Six in the Evening

Six o’clock in the evening is my favorite time of the day.  Usually, the work of the day is completed (or winding down) and the late afternoon is still far enough from the night to give me time to reflect on the day and to plan the evening’s activities.

Six o’clock is also a conventional time when friends meet and family gather to socialize and to have a meal together.  It’s a special time of day.

The Angeles by  Jean-Francois Millet

The Angeles by Jean-Francois Millet

In the Catholic Church, at six o’clock in the evening, the Angelus is prayed for the third time of the day, twice before at six in the morning and noon.  The Angelus is a prayer that reminds us of the incarnation of Christ with the following responsorial phrases, each followed by the “Hail Mary,” and concluding with a prayer:

The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary,
And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.  Hail Mary . . .

Behold the handmaid of the Lord.
Be it done unto me according to Your Word. Hail Mary . . .

And the Word was made flesh,
And dwelt among us. Hail Mary . . .

Pray for us, O holy Mother of God.
That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray:
Pour forth, we beseech You, O Lord,
Your Grace into our hearts;
that as we have known the incarnation of Christ,
your Son by the message of an angel,
so by His passion and cross
we may be brought to the glory of His Resurrection.
Through the same Christ, our Lord.
Amen.

Many Catholic churches ring their steeple bells at the times of the Angelus to punctuate the day, and in former days, before the faithful had individual timepieces, to remind them to stop their work or activities to pause and pray the Angelus, creating a sacred moment during the day.

Although I must confess that I do not pray the Angelus every day at six o’clock in the evening, I do think about that time as “sacred” and special, as a time of reflection on the day that has been and is still to unfold into the night, as a time to join with friends and family to share stories of the day, as a time to be nourished in body and in spirit to be able to carry on the work of the following day.

In particular, the summer provides longer days for me to appreciate this time of day more, and reminds me to continue to appreciate it even as the days grow shorter and fuller, with activities that sometimes spill over from the day into the evening.  Sometimes, as much as I want to preserve this time of day, it flies by without my notice.  And even though I lament the passing of summer and the arrival of autumn because of the “shortness” of days, somehow, the excitement of the celebrations of fall and winter supersede this melancholy, and once again, I feel enlivened to engage in the activities of the seasons.

The wonderful nature of the academic calendar drives teachers and students to beginnings and endings – projects and inquires that are started, conducted, and concluded – at least for the time being.  As we are learning about student learning, it is most effective when student inquiry can be supported and directed by expert faculty, without providing the “concrete” solution, but rather suggesting further fields of inquiry.  In other words, often complex questions do not have a definitive “essay answer on an exam,” but rather take a lifetime of 6 PM experiences to discern.

As we begin this new school year, my wish and my prayer is that our students experience the questions that cannot be answered neatly in a short-answer essay, but rather, take them on a journey through a lifetime of educational experiences to know “the truth,” to know “themselves,” and to know “God.”

 

“Tis the Month of Our Mother:” Celebrating Mary & Our Mothers

“’Tis the Month of Our Mother” is an older Catholic hymn sung often at this time of year when the Catholic Church traditionally has honored Mary during the month of May. The first lines of the song are:

’Tis the month of our Mother,
The blessed and beautiful days,
When our lips and our spirits,
are glowing with love and with praise.

Refrain:
All Hail! to thee, dear Mary,
the guardian of our way;
To the fairest of Queens,
Be the fairest of seasons, sweet May.

In the refrain, Mary’s “Queenship” in the third line refers to our Catholic Church belief that, when she died, like Jesus, she was assumed body and soul into heaven. Conceived without original sin and the mother of Jesus, she was honored by God by her assumption. Catholics have given her the title of “Queen of Heaven,” a title taken from ancient sky goddesses in the Mediterranean and Near East.

Tomorrow, Archmere celebrates the Ascension into Heaven of Jesus, her Son. Thursday, May 9, is the traditional date, though some dioceses, including Wilmington, have moved the observance to Sunday, May 12, which also happens to be Mother’s Day.

When I attended my Catholic parish grade school from first through eighth grade, I looked forward to participating in the parish May Procession each year. We would sing Marian songs and prayers, and then crown the statue of the Blessed Mother in Church. It was a big event, and as students, we would practice the songs as part of religion class for weeks in advance.

The second grade First Communion Class, dressed in white, led the long procession of students. Two or three of them were selected to be in the May Court of students. These students actually placed the crown of flowers on the statue of Mary.

The procession of students in the school uniform of blue and white, led by altar servers with candles, incense, and processional cross, walked around the block in reverent silence, two-by-two, shortest to tallest, from the school building to the Church. Parents, aunts, uncles, and friends lined the sidewalks to watch the procession pass, then quickly moved into the church through the side doors to watch as the procession entered the Church down the main aisle.

The organ swelled with the strains of the opening hymn to Mary, and the assembly sang robustly the first of several Marian songs throughout the prayer service. When the appropriate time came for the May Crowning ceremony, the eighth grade girls, each carrying one long white gladiola, lined the Church’s center aisle. With their flowers, they formed a series of arches, under which the children from the second grade May Court would pass as they made their way to the altar of Mary adorned with flowers and ferns.

After the event, which ended with Benediction, there were the obligatory family pictures on the Church lawn with family members before heading home. But the May celebrations of Mary did not end. Each school day in May, we were invited to bring flowers from home to place before the May altar that would be set up in our school classroom with a statue of Mary. I remember bringing in azalea clippings, lilacs, and bouquets of a flowering white shrub called, spiraea alpine spring flower, wrapped in aluminum foil. We would recite the Memorare or a decade of the Rosary as part of our daily prayers in May.

Of course, it was easy for me as a child to make the connection between Mother’s Day and the devotions to Mary, our Blessed Mother. My brothers and I revered my mother and appreciated all that she did for us and for our extended family. She, in turn, had a deep devotion to the Blessed Mother, and would always encourage us to turn to Mary in prayer.

I just read an article in the May 7 edition of The News Journal, entitled “Mothers never really become obsolete,” written by Momspeak Columnist Tracy Grant of The Washington Post. In the article, Grant claims that a mother’s goal is to teach her children life skills so that they can become independent. She comments, however, how hard it is sometimes to “let go” of special moments. Her sons are now 17, and she writes:

And I know, too, that even while I lament their growing independence, this is life as it should be. I’ve decided I’m going to stop looking in their rooms to see unmade beds and feel frustrated. Soon enough, the beds will be made and will stay made for weeks or months.

But Grant concludes the article referencing a text message from her son that ends with “Love you Mom.” She writes, “The feeling that clutches at my chest as I read those words will never become obsolete.”

Grant and I agree that “recognizing a mom’s efforts is not just one Sunday in May; it’s 365 days of the year.” Celebrating motherhood and all that our mothers do for our families seems to be a natural and universal reaction. It is appropriate then, that we recognize the work of our Mothers’ Guild, joined by our Fathers’ Club volunteers this year, on May 15 at a gathering in The Patio.

assumption_murillo

Assumption of The Virgin
Bartolome Esteban Murillo

The very first Mothers’ Guild in 1932 presented to Archmere a reproduction of the 1670 painting, “The Assumption of the Virgin.” Painted by Bartolome Esteban Murillo, it is a symbol of the Norbertine’s devotion to Mary. The painting hangs in the Music Room of The Patio, which served as the school’s first chapel from 1932 until 1970. Since the founding of the Norbertine Community in 1120, many abbeys, priories, and houses dedicated themselves to Mary, each carrying one of her many titles.

Mary, Queen of Heaven, is one of nearly 50 titles found in the Litany of Loreto, a prayer of the Church to the Blessed Mother that dates back to the Middle Ages. It is a title most fitting for this month when we use a crown of flowers and not a queenly crown of gold and precious stones to show our devotion to Mary. In keeping with the Norbertine tradition, it is a title most special to Archmere, exemplified in Murillo’s painting.

As Grant points out, celebrating mothers and motherhood is not just a one-day event. With Mary as a perfect example of all that a mother sacrifices, endures, enjoys, and loves, we are especially grateful for our mothers during this special month of May, but we also know how much we appreciate and love them every day.

For those of us whose mothers are no longer with us, we pray for them and ask them to pray for us. For those of us who may not have known a mother, we pray in gratitude for those who may have taken up the formative tasks of motherhood, acknowledging that we love them just as a child loves his or her mother.

In closing, I share with you the Marian antiphon Regina caeli laetare. The “Queen of Heaven” hymn is recited during the last hour of the Liturgy of the Hours as part of Night Prayer:

Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia.
For He whom thou didst merit to bear in your womb, alleluia.
Has risen, as He promised, alleluia.
Pray for us to God, alleluia.

Happy Mother’s Day!