Happy Michaelmas! Saturday, Sep 29 2012 


My holiday decorations: a statue of St. Michael with his foot on the head of Satan, flanked by two “harvest angels” holding pumpkins, and surrounded with a garland of autumn leaves.

Michaelmas is the Feast of St. Michael and the archangels.  Historically it was one of the major Church holidays, though it has fallen into obscurity in recent years.

Here’s a playlist for those inclined to celebrate this venerable Feast:

  1. Michaelmastide by Pamela Wye Shannon
  2. St. Michael vs. the Devil by Davina and the Vagabonds
  3. St. Michael by Mary Zitnik



Happy Bartlemas! Friday, Aug 24 2012 

Bartlemas is another one of those fine old English holiday names, a contraction of St Bartholomew’s Mass.  In Merry Old England the feast featured Bartlemas beef, plenty of ale, and apples dipped in honey (the forerunner of the caramel apple) for dessert.

St. Bart was one of the Twelve Apostles, also called Nathaniel.  Bartholomew comes from Bar-Tolmay, or son of Tolmay, so perhaps his full name was Nathaniel Bar-Tolmay, just as Jesus formally addresses Peter as “Simon Bar-Jonah.”  Considering most of us modern folk have at least 3 names (first, middle, and last) this shouldn’t really surprise us.

According to one gruesome legend he was martyred by being skinned alive, and so Michelangelo painted him holding his own skin:


In 2009 David Harris composed The Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew, a recording of the piece along with The Frail Stag and String Quartet No. 1 is available on iTunes.

Queenship of Mary Wednesday, Aug 22 2012 

Today is the feast of the Queenship of Mary, the octave of Marymass.  Major holy days often have an octave, a feast 8 days later that’s closely related: Christmas has Mary, Mother of God, Easter has Divine Mercy Sunday, and after Mary was Assumed body and soul into heaven she was crowned Queen.  She is Queen because her Son sits on the throne of David, and in the Davidic kingdom the King’s mother rather than his wife (or wives) was honored as Queen.

Octaves also signal that a feast is so important it ought to be celebrated for a whole week, so in that spirit I’ve left my Marymass decorations (see below) up all week.  Unfortunately I didn’t have any of this cake handy, but it sure looks tasty!

Merry Marymass! Wednesday, Aug 15 2012 

Today is the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. What a mouthful, eh? I prefer to call this feast by its old Scottish name: Marymass. Besides, who wants to say “Happy Solemnity of the Assumption” when the alliterative musical “Merry Marymass” just rolls off the tongue!

My Marymass decorations include a statue, an icon of the Dormition of Mary (the Orthodox name for this feast), plastic fruit and Hawaiian leis:

Marymass Decorations

Herbs and fruits are traditionally associated with the feast, not surprisingly as this is the season when they are ripe and abundant.  Until the advent of modern refrigeration and worldwide shipping, most fruits were only available a few months of the year, and even today fresh local fruits are best enjoyed at this time of year.  The leis add a bright, tropical feel appropriate to the most important summer holiday of the Church.

Music for the Transfiguration Monday, Aug 6 2012 

The Feast of the Transfiguration seems to be a more prominent occasion in the Eastern tradition, the only major works in the Western tradition beyond the proper chants of the Mass and Office that I’m aware of is La Transfiguration de Notre Seigneur Jesus-Christ by Olivier Messiaen.  Composed in the late 1960’s, it is a bit of an acquired taste, incorporating serialism and other avante-garde techniques of modern orchestral music, but I think it’s well worth a listen.

Turning to the Eastern tradition, Cycles of Grace by Fr. Apostolos Hill is a two-disc set of traditional Byzantine chants for various feasts sung in English translation.  Four tracks are devoted to the Transfiguration.

In popular music, the indie pop singer/songwriter Sufjan Stevens recorded a lovely, unusual little song called The Transfiguration on the album Seven Swans.

Finally, Mary Zitnik’s children’s album Totally Catholic includes the track Listen to Him that tells the story of the Transfiguration in a way any child can understand.  

St. James Scallops Wednesday, Jul 25 2012 

A feast day would not be complete without a feast!

Pilgrims to Compostela would decorate their hat or shirt with a scallop shell, and many paintings of St. James show him wearing one.  So in his honor, a feast of scallops in garlic sauce, washed down by a tasty Eight-Ball Stout from Lost Coast Brewery:


Music for the Feast of St. James the Greater Wednesday, Jul 25 2012 

Today is the feast of St. James the Apostle, called The Greater to distinguish him from the other Apostle named James.  James was quite popular during the Middle Ages, and rightly so: along with his brother John and Peter, he was one of the three present at the Transfiguration and the Garden of Gethsemane.  He is also the patron saint of Spain, where he is known as Santiago, and the church at Compostela that houses his relics was a popular pilgrimage destination.  A modern journey on the Way of St. James is portrayed in the recent film The Way starring Martin Sheen.

The Codex Calixtinus is an illuminated manuscript from the 12th-century that contains, among other things, one of the world’s oldest tourist travel guides, a guide for pilgrims walking The Way.  It also contains music, some of the earliest surviving written polyphonic compositions.  The women’s vocal ensemble Anonymous 4 released a recording of some of this music under the title Miracle of Sant’iago, later re-titled and re-issued as Miracles of Compostela.  I enjoy their recording, but personally I prefer The Road to Compostela by The Rose Ensemble.  It features a more diverse set of musical performances including some with instrumental accompaniment.

Finally, the great polyphonic composer Guillaume Dufay wrote a Mass for Saint James.  I recently acquired a recording by The Binchois Consort that I highly recommend, an excellent performance of some breathtakingly lovely music.

Happy Feast of St. James!


Feast of Saints Peter and Paul Friday, Jun 29 2012 

Today we celebrate two of the most important saints in the history of the Church: Peter and Paul. As they are the patron saints of Rome, and associated in a special way with the Holy See, today is also an appropriate day to celebrate the Papacy and Vatican City.

My decorations for the holiday include statues of Peter and Paul, the yellow and white papal flag, and a string of yellow lights:


There’s some great music written for this occasion over the years, including motets by William Byrd. Recordings include William Byrd: Hodie Simon Petrus by The Cardinall’s Musick and Byrd – Motets & Masses by The Sixteen. The Schola Gregoriana of Cambridge recorded a wonderful collection entitled Tu es Petrus of Gregorian chant covering the life story of Peter. In a more recent times Benjamin Britten composed a Hymn to St Peter, Op. 56a.

Last but not least there’s the Marche Pontificale, composed in composed in 1869 by Charles Gounod.  In 1949 Pope Pius XII selected it as the official Papal Anthem, and it also doubles as the national anthem of Vatican City.  A recording by the US Navy Band may be found on 100 National Anthems Around, Of, and From The World.

Happy Midsummer! Sunday, Jun 24 2012 

June 24 is the birthday of St. John the Baptist, also known as Midsummer Day in many parts of the world.  Here’s a shot of my decorations for the occasion:


The string lights are in the shape of fireflies, that seemed fitting for midsummer holiday.  The figure in the middle is a fairy, a reference to Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.  I make a habit of watching a film of the play every year on the holiday.  There are quite a few to choose from; this year I’m watching the 1935 version starring James Cagney.

While living in the wilderness St. John survived on a diet of locusts and wild honey, so in his honor I’m munching on Keebler Grasshopper fudge mint cookies.

Feast of Saints Philip and James Thursday, May 3 2012 


From the Second Epistle to St. John by Ignatius:

And in like manner [I desire to see] the venerable James, who is surnamed Just, whom they relate to be very like Christ Jesus in appearance, in life, and in method of conduct, as if he were a twin-brother of the same womb. They say that, if I see him, I see also Jesus Himself, as to all the features and aspect of His body.


St Philip Driving the Dragon from the Temple of Hieropolis by Filippino Lippi.

Next Page »