Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Have a blessed Triduum, everyone!

(Triduum = Latin for "three days" = the three days before Easter Sunday: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday which ends with the Easter Vigil)

I'm taking off tomorrow morning for St. Stephen's in Sacramento to spend the Triduum in liturgical heaven. It'll be all the old-school traditional Latin Mass, with Tenebrae chanted every morning. :D Four of us are going on this road trip-- now how did I get to know three other people as fanatical as I? We'll pretty much live all weekend at the church and drive back home after the high Mass on Easter Sunday.

I'm going to miss being at St. Peter Chanel though. That's for sure. It's been three years since I was received into the Catholic Church there at the Easter vigil, and I vividly remember that first Triduum when I was an almost-Catholic; it was such a blessed, amazing, otherworldly time. Can't really describe it.

For that matter I certainly still remember Holy Week services at the Protestant churches I grew up in. It was one time of year we Evangelicals would get a bit liturgical, and I always used to feel the significance of it and feel especially close to God. Too bad one can't do everything. I suppose the older you get the more stuff you have to be nostalgic about.

I'm going to quit this post before I start quoting C.S. Lewis' poem about how the past is irretrievably lost to us but not to God-- too late, I'm quoting it:

...Where fled
Dreams at the dawn, or colours when the light is sped?
We are thy colours, fugitive, never restored,
Never repeated again. Thou only art the Lord,
Thou only art holy. In the shadowy vast
Of thine Osirian wings Thou dost enfold the past.
There sit in throne antediluvian, cruel kings,
There the first nightingale that sang to Eve yet sings,
There are the irrecoverable guiltless years,
There, yet unfallen, Lucifer among his peers....

Monday, March 29, 2010

Lovely little party tonight

Some friends had a gathering at their place. I made lava cakes for everyone in their kitchen, and set a dishtowel on fire. How was your day? :)

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Palm Sunday

Let us go together to meet Christ on the Mount of Olives. Today he returns from Bethany and proceeds of his own free will toward his holy and blessed passion, to consummate the mystery of our salvation. He who came down from heaven to raise us from the depths of sin, to raise us with himself, we are told in Scripture, above every sovereignty, authority and power, and every other name that can be named, now comes of his own free will to make his journey to Jerusalem. He comes without pomp or ostentation. As the psalmist says: He will not dispute or raise his voice to make it heard in the streets. He will be meek and humble, and he will make his entry in simplicity.

Let us run to accompany him as he hastens toward his passion, and imitate those who met him then, not by covering his path with garments, olive branches or palms, but by doing all we can to prostrate ourselves before him by being humble and by trying to live as he would wish. Then we shall be able to receive the Word at his coming, and God, whom no limits can contain, will be within us.

In his humility Christ entered the dark regions of our fallen world and he is glad that he became so humble for our sake, glad that he came and lived among us and shared in our nature in order to raise us up again to himself. And even though we are told that he has now ascended above the highest heavens – the proof, surely, of his power and godhead – his love for man will never rest until he has raised our earthbound nature from glory to glory, and made it one with his own in heaven.

So let us spread before his feet, not garments or soulless olive branches, which delight the eye for a few hours and then wither, but ourselves, clothed in his grace, or rather, clothed completely in him. We who have been baptised into Christ must ourselves be the garments that we spread before him. Now that the crimson stains of our sins have been washed away in the saving waters of baptism and we have become white as pure wool, let us present the conqueror of death, not with mere branches of palms but with the real rewards of his victory. Let our souls take the place of the welcoming branches as we join today in the children’s holy song: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the king of Israel.

From a sermon by St. Andrew of Crete, a bishop who lived c. 650-740

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Standing out in choir practice

Do y'all remember the Messiah sing-along I blogged in December with the Presbyterian church that actually had rehearsals beforehand to teach us the parts? Well, that same church is now letting outsiders join their choir for a concert they're giving in May of the following awesome music:

Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt, by Heinrich Schütz. It's John 3:16 in German, and very beautiful.

And Pater Noster, by Jacobus Gallus Carniolus (who also went by Jacob Handl). A rich eight-part work. I'm singing second alto.

And the Requiem by Maurice Duruflé. It has nine movements so I'll just link to a video of the first two movements and from there you can follow links for the rest of it if you wish. :)

The Requiem that Duruflé (and about 2000 other composers) scored is the traditional Latin Requiem Mass, which means all the words are in my 1962 Missal. For that matter, the Pater Noster's in there too. And even the piece in German would sound very appropriate at the St. Thérèse TLM some Sunday afternoon. In other words, this music is precisely my cup of tea.

The seventh movement is Lux Aeterna, the Communion prayer, which goes like this:

Lux aeterna luceat eis Domine
cum Sanctis tuis in aeternum
quia pius es.
Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine
et lux perpetua luceat eis
cum Sanctis tuis in aeternum
quia pius es.


May light eternal shine upon them, O Lord,
with Thy saints for evermore
for Thou art gracious.
Eternal rest give to them, O Lord
and let perpetual light shine upon them
with Thy saints for evermore
for Thou art gracious.

I heard that prayer on All Souls' Day last year. When I say that I "heard" it, I mean that I read it to myself while the priest prayed it silently. At the TLM that's how we roll. Anyway, for some reason it really got to me; I started crying as I read it. So beautiful. I've remembered the prayer ever since. And THAT'S one of the movements I'm now learning to sing! See why I'm happy about this concert?

Before our first rehearsal, I was secretly proud of being familiar with the Latin texts already. I was even familiar with some of the melodies, because Duruflé's Requiem is essentially an adaptation of the simple Gregorian chants that Catholics sing in church all the time. So I knew the Kyrie, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei, and in their proper context too. Of course I wouldn't BRAG about it, but I was willing to share my knowledge if needed.

So there we were last weekend, running through the Agnus Dei for the first time, singing a phrase I know from Mass, and sure enough, the altos around me starting hitting a wrong note and our director corrected them: "Altos, it's a D flat!" I tried to sing a bit louder to show all the Presbyterians how it's done, and I had the women on either side of me following me, but nearly everyone else still seemed to be getting it wrong. Finally the director had to say, "Altos, here's the phrase," and he played it for us. That's when I realized... that I was wrong. My prior knowledge was throwing me off, because Duruflé doesn't score the phrase exactly the way we sing it in church. He changes it slightly throughout the movement.

Brilliant, Rachel.

I'm just glad the director was too diplomatic to single me out. :)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Do you dream about God?

I was reading the autobiography of St. Thérèse not long ago, and was struck by these lines: "I often wonder why I do not dream about God since I think about Him all day. My dreams are usually about woods, flowers, rivers and the sea..."

At once I realized that I never dream about God either. One time years ago Jesus appeared symbolically in one of my dreams, but I didn't recognize it until after I woke up. My dream-self never even remembers that God exists. (Maybe that's part of why the dream world is so crazy and random and sometimes downright sinister.) Once I even dreamed of Word of Life Island, where I had a huge, life-changing experience of God when I was 13, and when I woke up I realized that it was July 14, the seventh anniversary of that very day. But the dream had been strictly about the location, with nothing about what happened there.

I don't think about God every moment like St. Thérèse, but I do think of Him a lot, so how come He never makes it to my dreams? Before I attempt to draw any conclusions I'd like to gather more data, so someone please share: is this true of you as well, or are St. Thérèse and I the only ones?

The Angel Gabriel From Heaven Came

This is always sung as an Advent hymn, but most of the verses are about today's solemnity of the Annunciation, so I went looking for a video of it to post. Here's one, with the lyrics.

The angel Gabriel from heaven came,
His wings as drifted snow, his eyes as flame;
"All hail," said he, "thou lowly maiden, Mary,
"Most highly favoured lady!"

"For know a blessed Mother thou shalt be,
"All generations laud and honor thee,
"Thy Son shall be Emmanuel, by seers foretold,
"Most highly favoured lady!"

Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her head,
"To me be as it pleaseth God," she said,
"My soul shall laud and magnify His holy Name."
Most highly favoured lady!

Of her, Emmanuel, the Christ was born
in Bethlehem, all on a Christmas morn,
and Christian folk throughout the world will ever say,
"Most highly favoured lady!"

I was bemused during my search to find that Sting has done a cover of it!

Five-minute explanation of the three religious vows

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Annunciation

Tomorrow's the solemnity of the Annunciation, when the Angel Gabriel visited Mary and told her she'd conceive the Son of God. Naturally it's nine months before Christmas. There's a parish a few blocks from my house named Annunciation; maybe I should pay it a visit!

Okay, check out this painting of the Annunciation and tell me: how can an artist who's clearly very accomplished in other ways get perspective so wrong?

Psalm 45 is in the Office for tomorrow. I love that one. Not until I was Catholic did I hear the interpretation that now seems obvious to me: that the first half foreshadows the Messiah and the second half foreshadows Mary. Imagine St. Gabriel speaking it to her.

Psalm 45

My heart cries out on a joyful theme:
I will tell my poem to the king,
my tongue like the pen of the swiftest scribe.

You have been given more than human beauty,
and grace is poured out upon your lips,
so that God has blessed you for ever.

Strap your sword to your side, mighty one,
in all your greatness and splendour.
In your splendour go forth, mount your chariot,
on behalf of truth, kindness and justice.
Let your right hand show your marvels,
let your arrows be sharp against the hearts of the king’s enemies
– the peoples will fall before you.

Your throne is firm, O God, from age to age,
your royal sceptre is a sceptre of justice.
You love uprightness, hate injustice
– for God, your God has anointed you
with the oil of gladness, above all your companions.

Myrrh and aloes and cassia anoint your garments.
From ivory palaces the sound of harps delights you.
In your retinue go the daughters of kings.
At your right hand, the queen is adorned with gold of Ophir.

Listen, my daughter, and understand;
turn your ears to what I have to say.
Forget your people, forget your father’s house,
and the king will desire you for your beauty.
He is your lord, so worship him.
The daughters of Tyre will bring you gifts;
the richest of your subjects will beg you to look on them.

How great is the king’s daughter, within the palace!
She is clothed in woven gold.
She will be taken to the king in coloured garments,
her maidens will escort her to your presence.
In gladness and rejoicing they are brought
and led to the house of the king.

Instead of your fathers you will have sons:
you will make them rulers over all the world.
I will remember your name
from generation to generation.
And so your people will do you honour
for ever and for ever.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Molten chocolate lava cakes

My friends and I were getting together in observance of St. Joseph's feast day, and I knew it was time to try the recipe I'd come across for molten chocolate cakes. Recipe here, and many pictures from Pioneer Woman here.

So I made the cakes, and here's mine. You can see for yourself how much I like whipped cream.

You can also see that the cakes really were wonderfully gooey inside!

And you can see how my cake spontaneously shrank...

...until nothing was left.

We'd begun the evening with good appetizers in the front yard-- coconut and pumpkin sweets from Mexico, strawberries from somewhere, and banana and kiwi preserves from the Norbertine nuns in Tehachapi, CA.

The evening continued with my Mom's great traditional Irish meal of corned beef and cabbage with soda bread. And avocado and tangelo-- not particularly Irish, but good!

We used this tea set. You'd have thought we were celebrating St. Patrick's Day instead of St. Joseph's. Maybe we were. I'm sure neither of them minded.

This gratuitous chocolate picture neatly rounds out my post.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

St. Joseph cookies

I made these cookies for St. Joseph's Day. Perhaps I was a bit obscure-- do you Catholics recognize what the shape is supposed to be?

The recipe is these white chocolate spice cookies, which I also used to make St. Nicholas cookies in December. A cake store near home sells cookie cutters shaped like all the capital letters of the alphabet, and I bought the L.

You know one reason I like my Catholic dessert category? Before, if I made cookies I was just being gluttonous. Now I'm admirably pious! For my next act I'll be converting some molten chocolate lava cakes to Catholicism.

Update: Good, VA got it. It's the straight edge carpenters use, which artists sometimes put in St. Joseph's hand so you'll be sure to know who he is.

St. Joseph's Day... tomorrow, March 19. Normally Catholics have to abstain from meat on Fridays in Lent, but St. Joseph's Day is a solemnity, which means it's such an important feast that it trumps the fast. (A canon lawyer gets technical about it here.) So tomorrow we can chow down on red meat if we please. :)

This is darn convenient, because my boss is taking our whole lab out for dim sum at lunchtime tomorrow, and I'd hate to have to pass up the barbecue pork buns!

What's more, tomorrow evening I'll be going out with a group from church, to have a farewell dinner for two of our OMVs, and to celebrate the feast day. We'll be eating pupusas, an El Salvadorean food I've never had before. Should be fun!

Here's a bit of trivia I liked: back when Catholics had to abstain from meat on all Fridays (not just the ones in Lent), Pope Pius XII granted a dispensation to American Catholics for the Friday after Thanksgiving, so they could eat their leftover turkey. :)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I approve Obama's action

He dyed a White House fountain green for St. Patrick's Day! (The photo is last year's; I don't know if they did it again this year.)

Here's the Chicago River dyed green:

And here's a stained glass window of the saint himself:

And of course-- the Confessions of St. Patrick, his short autobiography!

Here's a song for St. Patrick, of which you can find an abridged rendition on this album

Hail, glorious St. Patrick, dear saint of our isle,
On us thy poor children bestow a sweet smile;
And now thou art high in the mansions above,
On Erin's green valleys look down in thy love.

(optional repeat)
On Erin's green valleys, on Erin's green valleys,
On Erin's green valleys look down in thy love.

Hail, glorious St. Patrick, thy words were once strong
Against Satan's wiles and a heretic throng;
Not less is thy might where in Heaven thou art;
Oh, come to our aid, in our battle take part!

In a war against sin, in the fight for the faith,
Dear Saint, may thy children resist to the death;
May their strength be in meekness, in penance, and prayer,
Their banner the Cross, which they glory to bear.

Thy people, now exiles on many a shore,
Shall love and revere thee till time be no more;
And the fire thou hast kindled shall ever burn bright,
Its warmth undiminished, undying its light.

Ever bless and defend the sweet land of our birth,
Where the shamrock still blooms as when thou wast on earth,
And our hearts shall yet burn, whersoever we roam,
For God and St. Patrick, and our native home.

I'm not Irish but I can pass for it if I don't open my mouth. :)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The earthquake this morning...

...which woke me up at 4:04 AM, measured about 4.4 on the Richter Scale. And it measured a 5 on the Caltech scale, which is the number of news vans parked in front of the earthquake building when I arrive for work. Five is very high for such a small quake, but it's because the quake was local.

The fastest scoop on recent earthquakes and what they measured can always be found at the United States Geological Survey, here.

This isn't Caltech's earthquake building, but it should be. (It's the new astronomy building.)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Carmelites in concert

If that excites you, too bad-- it already happened last week. It was the Alhambra Carmelites singing at Santa Teresita. I went and really enjoyed it. Before the concert happened Fox News ran a story on it, and the sisters then added a second concert and both sold out. The reason you see different habits in the video is that the group includes professed sisters, novices, postulants, and nine candidates (candidacy is the year or two before postulancy that this particular congregation requires.) Among the candidates I recognized two girls I'd met two years before, when we were all on the Come and See retreat at the Carmelites' motherhouse to try to figure out if we should join that community. Evidently for some of us the answer was yes. :) I also caught a glimpse of my sister's roommate's sister who's a sister, and yes, I had fun typing that phrase. My favorite musician was the postulant with the big drum solo. She was great. And the girl I happened to sit next to during the concert turned out to be a most interesting person, which just goes to show what high-quality people attend these functions. ;)

In the Fox video you can see Mother Regina Marie. I still remember the talk she gave to all of us two years ago. I'd been expecting something like, "How to Know if You Have a Vocation", but instead she talked about the life of the congregation's founder, and a scene at the deathbed of one of the older nuns, and some other things, and all of it together left me feeling unexpectedly peaceful about not knowing whether I'd be a nun or not, because the more important, deeper thing is to follow God closely no matter what.

The next day at lunch we girls started talking about Mother. "She's fascinating... I like hearing her talk... You get the feeling she understands people... I wish we had more time with her..." Suddenly, as if summoned by our wish, Mother herself appeared and sat down to chat with us. We were all immediately tongue-tied. I vaguely remember blurting out whatever questions I could think of just to keep her at the table.

One really great feature of that retreat was that there was a whole day just to pray. Nothing to go see, nothing to do-- just a couple of very short talks from the chaplain about vocation discernment, and the rest of the time we spent by ourselves, staying in our rooms or wandering the beautiful grounds of the retreat center. That, ironically, was the only time I ever visited a convent and left feeling that I'd had enough time to pray.

Incidentally, that chaplain... I think he must have had experience with how shy girls can be in certain situations. At the end of one talk he asked if there were any questions, and nobody spoke up. But instead of leaving, he just kept staring at the podium, as if distracted, until someone worked up enough courage to ask her question. He answered it, and then there was another period of silence while he focused intently on his own folded hands. Then another girl managed to ask a question, and he answered that, and then he waited some more.... and so on. In the end there were lots of questions, but he wouldn't have heard any of them if he hadn't given us enough time to psych ourselves up to it.

Hm. I have wandered far from the given subject of my post, so I will tie everything together in an impressive circle by saying that I hope the Alhambra Carmelites give another concert soon. There!

Monday, March 08, 2010

The redhead gene

Ten years ago, as an undergraduate biology student, I wrote a research paper on MC1R, a gene that helps control hair and skin color. Certain mutations of MC1R cause very pale skin and red hair. In my paper I wrote that it's advantageous to have that combination if you live in northern climes, because your skin needs sunlight exposure to produce Vitamin D, and there's so little sun up north that it's better to have translucent skin to let as much sunlight through as possible. Nearer the equator, there's no worry about getting enough sun (unless you're a woman who keeps all her skin covered for cultural reasons-- such women do sometimes suffer from rickets, a disease caused by lack of Vitamin D.) But there is worry about skin cancer where the sun is bright, so at the lower latitudes it's better to have very dark skin.

None of this was original thinking; it was the conventional thinking which I lifted from the papers I read in the course of my research. And now some other student has written a paper on a similar topic and has offered the same standard theory, which isn't surprising at all. What is surprising is that the Telegraph seems to think that it's news!

Whatever. Here's a fun fact: the MC1R gene that causes red hair in humans is also responsible for similar coat colors in rats, dogs, and the glorious Highland cow.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Recent pictures from my life

Just to prove I wasn't lying about that tres leches cake:

I made some chocolate star cookies as well, to use up the last of the frosting, and thought I'd decorate some like little scarlet pimpernels:

Most I decorated like this:

We're going to have peaches this year! If the recent rain hasn't destroyed all the peach blossoms.

Check out this ironic screenshot of an entry on a medical website and the ad that was assigned to load with it.

I saw that screen shot two days again, and then yesterday I came downstairs to find that the kitchen table settings had changed... to this:

It's enough to make me anatidaephobic! But nothing will make me anatiferous.

Speaking of produce from our yard, the peaches and tangelos and tangerines and Valencia oranges and navel oranges and boysenberries and sweet peas and herbs are all great, but watch out for the lemons-- they're a bit aggressive.

They often grow with curved spiky ends, but this is the first time I've seen one grow a long finger like that.

Contemplate it in different lighting...

...and from different angles...

...and it's still pretty strange!

I mentioned the hard rain we've been having. It's awesome. Transforms our front yard into a fairyland.