meditation on faith in the Church

Now that the conclave to elect a new Pope is drawing near and comments in the media abound presenting the Church and the conclave in purely secular, even political, terms, I offer this meditation on faith in the Church, to remind us what the Church really is and to increase our faith in her divine origin and mission. The meditation was given on 4 March 2013 to university students. Just click on the link below.

Election of a new Pope

Many questions have been asked about how the Cardinals go about electing a new Pope and what happens afterwards. Here are answers to some of these questions from my columns in the Catholic Weekly.

What happens in a conclave?

Now that Pope Benedict has resigned and the cardinals will elect a new Pope, I have always been intrigued by exactly what happens in a conclave and how it works. Can you enlighten me?

As I mentioned in my last column, the document that determines what happens when the Apostolic See becomes vacant and a new Pope is to be elected is the Apostolic Constitution Universi Dominici Gregis, issued by Pope John Paul II on 22 February 1996.

By the way, the word conclave, meaning literally “with key”, refers to the gathering of the Cardinal electors in the Vatican to elect a new Pope, where they are so to speak “locked away.”

Which Cardinals may vote for a new Pope? The Constitution determines that only those beneath the age of eighty when the See becomes vacant may vote, and there should be no more than 120 of these. At present there are fewer than 120 eligible to vote.

The voting itself is held in the Sistine Chapel, which is presided over by Michelangelo’s well-known fresco of the Last Judgment. It is a sombre reminder that the Cardinals will one day be held to account for all their actions, in this case for their choice of a shepherd for the universal Church.

Whereas in earlier conclaves the Cardinals resided in the area of the Sistine Chapel itself throughout the days of the conclave, they now live in the more comfortable Domus Sanctae Marthae, or House of St Martha, built in 1996 on the edge of Vatican City. All other guests must leave during the conclave so that the Cardinal electors have complete privacy. Even the shutters on the windows are locked for this purpose and the Cardinals have no contact with the outside world.

Like the Cardinals themselves, the cooking and cleaning staff of the house and the others who assist the Cardinals take an oath of silence, promising “absolute and perpetual secrecy” regarding anything related to the election. They also “promise and swear to refrain from using any audio or video equipment capable of recording anything which takes place during the period of the election within Vatican City” (n. 48).

The Cardinals are taken back and forth to the Sistine Chapel by bus during the conclave, although some Cardinals in the last conclave preferred to walk, scrutinised by Vatican security staff.

On the morning the conclave begins, the Cardinal electors take part in a solemn Mass for the election of the Pope in St Peter’s Basilica. That afternoon they chant the Veni Creator, a hymn to the Holy Spirit, in the Pauline Chapel of the Apostolic Palace and then process to the Sistine Chapel, which has been checked beforehand to ensure that no audiovisual equipment has been secretly installed to record or transmit the proceedings. There they take the oath to observe all the prescriptions of the Apostolic Constitution  Universi dominici Gregis, including that of perpetual secrecy regarding the election, and they attend a meditation preached by an ecclesiastic.

That afternoon, one ballot may be held. On the following days there are two ballots in the morning and two in the afternoon until someone is elected by a two-thirds majority. Before depositing their written ballots in the box placed on the altar each Cardinal says aloud, “I call as my witness Christ the Lord who will be my judge, that my vote is given to the one who before God I think should be elected” (n. 66).  After the ballots have been counted and recorded they are burned.

If after three days no one has been elected, there is a pause for prayer and informal discussion for no more than one day, and then the voting resumes for another seven ballots, when there is another pause, and so on successively until someone is elected (cf. n. 75). If no one is elected after four such series of ballots, in subsequent ballots the Cardinals vote on only the two names who received the largest number of votes in the previous ballot until one of them has a two thirds majority, as Pope Benedict XVI determined in a Motu proprio in 2007. At this point they send white smoke up the chimney to announce to the world that a new Pope has been elected.

The newly elected Pope is then asked whether he accepts the election and by what name he wishes to be called. The other Cardinals come up and make an act of homage and obedience to him, and together they make an act of thanksgiving. After this the new Pope goes to the balcony of St Peter’s Basilica, where the senior Cardinal Deacon announces to the people that the election has taken place and he proclaims the name of the new Pope, who gives the Apostolic Blessing.

Until then, “the universal Church, spiritually united with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, should persevere with one heart in prayer” (n. 84) for the Cardinals who are to elect the Pope and for the new Pope himself.

More on the election of a Pope

I have been talking with friends about the election of the new Pope and we have some questions. Who decides when the Conclave will begin? Can the elected person refuse to accept? And at what moment does he become Pope: with the election or with his inauguration?

 Many people have been asking questions like yours, so it is good to be able to answer them in this column. The answers, by the way, are based on Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Constitution Universi Dominici Gregis, issued in 1996 and amended in some matters by Pope Benedict XVI.

When the Apostolic See becomes vacant by either the death or the resignation of the Pope, the government of the Church, including the election of the new Pope, is entrusted to the College of Cardinals (n. 2). The more important matters are dealt with in what are called General Congregations, which all the Cardinals who are not legitimately impeded must attend. Cardinals over the age of eighty who cannot vote in the election may attend these Congregations but they are not required to do so (n. 7). The General Congregation is to meet every day until the Conclave begins (n. 11).

Matters of lesser importance are handled by a Particular Congregation, consisting of only four Cardinals (n. 8).

Pope John Paul II determined that the Conclave is not to begin before fifteen days after the See becomes vacant, to allow all the Cardinals to be present. But in any case the Conclave must begin by the twentieth day (n. 37). On 25 February 2013, Pope Benedict XVI issued an Apostolic Letter Normas nonnullas allowing an election to begin before fifteen days have elapsed, provided all the Cardinal electors are present. It is understood that any Cardinals eligible to take part in the election who have indicated, for a good reason, that they will not be attending do not need to be present. It is up to the General Congregation to decide on which day the election will begin.

Can the person elected Pope decline the election? Given the enormous burden of responsibility before God and the Church that being Pope entails, it would be perfectly understandable if the person elected were reluctant to assume the office. It is known that some of the Popes have felt this reluctance, among them Pope Benedict XVI. But at the same time the person elected would have enough supernatural outlook to acknowledge that his election is an expression of the will of God, and for this reason he would normally accept the election.

In this regard Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Constitution reads: “I also ask the one who is elected not to refuse, for fear of its weight, the office to which he has been called, but to submit humbly to the design of the divine will. God who imposes the burden will sustain him with his hand, so that he will be able to bear it. In conferring the heavy task upon him, God will also help him to accomplish it and, in giving him the dignity, he will grant him the strength not to be overwhelmed by the weight of his office” (n. 86).

Naturally, this does not bind the one elected to accept the office. He can still refuse, but it would be most unlikely for him to do so.

And as regards when the person elected becomes Pope, the answer is immediately. Pope John Paul II declared: “After his acceptance, the person elected, if he has already received episcopal ordination, is immediately Bishop of the Church of Rome, true Pope and Head of the College of Bishops. He thus acquires and can exercise full and supreme power over the universal Church” (n. 88). His inauguration will take place some days later but from the moment he accepts the election he already has all the powers of the Pope and he can exercise those powers.

What is more, within an appropriate time after his inauguration the Pope is to take possession of the Patriarchal Archbasilica of the Lateran” (cf. n. 92). The Lateran Basilica, consecrated in 324 AD, is the Pope’s cathedral church as Bishop of Rome.

Finally, when the Apostolic See is vacant the prayer for the Pope in Mass is not said, but the whole Church “spiritually united with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, should persevere with one heart in prayer; thus the election of the new Pope will not be something unconnected with the People of God and concerning the College of electors alone, but will be in a certain sense an act of the whole Church” (n. 84).