Young, Rich, Beautiful & Martyred

First, find your way to this ancient church on the Vimian Hill, at 160 Via Urbana. Then, notice that you must step down off the street level to enter the Basilica of St Pudentiana. This is because you are going down to the level of the street in ancient Rome, and you may be forgiven if you get a chill up your spine. You are about to step into a church literally built on the house of an ancient Christian martyr. The beautiful young Pudentiana was martyred in the second century AD during persecutions of the Christians under the  Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius (138-161).

The story of the Roman sisters, Pudentiana and Praxedes, dates to the very first Age of the Christian Church. Pudentiana was a daughter of wealthy Roman Senator Pudens, a kinsman of the Pudens spoken of by St. Paul in his second Epistle to Timothy (II. Tim. iv. 21). Legend has it that Saint Peter himself visited this house in the time of the girls’ grandparents.

Pudentiana was a daughter of the wealthy Roman Senator Pudens, kinsman of the Pudens spoken of by St. Paul in his second Epistle to Timothy

Pudentiana and her sister Praxedes were among the earliest members of the Church, and both of them consecrated their lives to Jesus Christ. Upon their father’s death, the two sisters distributed their fortune to the poor, and devoted their time to good works, fasting and prayer. It was through their influence that their entire household, which consisted of ninety-six persons, was baptized by Pope Pius I.

In consequence of the decree issued by the emperor Antoninus (see our story on ‘Communion, Roman-Style’), which forbade the Christians to offer sacrifice publicly, Pope Pius celebrated Mass in Pudentiana’s house, and the Christians assembled there to assist at the celebration. She received them with much charity, and provided them with all the necessaries of life.

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You are about to step into a church built on the house of an ancient Christian martyr. Legend has it that Saint Peter visited this house.

At the age of sixteen, Pudentiana was arrested and martyred on the fourteenth of the Calends of June (by our calendar May 19). She was buried in her father’s tomb, in the Priscilla Cemetery, which is on the Salarian Road.

Pudentiana’s house was willed to Pope Pius, and is now one of the most venerable Churches of Rome. Her relics lie under the high altar, according to ancient Christian tradition, which held that any place that contained the remains of a martyr was itself made sacred. This is the origin of the Catholic practice of venerating the relics of saints.

norcia2012 024HALLOWED GROUND’: Ancient Roman Christian tradition made any place containing the relics of a martyr sacred, because by their death for the Faith they were certain to be in heaven.

This is the origin of the Catholic tradition of consecrating churches with saints’ relics under the high altar.

 

Do’s and Don’ts in Rome

To be perfectly honest, Romans can cope with anything. For centuries, their city has been a target for hordes of tourists and barbarians. Through it all, Romans have remained inscrutable – insouciant, unsinkable and ready for just about anything. That being said, however, if you plan a visit to the Eternal City, it is a good idea to follow a few simple rules:

DO PREPARE YOURSELF: Films and books will help you really enjoy your Roman Holiday (1953), The Cardinal (1963), Three Coins in a Fountain (1954), The Bicycle Thieves (1948), The Scarlet and the Black (1983), La Dolce Vita (Adults only, 1960) and Only You (1994). My favorite classic books include Hilaire Belloc’s Path to Rome, H.V. Morton’s A Traveler in Rome, Bishop Sheen’s This is Rome, Louis De Wohl’s The Spear, Roger Wiltgen’s The Rhine Flows into the Tiber and John Walsh’s The Bones of Saint Peter.

DON’T EXPECT ROMANS TO SPEAK ENGLISH: Give yourself three months to learn some touristic Italian. Never mind the stares from your fellow motorists — drive around with CDs from your local library, repeating “Il conto, per favore?” and “Ho bisogno un medico” with an Italian accent.

DO STAY IN A CONVENT: There are 2,762 hotels in Rome. Convents are cheaper, cleaner, safer and WAY more authentic than any tourist trap, They are the single best way to see Rome – especially for Catholics who would like to attend Mass with the sisters. (Secret Catholic Tip: To find a convent that gladly takes in tourists, visit www.santasusanna.org which calls itself the ‘home of the American Catholic church in Rome.”)

insider2DO CHECK OUT THE VIEW: Some famous vistas are to be seen from myriad vantage points in the old city. (Secret Catholic Tip: The views from the cupola of Saint Peter’s and the top of the Castel San’t Angelo are unbeatable. And for a sunset that will take your breath away –see above– quietly take the elevator to the roof of the Helvetia Hotel.)

DO GO TO LATIN MASS ON SUNDAY: 11:00 Sung High Mass at Santa Trinita Dei Pellegrini, the church of the Fraternity of Saint Peter, just steps from the Piazza Farnese. Dress appropriately, please.

insider6DO LEARN TO USE THE BUS: Forget those dangerous mopeds, although the brave and the foolhardy like Audrey Hepburn (left and below) can rent one for 40 euros a day. Red Roman buses are cheap and plentiful. Find one that stops by your convent, buy yourself a pass at the local newsstand/tobacco store and soon you’ll be zipping around Rome for basically nothing – without losing a limb.

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DO VISIT SAINT PETER’S FIRST: For first time visitors, stepping inside the arms of Bernini’s amazing Colonnade is a real thrill. (Secret Catholic Tip: For a free, fascinating personal tour of Saint Peter’s, stop by the Vatican post office and look for a small, unobtrusive sign advising English-speaking visitors when an American seminarian will be there. Impress him by pointing out that the statues on top of the Basilica are the Apostles.)

DON’T BE A TARGET: Avoid drawing attention to yourself. Keep your voice low. Leave your sneakers at home. Wear dark, conservative clothing. Don’t wear a fanny pack or keep your wallet in your back pocket. Americans, especially, need to remember that we have a reputation for being loud and naïve – perfect targets for pickpockets and flimflam artists. This goes TRIPLE at night, or if you have been drinking. Don’t be paranoid, but do be smart. (Secret Catholic Tip: The young woman begging at church doors with a new baby is not starving to death. This is an age-old scam targeting naïve tourists and seminarians.)

 

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Pope Benedict: ‘What I Saw At Vatican II’

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Vatican II opened the Church…”

“And all the people left…”

“There was the Council of the Fathers – the true Council – but there was also the Council of the media. It was almost a Council in and of itself, and the world perceived the Council through them, through the media.

So the Council that got through to the people, was that of the media, not that of the Fathers. And while the Council of the Fathers evolved within the faith, it was a Council of the Faith that sought the intellectus, that sought to understand and try to understand the signs of God at that moment, which tried to meet the challenge of God in this time to find the words for today and tomorrow.

So while the whole council – as I said – moved within the Faith, as fides quaerens intellectum, the Council of the journalists did not, naturally, take place within the world of faith but within the categories of the media of today– that is, outside of the faith, with different hermeneutics.

It was a hermeneutic of politics. The media saw the Council as a political struggle, a struggle for power between different currents within the Church. It was obvious that the media would take the side of whatever faction best suited their world.

vatican3“(In 1965) the media saw the Council as a political struggle…It was obvious that the media would take the side of whatever faction best suited their world.”

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There were those who sought a decentralization of the Church, power for the bishops and then, through the Word for the “people of God”, the power of the people, the laity. There was this triple issue: the power of the Pope, then transferred to the power of the bishops and then the power of all … popular sovereignty. Naturally they saw this as the part to be approved, to promulgate, to help.

This was the case for the liturgy: there was no interest in the liturgy as an act of faith, but as a something to be made understandable, similar to a community activity, something profane. And we know that there was a trend, which was also historically based, that said: “Sacredness is a pagan thing, possibly even from the Old Testament. In the New Testament the only important thing is that Christ died outside: that is, outside the gates, that is, in the secular world”.

Sacredness ended up as profanity even in worship: worship is not worship but an act that brings people together, communal participation and thus participation as activity. And these translations, trivializing the idea of ​​the Council, were virulent in the practice of implementing the liturgical reform, born in a vision of the Council outside of its own key vision of faith. And it was so, also in the matter of Scripture: Scripture is a book, historical, to treat historically and nothing else, and so on.

And we know that this Council of the media was accessible to all. So, dominant, more efficient, this Council created many calamities, so many problems, so much misery, in reality: seminaries closed, convents closed liturgy trivialized … and the true Council has struggled to materialize, to be realized: the virtual Council was stronger than the real Council.

But the real strength of the Council was present and slowly it has emerged and is becoming the real power which is also true reform, true renewal of the Church. It seems to me that 50 years after the Council, we see how this Virtual Council is breaking down, getting lost and the true Council is emerging with all its spiritual strength.

And it is our task, in this Year of Faith, starting from this Year of Faith, to work so that the true Council with the power of the Holy Spirit is realized and Church is really renewed. We hope that the Lord will help us.

I, retired in prayer, will always be with you, and together we will move ahead with the Lord in certainty. The Lord is victorious. Thank you.

“This Council created many calamities, so many problems, so much misery, in reality: seminaries closed, convents closed, liturgy trivialized…”
Featured Pope Benedict XVI photo by Stefano Spaziani. with permission.

 

Crowning the May Queen

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In May, Catholics hold a ceremony wherein a statue of the Blessed Mother is crowned by children, accompanied by solemn hymns, joyfully sung. Mary’s crown is made of woven May flowers.

The Catholic practice of assigning a special devotion to each month goes back to the early 16th century. In the late 18th century the May devotion to Mary arose among Jesuits in Rome.  In the early years of the 19th century, it quickly spread throughout the Western Church, and, by the time of Pope Pius IX’s declaration of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in 1854, it had become universal.

May crownings in honor of Mary stem from this time and many parishes are reviving them to honor the role that the Blessed Virgin played in our salvation through her fiat–her joyous “Yes” to the will of God. This Irish hymn dates back as far as the 13th Century, though in 1883, Mary E. Walsh adapted it.

 

 

 

Queen of the May  (Bring Flowers of the Rarest)

Bring flowers of the rarest
From garden and woodland
And hillside and vale
Our full hearts are swelling
Our Glad voices telling
The praise of the loveliest
Rose of the vale

Our voices ascending,
In harmony blending
Oh! Thus may our hearts turn
Dear Mother, to thee
Oh! Thus shall we prove thee
How truly we love thee
How dark without Mary
Life’s journey would be

O Virgin most tender
Our homage we render
Thy love and protection
Sweet Mother, to win
In danger defend us
In sorrow befriend us
And shield our hearts
From contagion and sin

Of Mothers the dearest
Oh, wilt thou be nearest
When life with temptation
Is darkly replete
Forsake us, O never
Our hearts be they ever
As Pure as the lilies
We lay at thy feet

 

REFRAIN: O Mary! we crown thee with blossoms today
Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May
O Mary! we crown thee with blossoms today
Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May!

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Many parishes are reviving the Crowning of the May Queen to honor the role that the Blessed Virgin played in our salvation through her fiat–her joyous “Yes” to the will of God.

British Ballgowns since 1950

MY DEAR,

YOU WILL POSITIVELY SWOON

And then you will fight your way through the crowds of reverent gown-gogglers.  From sweet-faced English teen girls to dignified great-grandmas, we ladies are bewitched by “Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950,” the current runaway hit at London’s Victoria & Albert museum. From demure white creations for English debutantes at Queen Charlotte’s Ball to racier red pieces designed for the red carpet, more than 60 dresses from across the past six decades are featured in all their sexy, glamorous glory.

“Ah, Audrey Hepburn,” sighs one octogenarian in classic Givenchy, to her ginger-haired grand-daughter in a school uniform. “She looked lovely in that dress. Do you remember?”

“Yes, mum,” the teenager responds absently. She doesn’t, actually remember the actress still dubbed “The Most Beautiful British Woman of all Time,” but the sheer drop-dead gorgeousness of the dresses they are inspecting together has taken the wind of adolescent cynicism out of her sails.

Nearby, earnest design students sketch furiously, drawing pads resting on one skinny hip. Their studiously hipsterish garb notwithstanding, these students of fashion know they are in the presence of Great Genius.

Everyone is entranced by the black-and-white fashion films from the early 1960s projected on the museum’s great white wall. We watch as a matronly young Queen Elizabeth and her jet-setting sister Princess Margaret admire a parade of fashion models pirouetting gracefully in the Earl of Somebody’s stately home.

ballgowns2“If you want your daughter or grand-daughter to be civilized, I say, you’ve got to give them a good reason to respect the fine arts,” a Tory dowager stage whispers to her friend, who nods sagely.  The place is teeming with young ladies, all delighted with the new Fashion Galleries, and the atmosphere of preparing for a ball in a grand country house.

 

That Fabulous Fifties Look

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RAVISHING: There’s simply no other word for it. Debutantes on their way to be presented to the Queen (above). 

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The ingénue Audrey Hepburn in a black-and-white fantasy (above).

ballgowns 6LADIES OF THE NIGHT: Balanchine’s immortal designs (above)

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and a velvet-and-silk taffeta cocktail version, in midnight black (above).

Princess Diana’s Lovely ‘Elvis Gown’

ballgowns8Missing Diana - Her StyleWe are bewitched, entranced and delighted by Beauty.  Indeed there is something mysterious, uncontrollable and other-worldly about it. That is why Beauty has long been considered an attribute of the Divine.

But it is the sheer beauty of the dresses that makes them sigh with desire. So, what is it that draws us to the Beautiful?  Men love beautiful women. Women love beautiful things. We are bewitched, entranced and delighted by beauty –indeed there is something mysterious, uncontrollable and other-worldly about it. And no matter how ugly the world we live in becomes, somehow no power on Earth can quite stamp out our response to Beauty.

Of course, Beauty has long been seen as an attribute of the Divine. For a Christian view of this phenomenon, see Saint Augustine, a 5th century libertine-turned-Doctor-of-the-Church who famously penned the lines, “Late Have I loved Thee, oh Beauty so ancient and so new!”

The Popes of the Counter-Reformation understood our profound attraction to beauty, and turned Rome’s 450-odd churches into a symphony of the Baroque, extolling the beauty of the Faith.  Today, millions of tourists crowd the Eternal City, gawking at these world-famous masterpieces by Michelangelo, Bramante and Da Vinci. Untaught, most sense the profound emotion of Man reaching towards the Eternal.

But not all Christians have been so sanguine about Beauty. America’s stern Puritan ancestors were in fact part of long line of Christian iconoclasts who saw the Devil’s work in man-made Beauty.

America’s Puritans were originally English, of course. Most hailed from the flat grazing fields of East Anglia, where they fomented a battle with the Crown that they eventually lost quite badly – but not before Cromwell’s soldiers had rampaged through England, smashing the medieval beauties of stained glass and sculpture that the Anglican Church had inherited from the Catholic culture it had unseated.

In contrast, the Catholic cultures of southern Europe have always viewed earthly beauty as a reflection – albeit a poor one – of the Divine Beauty. Similarly, the urge in us to create beauty is a reflection of our Creator’s infinitely greater passion for it.  Both are an intrinsic part of men and women, being as we are “made in the image” of our Creator.

 

Our urge to create beauty is a reflection of our Creator’s infinitely greater passion for it.

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Hence the issue of feminine modesty – and why Christendom as a culture has always sought to protect a woman’s beauty from being abused.  This is NOT because Catholics are a bunch of prudes who hate sex.

 

The late Pope John Paul II drew on that great body of thought – part of the treasure house of the Church – when he wrote extensively on the “nuptial meaning of the body.” Essentially he says that we are made for nuptial love, by our Creator, who loves us. The very fact that we are “fearsomely” made is another sign of God’s love for us. Our beauty – our comeliness, if you will – is a deliberate act of God because he wants us to discover love through self-giving in marriage.

Therefore, our beauty –and the sexual desire it engenders — is not to be taken lightly, or for granted. Both Mark and Matthew recount the story of what Jesus said regarding divorce: “And the Pharisees coming to him asked him: Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? tempting Him. 3 But He answering, saith to them: What did Moses command you? 4 Who said: Moses permitted to write a bill of divorce, and to put her away. 5 To whom Jesus answering, said: Because of the hardness of your heart He wrote you that precept. 6 But from the beginning of the creation, God made them male and female. 7 For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother; and shall cleave to his wife. 8 And they two shall be in one flesh. Therefore now they are not two, but one flesh.9 What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.”

Serious business, right?

Hence the issue of feminine modesty – and why Christendom as a culture has always sought to protect a woman’s beauty from being abused.  This is NOT because Catholics are a bunch of prudes that hate sex. It’s because the Church has always respected the great power of sexuality, and has ever been both the cradle and the school of true Beauty.

 

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