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WHY ARE CATHOLIC CHURCHES OFTEN “GOLD ENCRUSTED”?

Because they reflect the glory of God and Heaven. Over the centuries, the faithful contributed from what they earned for their living for the church to be a dignified and befitting place to worship God Almighty. Some non-catholic people today wonder about this, whilst they don’t worship the One God at all and put their money towards their own personal living room, cars and gardens, for those to look splendid instead. Others find it adequate to worship the Creator of Heaven and earth, whom they owe everything to, in very simple buildings equipped with a few wooden benches among bare walls, and not even having an altar.

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PERSECUTION OF THE EARLY CHRISTIANS HAD STOPPED BECAUSE EMPEROR CONSTANTINE LEGALISED CHRISTIANITY – WHAT HAPPENED AFTERWARDS?

“After the peace granted to the Church by Emperor Constantine, the most beautiful external manifestations of worship blossomed throughout the whole Catholic world, which shone forth most brightly in the construction of cathedrals and basilicas. Constantine [who conceded freedom of worship to Christians (in 313) after he had a dream promising him victory under the sign of the Cross; Constantine was baptised at the point of death in 337] had them built in Rome and Byzantium, whilst his mother, St Helena, with her considerable wealth, restored in a magnificent way the holy places of Palestine.

THE LITURGY IN THE IV CENTURY

In the West, the traditions of the Roman Church make known to us that Pope St Sylvester instituted and regulated in detail, from the IV Century, the rights that we practise today in the dedication of the basilicas built in Rome, through the munificence of Constantine. This Emperor built, in his Lateran palace, a church which he dedicated under the title of the Saviour, and which, known under the name of St John of the Lateran, has become the see of the Roman Pontiff, the Mother and mistress of all the churches of Rome and of the entire world, just as can be read on the inscription on the principal facade.

Apart from this church, Constantine also built that of St Peter’s, over the very body of this Apostle, in Vatican City; that of St Paul, over the body of the Apostle of the Gentiles, on the Ostiensian Way; the church of St Lawrence, extra muros, on the Tiburtian Way, the church of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem, in agro Sessoriano; that of St Agnes on the Nomentanian Way, the church of Ss Marcellinus and Peter, on the Labicana Way, and still various others in Rome in the area surrounding the capital city.

Not content with rebuilding the sanctuaries of ancient Rome with a truly imperial magnificence, the pious emperor wished, as far as was possible for him, to sanctify the new (Rome), which he built over ancient Byzantium. There he built magnificent basilicas, amongst which we remember the one he dedicated to eternal Wisdom, under the name of St Sophia; that of St Irene, which was the Great Church during his reign; the church of the Twelve Apostles which he destined for his burial place, and a great number of others in the city and surrounding areas, principally over the tombs of the martyrs.

His zeal for solemn manifestations of the Faith appeared also in the care which he took in placing the effigy of the Cross in public places of the new capital city. He also loved to have represented, on the fountains in the centre of the piazza, two subjects principally dear to the Christians of the era: the good Shepherd and Daniel in the lion’s den.

But a subject which particularly affected the Christians of this century and which gave occasion to the most pompous acts of the Liturgy, was the restoration carried out by St Helena, of the holy places of Palestine that gave witness to the life, the miracles and the sufferings of the Man-God. Following the pious intentions of his mother, Constantine placed the treasures of the empire at the disposition of St Macarius, Bishop of Jerusalem, so that the church which was to be built over the Holy Sepulchre would surpass in magnificence all the other buildings throughout the whole world.

Eusebius has conserved the description of this basilica, which was constructed over a period of six years… After having portrayed all the splendour which shone forth in the construction of the church of the Holy Sepulchre, the historian ended thus: ‘It would be impossible to describe the sumptuousness, the delicacy, the greatness, the number, the variety of decorations and other objects which had been offered, shining with gold, silver and precious stones, which the imperial magnificence accumulated in the temple of the Resurrection.’

But if we are to deplore the silence of Eusebius upon a subject so important for the Liturgy – as well as of the sacred vessels and other gifts which surround the altar in the basilica of the Holy Sepulchre – Providence has at least permitted that the inventory of the various churches of Rome of the same century, has been made known to us, to compensate, in some way, for the negligence by which the historians have deprived us.

The important chronicle, known by the name of Liber pontificalis, contains, in the article of St Sylvester, the list of objects offered to various churches of Rome, from this Pontiff as well as from emperor Constantine. One may, according to these particulars, have an idea of the divine service, as it was practised in the basilicas which were so richly furnished with all that was necessary for religious worship. (To be continued)
– This article by Servant of God Dom Prosper Gueranger was published in “De Vita Contemplativa”, issue June 2013.

 

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TODAY’S BIBLE READING (ACTS 14:21-27)

After proclaiming the gospel in that town and making many disciples, they returned to Lystra and Iconium and on to Antioch. They were strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain firm in the faith, for they said, “We must go through many trials to enter the Kingdom of God.” In each church they appointed elders and, after praying and fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had placed their faith.

Then they travelled through Pisidia, and came to Pamphylia. They preached the Word in Perga and went down to Attalia. From there they sailed back to Antioch, where they had first been commended to God’s grace for the task they had now completed.

On their arrival they gathered the Church together and told them all that God had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the non-Jews. They spent a fairly long time there with the disciples.

V. The word of the Lord.
R. Thanks be to God.

 

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WHEN CHURCHES WERE TAKEN AWAY FROM CATHOLICS AND BEING AT MASS COULD COST YOU YOUR LIFE

“…discovery in a Catholic place of worship could result in arrest and even death…”

THE PENAL LAWS

A body of anti-Catholic legislation, known as the Penal Laws, was introduced in the late-16th and 17th centuries. These punitive measures were enacted by the English administrators in an effort to force the Irish renounce their Catholic faith. They removed Catholics’ voting rights and prohibited them from becoming members of municipal boroughs or parliament. They deprived Catholics of education, and from inheriting, buying or leasing land. They couldn’t even own a horse valued above £5! Membership to the legal profession, the army and public offices was prohibited.

From 1690 a number of discriminatory measures were introduced directed at strictly controlling the activities of the Catholic clergy and ridding the country of its religious leadership. The first two decades of the 18th century were particularly difficult. Restrictions on Catholic worship included the banning of public ceremonies involving clergy while many churches were destroyed or handed over to the Protestant faith. The 1704 Registration Act required Catholic priests to register with the authorities. Those who didn’t faced death or deportation. Many priests refused to register and went into hiding.

THE STATION MASS

Penal Mass sites still dot the Irish landscape. These include Mass houses and Mass rocks. According to Fr Kevin Bartley, Editor of “Penal Places, Artefacts and People in the Archdiocese of Dublin”, Penal Mass sites also included fields, caves and ditches in rural areas, while stables and outhouses were used in the urban areas. Mass Houses were usually located in concealed places to ensure worshippers would not be easily taken unawares by the forces of the Crown.

The venue changed in order to protect those hosting the Mass as well as the celebrant and the laity. Word was put about locally that Mass would be said in a particular house on a particular day. The neighbours would gather for what was often the only opportunity to attend Mass for a long time. The priest would come with his “Mass kit”, which included a specially designed cross with short arms for easy concealment up his sleeve. This Mass became known in Ireland as the “Station Mass” because of the random location and the need to move from place to place.

Some houses became known as regular venues for Mass and so became referred to as Mass Houses. More of these emerged as the Penal Laws were repealed, allowing Catholics to worship more freely. In 1795, the first Catholic seminary in Ireland was established at Maynooth, Co Kildare. After Catholic Emancipation in 1829, which secured Catholics the right to take their place in civil society, Mass Houses continued to provide places of worship because of the lack of churches. From the middle of the 19th century onwards, the situation began to change as a church building campaign was undertaken to cater for the Catholic population, despite the after effects of the horrific Famine years.

A MASS HOUSE IN RATHFARNHAM

Visitors to the Church of the Annunciation in the Dublin parish of Rathfarnham are often struck by a holy water font at the front door which bears the inscription: “Font used in Mass house of penal times in the parish of Rathfarnham from 1732”. The font is a link between the “new” church, which dates from 1878, and an old penal Mass House, which dates from 1730 and which parishioners attended prior to Catholic Emancipation. The remains of the Mass House are located behind the current presbytery.in penal times it was screened from the main road by thick shrubbery and was approached by the faithful via a discrete Mass path along the Owendore River. The historical record shows that there was, in fact, a Mass House on this site as early as 1697, when Fr Timothy Kelly is mentioned as the first parish priest of Rathfarnham.

POSING AS SPANISH PEOPLE WITH THE CODE NAME “PABLO”

Local historian, Tony Duffy, whose family goes back three generations in Rathfarnham, explains that in penal times networks were established to keep Catholics supplied with school teachers and priests. According to the parish newsletter, “Priests, especially, were hunted down by the Crown forces and put to death, usually by beheading. Despite it being an offence to send children abroad for education, many young men went to the seminaries of Europe – Paris, Rome, Louvain and Salamanca. There was a steady flow of young priests into Ireland with one particular route being from Salamanca to Kinsale. One story of the time refers to priests making their way through the countryside, posing as Spaniards. The code name used was “Pablo” when asked for identification, meaning in reality, “Padre”.

In his homily on Pentecost Sunday 2012, when 500 members of the parish gathered at the ancient Mass House, Fr Des Hayden praised the dedication of the volunteers who worked to recover the ruin. “Three hundred years ago, even though it was dangerous for them to do so, people gathered where we are standing now to celebrate their faith. And so strong was their faith in Christ’s presence among them and in the Eucharist that they were willing to take great risks to do so. Despite the fact that they suffered discrimination and opposition because of their Catholic faith, they kept that faith alive. Think of the courage and determination it would have taken them to be standing here where we are today. How hard it is, thank God, to quench the spirit!” He also underlined to the assembled crowd, “In every generation it always is, and always has been, the people who keep the faith alive. You are the ones who pass on the faith as a living and lived reality from generation to generation.”… A recognition of people’s brave perseverance in the faith in times of persecution – an inspiration to keep the flame of faith alight in our own times.
– The above are excerpts from an article by Sarah MacDonald published in “Messenger of Saint Anthony”, October 2012 issue. For subscriptions etc. Contact: Messenger of Saint Anthony, Basilica del Santo, via Orto Botanico 11, 35123 Padua, Italy

 

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