Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Heavy Dose of Ashes From Back in the Day

The Flagellants Scene from Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal



The Catholic Encylopedia on the Flagellants.

The Black Death (1347-1351) took away between one third and one half of the population of Europe. That same century had seen the papal schism, a brutal famine, and the Hundred Years War (which represented the first nation state war in European history).

The clergy was devastated by the plague, and the following generations were poorly educated in contrast to the golden age of theology in the 1200's. Death seemed to be at everyone's elbow. The mood was morbid and apocalyptic. There was much discussion of the putrefecation of the body, and being eaten by worms, and what the resurrection of the body was going to be like. Look up the "The Three Living and the Three Dead", the Danse Macabre, and Transi Tombs to catch the tenor of the times.



I was a pauper born, then to Primate raised
Now I am cut down and ready to be food for worms
Behold my grave.
Whoever you may be who passes by,
I ask you to remember
You will be like me after you die
All horrible, dust, worms, vile flesh"

- Tomb of Henry Chichele, d. 1443

In the play "Everyman", which symbolizes any man about to die, Everyman is abandoned by his friends (Fellowship), his family (Kindred and Cousin), and his material possesions (Goods). His only steadfast companion unto the grave is his charitable works (Good Deeds) which he has been neglecting. A key emphasis in the piety of the times was laid upon Confession and the necessity to do penance, which sets Everyman on the path to salvation.

Postscript: An interesting thing happened this morning. When they distributed the ashes at Mass they said, "Remember, man, that thou art dust, and to dust thou shall return" I hadn't heard that in a long, long time. For years it had been "Repent and believe in the Gospel."

See more on that very topic from this J. Peter Nixon post on dotCommonweal.
While the Ash Wednesday injunction to “repent and believe in the Gospel” is more biblical, I must confess that I miss the older “Remember thou are dust and unto dust thou shalt return.” The shock of being confronted with the certainty of our death is a good way to begin Lent. Sic transit gloria mundi.

13 comments:

Garpu said...

Oh wow. They had EWTN back then? *ducks*

Jeff said...

Ha!

crystal said...

Cheerful film - make a great vocations advert :) von Sydow looks so young!

Maria said...

Thanks for the history lesson. I had never seen that movie before. Must go find old Bergman classics and study up on my German. Oh, good, English subtitles. Whew.

Here in NM we have group, the Penitente Brotherhood who have in the past and some still do practice self-flagellation.

Now I'm going to have to make a post.

Maria said...

Jen,

I suspect that Mother Angelica is really immortal and started EWTN way back then.

*runs and hides now*

Jeff said...

Hi Crystal and Maria,

Cheerful film - make a great vocations advert...

... suspect that Mother Angelica is really immortal and started EWTN way back then.


Looks like they interrupted one of those "clown masses" you hear so much about. That's what they get for liturgical dancing!

Shia Islam's Ashura celebrations have nothing on these guys (The Shia are sort of the Catholics of Islam. It's a topic in and of itself).

Maria said...

Jeff,

Looks like they interrupted one of those "clown masses" you hear so much about. That's what they get for liturgical dancing!

Sad to say I've seen some pretty bad liturgical dancing. I'm not a fan of it, but I try not to be uncharitable when it happens. Just the thought of a clown mass makes me shudder. Though, clowns self flagellating might be funny.


Shia Islam's Ashura celebrations have nothing on these guys (The Shia are sort of the Catholics of Islam. It's a topic in and of itself).

Oh, now I'm going to have go study that. I really wish I knew more about Islam.

Liam said...

Though, clowns self flagellating might be funny.

That's brilliant.

Of course, there's always the Monty Python version:
"Pie Jesu Domine..." THUNK! "Miserere nobis..." THUNK!

Jeff said...

Liam,

"Pie Jesu Domine..." THUNK! "Miserere nobis..." THUNK!


"Bring out yer dead!"

"I'm feeling much better... I'd like to go for a walk..."

Liturgical dance... I saw some brief instances of liturgical dance about 20 years ago, and nothing since then. I never see it, but I see complaints about it on the web all the time.

Of course, here back East, we don't even hold hands during the Our Father and do all that nice stuff that they do in the Midwest and other places. Heck, they can hardly get us to sing, let alone dance.

Garpu said...

People used to hold hands during the Our Father out here, but that seems to be falling into disuse. (Thankfully...I'm not a fan of being touched by people I don't know. Much less of random strangers grabbing my body parts.) I haven't been to many area churches, though, so it could be different.

Jeff said...

Jen,

That reminds me of >Why Catholics Can't Sing: The Culture of Catholicism and the Triumph of Bad Taste

cowboyangel said...

That's such a great film. I remember when I saw it for the first time, when I was about 17, and it just blew my mind. I had never seen anything like it. And Max and Gunnar are fantastic.

Liam beat me to the Holy Grail reference. Another amazing film.

And Maria beat me to mentioning Los Penitentes. That northern New Mexico area is verrrrry interesting. You also have the only real pilgrimage I know of in the U.S. - to the Santuario de Chimayo.

Northern New Mexico (and southern Colorado) is the closest to Spain in this country. Or parts of that area. It's even more interesting because of the mix with the Native Americans and Mexicans and Anglos. And, of course, Los Alamos. Weird energy up in that region.

Maria said...

Finally getting back over here. Yep, Cowboyangel, Northern New Mexico is very interesting. I wouldn't live anywhere, unless I could make it to Spain. Now that we have a president who can speak in complete sentences I don't feel like I need to flee. ;-)

But seriously, I'd like to make the Pilgrimage to Chimayo this year. I've lived here all my life and have never done it.