Saturday, October 22, 2011

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, October 23

First of all, a  BIG THANK YOU to the wonderful team who pulled off the Annual St. Austin Fair Trade Chocolate Festival (ASAFTCF?). It was DELICIOUS. It was FUN. It was EDUCATIONAL. And it involved CHOCOLATE! What more could you ask for? All of us owe a debt of gratitude to all those who were not daunted by last winter’s worst storm, but persevered to keep the idea and momentum alive and present us such a great event last Sunday. If you were there, I am sure you would agree it was a great success! THANKS to all involved, including: Elizabeth Cole (lead), Sarah Yanes, Ginger Zanetti, Cyndi Kohfield–decorating, Deanna Fahey, Holy Cross Liturgical Dancers–African Dancing, Kathy Rowell–Drumming, Cazamance Cafe–Peanut Soup, Trisha Salcher–games, posters and support, Kathy Airel, Pat Macy and many volunteers to serve food and sell chocolate and clean up. WELL DONE!!!

This week I am starting an occasional series in this column on our church windows. As the most colorful part of the interior of our church, the windows are one of the most prominent features of our worship space. They add a great deal to our environment.

The first window on the right, as you face the altar, above the First Station on the Way of the Cross, depicts Baptism. There is a white object in the center of the window which at first I took to be an eyelash, with a tear coming down from it. I suppose you could support that interpretation if you wanted to see it as repentance for sins, but what it actually is meant to represent is a sea shell and drops of water. This represents the later practice of Baptism as pouring a little water over the person’s head. Many Renaissance paintings of the Baptism of the Lord show John the Baptist holding a sea shell and pouring a dribble of water over the forehead of Jesus, while the Holy Spirit comes down in the form of a dove, and today at St. Austin we too use a white sea shell for pouring water on the head of the person being baptized.

Of course this is not at all how it happened in the time of Jesus. John the Baptist would have plunged Jesus’ full body into the Jordan River, much like modern day Baptists do Baptism. The full significance of dying and rising, of going into the water and being reformed and coming up again, would shine forth. The custom of pouring a little water over the head came about in Northern Europe when it was too cold at Easter time to take people to the river bank and baptize them. Rather than expose people to pneumonia, a little water was poured over their heads. And while we have the option to do Baptism by full immersion here, we succumb to the temptation of convenience, as well as modesty, and pour a little water from a sea shell.

There is another symbol of Baptism in that window in the yellow-gold cross. This reminds me of the anointing with chrism that is part of the Baptism ceremony. Chrism is olive oil that has perfume added to it and is consecrated (as opposed to merely blessed like the Oils of the Sick and Catechumens) by the Bishop during Holy Week at the Chrism Mass. The word “chrism” comes from the same Greek root at the word “Christ,” meaning “anointed.” Hence Baptism is sometimes referred to as “christening,” meaning anointing. In the Old Testament, priests (like Aaron) and prophets (like Samuel) and kings (like David) were all anointed to show that they were chosen by God, so in Baptism we were anointed with Chrism, in the sign of the cross, indicating our dignity in the priestly, prophetic and kingly people of the Body of Christ.

This window was, I believe, paid for by the St. Austin Altar Society. Now we have no Altar Society. If any of you have some of the history of this group, when it existed, what it did, who was in it, why it ended, I would be interested in learning about it.

From time to time as occasion permits, I will reflect on the other windows of our church.

God bless!

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