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Odds and ends from the staff of the Lamp.


✥ This issue of The Lamp celebrates Our Lady’s Assumption into Heaven, one of the more dramatic Marian feasts. We share Newman’s reflection on why, having been lifted to her Heavenly throne, Mary is most fittingly called the Morning Star:

What is the nearest approach in the way of symbols, in this world of sight and sense, to represent to us the glories of that higher world which is beyond our bodily perceptions? What are the truest tokens and promises here, poor though they may be, of what one day we hope to see hereafter, as being beautiful and rare? Whatever they may be, surely the Blessed Mother of God may claim them as her own. And so it is; two of them are ascribed to her as her titles, in her Litany—the stars above, and flowers below. She is at once the Rosa Mystica and the Stella Matutina.

And of these two, both of them well suited to her, the Morning Star becomes her best, and that for three reasons.

First, the rose belongs to this earth, but the star is placed in high heaven. Mary now has no part in this nether world. No change, no violence from fire, water, earth, or air, affects the stars above; and they show themselves, ever bright and marvelous, in all regions of this globe, and to all the tribes of men.

And next, the rose has but a short life; its decay is as sure as it was graceful and fragrant in its noon. But Mary, like the stars, abides forever, as lustrous now as she was on the day of her Assumption; as pure and perfect, when her Son comes in judgment, as she is now.

Lastly, it is Mary’s prerogative to be the Morning Star, which heralds in the sun. She does not shine for herself, or from herself, but she is the reflection of her and our Redeemer, and she glorifies Him. When she appears in the darkness, we know that He is close at hand. He is Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. Behold He comes quickly, and His reward is with Him, to render to everyone according to his works. “Surely I come quickly. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”

✥ For the first time since 1994, the World Meeting of Families returned to Rome. It kicked off with a rather baroque performance of “Hallelujah,” which was presented to Pope Francis, for whom Leonard Cohen’s quasi-hymn has been performed many times. “Hallelujah” is probably the closest thing Cohen ever had to a smash hit, if only because of such performances as these. It has been covered more than three hundred times in a wide variety of languages. In the United States, it has become an anthem of national tragedy, frequently played at memorials for terrorist attacks, school shootings, and pandemic deaths (and, weirdly, presidential inaugurations). It is also frequently used in emotional sequences of films and television shows. The song’s second life is a bit strange, since, like most of Cohen’s music, it’s little more than an old man’s reflection on fruitless love. Cohen evidently was baffled by its popularity, and commented once after he saw it covered in a superhero film that, in his opinion, “too many people” were singing “Hallelujah.” We can only imagine what the Holy Father thinks.

✥ Speaking of Pope Francis, we cannot help but wonder whether watching for news of his death or retirement is a very becoming pastime. Of course, it’s not a new one. Ever since Francis said in 2015 that he predicted his pontificate would be “brief,” it seems that an entire section of Vatican watchers has been rooting for him to be proved correct. The scrutiny intensified during the early days of the pandemic, with sometimes two or three news stories coming out daily about the Pope’s health. And in the past summer those reports have become almost anticipatory, especially as the Holy Father’s health begins to fail him. Of course, anyone who makes one of these predictions invariably makes a fool of himself. Or herself, as the case may be. Just earlier this summer, the television personality Megyn Kelly reported from Vatican City that Francis’s resignation was imminent, citing the “highly unusual” presence of priests and Cardinals in Saint Peter’s Basilica. No doubt immediately prior to her broadcast a tour guide had given her a somewhat crude introduction to Italian humor.

✥ Earlier this summer, the closure of the Forest Inn in Arlington marked the death of what its management claimed was “the last dive bar” in Northern Virginia. For more than fifty years, the bar was a haven for day drinkers who took comfort in the fact that the lights were always dimmed, the venetian blinds always drawn, and the two slot machines almost always operational. At one time, the Forest Inn was also a fixture with suburban Washington, D.C.’s professional classes (local legend holds that the FBI camped out there to spy on Ollie North during the Iran–Contra affair). Those days are long over. When the bar’s landlord announced in June that he would not renew the Forest Inn’s lease—citing, in part, the “rough crowd” that congregated outside for smoke breaks—the bar’s owners decided to finish their tenure in style. On their last day, they set up a boombox near the door and blasted AC/DC deep cuts through the afternoon. Regulars circulated in and out, and by 5:00 P.M. all the taps were empty. The bartenders then turned to coolers full of Budweiser, Miller Lite, and Pabst Blue Ribbon. Five dollars a can. Waitresses passed out magic markers, and encouraged patrons to scrawl their memories on the wall. These were uniformly depressing: “I left my wife here.” “This is my second home.”
“Wah wah wah!” As the evening wound down, the bartenders removed the porcelain elephants from the shelf behind the bar and announced that they were for sale. Soon, so were the pictures on the wall and glassware hanging above the bar. A few old-timers sank into a stupor as the Mariners walloped the Orioles on the television (for the older generations, the O’s will always be Washington’s true baseball team). It could have been a normal night. But eventually the beer ran out, this time for good. Requiescat in pace.

✥ Much was made of the large number of people who left the Church in Germany last year. More than three hundred fifty thousand people left, about one hundred thirty-eight thousand more than the previous year. In 2019, the last time the German Church saw record attrition, there were about twenty-two million Catholics registered with the state. That’s only half the story, though. With deaths added in, the numbers are much worse, about five hundred fifty thousand people fewer in the German church than the previous year.

✥ Newman’s reflection on the Morning Star brought to mind this particularly striking passage of Saint Louis-Marie de Montfort’s True Devotion to Mary:

The salvation of the world began through Mary and through her it must be accomplished. Mary scarcely appeared in the first coming of Jesus Christ so that men, as yet insufficiently instructed and enlightened concerning the person of her Son, might not wander from the truth by becoming too strongly attached to her. This would apparently have happened if she had been known, on account of the wondrous charms with which Almighty God had endowed even her outward appearance. So true is this that St. Denis the Areopagite tells us in his writings that when he saw her he would have taken her for a goddess, because of her incomparable beauty, had not his well-grounded faith taught him otherwise. But in the second coming of Jesus Christ, Mary must be known and openly revealed by the Holy Spirit so that Jesus may be known, loved and served through her. The reasons which moved the Holy Spirit to hide his spouse during her life and to reveal but very little of her since the first preaching of the gospel exist no longer.

✥ A recent trip to London alerted us to the existence of a surprising pamphlet on offer at the exits of Westminster Abbey. It is colored and folded in the manner of the Financial Times, and it poses three questions. Who are Christians? What do Christians believe? What do Christians do? In answer, it informs us that Christians are “a worldwide movement of people inspired by the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, a first century Jewish religious teacher.” These Christians, who believe in a “real personal God revealed in the life of Jesus Christ,” often read the Bible, which is “a collection of Jewish and early Christian writings.” All Christians, of course, believe in the Trinity and the need for a personal relationship with God, but “different churches place different emphasis on various ways in which this relationship of faith is nurtured. But all Christians agree that personal prayer, worship, social action, initiation rites of baptism and communion, play some part.” What Christians actually do is difficult to say. The pamphlet informs us that “What Christians do is intrinsic to who they are and what they believe. That means, above all, that they should always be inspired by divine love.” The manifestation of their divine love can take all forms of action—or, in some cases, inaction—and the pamphlet settles on this final definition of Christianity’s purpose: “The overall mission is above all a mission of service to the world, not a mission to rule over it. Worship, prayer, social action, study, and sharing faith are all part of this mission of service. They are all a response to divine love—the heart of Christian faith.” On what Christianity might have to do with the next world, the document is silent.

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