Memento Mori


Today’s readings:

Quoniam ipse Dominus in jussu, et in voce archangeli, et in tuba Dei descendet de cælo: et mortui, qui in Christo sunt, resurgent primi. Deinde nos, qui vivimus, qui relinquimur, simul rapiemur cum illis in nubibus obviam Christo in aëra, et sic semper cum Domino erimus.
For the Lord himself, with a word of command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.
1 Thessalonians 4:16-17
How’s your bucket list doing? Got a lot checked off? North Korea just exploded a bomb that world media turned into a veritable Fright Night of clicks and ad revenue.  Al Jazeera literally made it into clickbait with this tweet:
Since I grew up in the Cold War, I’m pretty much over all this stuff: but fear is real. I think some part of the tensions in this country are the venting of the fears we’re experiencing just now, although granted our Glorious Leader Don al Trump also scares a lot of folks.
My twitter response to A-J’s tweet was three points long. The first is, “Everyone dies”.
Literally, everyone dies. Today, tomorrow, sometime in 2050, whatever. Everyone Dies. Personally 18 mins warning as we prepare for Nuclear Evaporation is way better than I don’t know, a sudden gunshot, or a car accident, or an earthquake. All of these are likely. Yet I don’t walk around afraid of them. But, nukular bomb, thuggee, ninja, gangsta, old lady driver,  or the mother of all San Andreas shatterings, none matters. We’re all going to die and share one thing:
There is nothing pretty about death at all.
The breathing becomes labored. The edges of the body, if you will, start to crisp up and die first. The light in the eyes full on and there is terror. Then out. And there is nothing. If you’ve ever had anything die in your arms… or watch someone pass… it’s nothing like a movie at all. How’s your bucket list doing?
There is nothing pretty about death.
But God has done it.
There is nothing pretty about death on a cross. Nothing at all.
One of the things that makes me ready to accept the Shroud of Turin as really the burial shroud of Christ is because it’s been around through a part of the Church’s history when we did not prefer to think of Jesus as a maimed and bloody mess. The shroud shows a man covered in blood; not just blood prettily staining his hands and feet (or even garishly flowing from those wounds) but literally covered in blood. This makes sense if you know anything about the process of being scourged… but I’ll stop there.
There is nothing pretty about death on a cross. Nothing at all.

But God has done it.
There’s this invocation from the Ninth Petition of The Jesus Psalter: Let the remembrance of Thy death teach me how to esteem my life; and the memory of Thy resurrection encourage me cheerfully to descend into the grave.
That is the Christian Mystery right there: We walk this road neither unscathed nor unchanged, and yet for all eternity though it lead to death and darkness, now it leads to life and light because God walked it himself. The map is the same, the path is unraveled and rewoven. The tapestry undone and repaired.
I heard a sermon yesterday about (among other things) the Satanic appeal to human pride that is this concept of “Death with Dignity” and legalized mercy killings. I will post it when I can. But for now, let’s just note: God walked the path, we can’t turn aside from the path and say we’re following him. We have to walk it through to the end, all the way, without chickening out.
This is dignity because God has done it: this path leads to a known ending now. Let the remembrance of Thy death teach me how to esteem my life; and the memory of Thy resurrection encourage me cheerfully to descend into the grave.
But we all want to Run Away. This fear of death is just more of the usual Fear of Missing Out: what will we miss when we’re not here? How’s your bucket list doing? 
I’m afraid we are all haunted by our bucket list into thinking that seeing the Pyrenees or riding the Orient Express, making love in the Grand Canyon, or making a pilgrimage to Mall of America are all as equally as important and as valid a goal as getting right with God and persevering until the end to Salvation.
I had a bucket list when I was 29. Oddly enough I’ve done a lot of the item on it. I feel nothing at all of the sense of accomplishment I imagined I would feel when I was 29. Quite the opposite in fact, I’m aware now of how shallow they were, how pointless, how totally irrelevant all the petty and prideful sins on that list were and are. And they are sins exactly because petty and prideful. Yes, I can say I’ve done something… that was on that list… but did that something save anyone? Make the world better? Heal the sin-sick soul of myself or anyone else? No.
How’s your bucket list doing? We walk this road neither unscathed nor unchanged, and yet for all eternity though it lead to death and darkness, now it leads to life and light because God walked it himself. The map is the same, the path is unraveled and rewoven. The tapestry undone and repaired.
St Paul says hat those of us who are alive will be changed. That those who have gone before will rise first. And that all of us together will rejoice in the presence of the One Who went before us. He is the only Dignity we have – any of us. Even those who reject him are only measured by him, by how much they (unknowingly) reflect his light.
I have climbed Everest, I have seen the moon by standing on it, I have ruled the world, I’ve cause chaos on three continents by my internet communication skills in an era when those were few and far between. But if I can’t meet Christ in the air on that last day, I have failed.
I may have “made the world better”, I may have helped a lot of people be “happier” or “more free”, I may have done anything and everything that would make someone think “he was a good person.”  But if I can’t meet Christ in the air on that last day, I have failed.
The rest of the Ninth Petition of the Jesus Psalter:

Jesus, grant me grace always to remember my death and the great account I then must render; that so being kept continually disposed, my soul may depart out of this world rightly in Thy grace. Then by the gracious intercession of Thy blessed Mother and the assistance of the glorious St. Michael, deliver me from the danger of my soul’s enemies; and do thou, my good angel, I beseech thee, help me at the hour of death. The, dear Jesus, remember Thy mercy; and turn not, for my offenses, Thy face away from me. Secure me against the terrors of that day, by causing me now to die daily to all earthly things and to have my continual conversation in heaven. Let the remembrance of Thy death teach me how to esteem my life; and the memory of Thy resurrection encourage me cheerfully to descend into the grave.

Throw away the bucket list.
Learn to feed the poor at your doorstep without worrying about those on the next block.
Pray.
I’ll see you there, but only if you pray for me to meet you. I totally need your prayers to make this.

Fourth Petition – Jesus Psalter


To see all the other notes in this series, click on “Jesus Psalter” or in the labels below. To see the first post click here.

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus comfort me. (x10)

Jesus comfort me and give me grace place my chief, my only joy in thee.
Send me heavenly meditations, spiritual sweetness, and fervent desires of thy glory; ravish my soul with the contemplation of heaven where I may dwell everlastingly with Thee.
Grant me, sweet savior Jesus, contempt of all damnable pleasures full of sin and misery.
Bring often to my remembrance Thy kindnesses, Thy great gifts, Thy unspeakable goodness often shown me. When Thou bringest to mind the sad remembrance of my man sins whereby I have so ungratefully offended Thee, comfort me with the assurance of obtaining Thy grace with the spirit of perfect repentance, which may purge away my guilt and prepare me for thy kingdom.

Have mercy on all sinners, O Jesus, I beseech Thee; turn their vices into virtues and, making them true observers of Thy law and lovers of Thee, bring them to bliss in everlasting glory.

Have mercy also on the souls in Purgatory, for Thy bitter passion, I beseech Thee, and for Thy glorious name, Jesus.
O blessed Trinity, one true God, have mercy on me.
Our Father (or Pater Noster). Hail Mary (or Ave Maria)
This petition asks that we realize and live as though all joy is in God – and so in pleasing him.  A friend of mind throwing away his past sins told me he chanted, “It’s not a loss because it was never a gain.” If Aquinas is right and all sin is either a lack of love or a misdirection of love, then throw away the former and fix the latter. The first was never really important, and the second is not gone. As Kansas sings in, The Wall, “There is no loss.”  What we give up or sacrifice in our God-ward journey is not us and what really is us (as God created us to be) can never go away.

Third Petition – Jesus Psalter


To see all the other notes in this series, click on “Jesus Psalter” or in the labels below. To see the first post click here.

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus strengthen me. (x10)

Jesus strengthen me in soul and body to the performance of all virtue for thy pleasure, whereby I may attain to thy everlasting joy and felicity.
Mercifully grant me firm purpose to amend my life, doing penance for all the years I have misspent to thy displeasure in the practices of impious thoughts, enjoyments, words, deeds, and evil customs; in breaking thy commandments for which I deserve damnation and thine enmity.
Make my heart obedient to thy will and ready, for love of thee, to perform all the works of mercy.
Grant me the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the eight Beatitudes, the four Cardinal virtues; and, by the frequent and pious reception of thy Holy Sacraments, dispose me to thy devotion.
Have mercy on all sinners, O Jesus, I beseech Thee; turn their vices into virtues and, making them true observers of Thy law and lovers of Thee, bring them to bliss in everlasting glory.
Have mercy also on the souls in Purgatory, for Thy bitter passion, I beseech Thee, and for Thy glorious name, Jesus.
O blessed Trinity, one true God, have mercy on me.
Our Father (or Pater Noster). Hail Mary (or Ave Maria)
These petitions engage in one of the best pious customs of the period: making lists. This one is actually a meta-list, a list of lists! Contra the “impious thoughts, enjoyments, words, deeds, and evil customs; in breaking thy commandments” the writer posits the 14 Works of Mercy (7 corporeal, 7 spiritual),  the seven fruit of the Holy Spirit, the Eight Beatitudes, and the 4 Cardinal Virtues. Then the prayer invokes the Seven Sacraments. This pray asks for a lot! Again there is the realization that what went before Grace was sinful, take away my stoney heart and give me a heart of flesh set on fire for love of you.

The Second Petition – The Jesus Psalter

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, help me. (x10)

Jesus help me to overcome all temptation to sin and the malice of my ghostly enemies.
Help me to spend my time in virtue and in labors acceptable to thee, to repress in my flesh the motions of sloth, gluttony, and lust.
Help me to have a heart fully in love with virtue and the holy desire of Thy glorious presence.
Help me through pious and peaceful living with my neighbors to have and to keep a good name, to Thy honor, and to my consolation.

Have mercy on all sinners, O Jesus, I beseech Thee; turn their vices into virtues and, making them true observers of Thy law and lovers of Thee, bring them to bliss in everlasting glory.
Have mercy also on the souls in Purgatory, for Thy bitter passion, I beseech Thee, and for Thy glorious name, Jesus.
O blessed Trinity, one true God, have mercy on me.
Our Father (or Pater Noster). Hail Mary (or Ave Maria)

Here (and in the first petition) we see the general themes laid out, of taking things one has – sloth, gluttony, lust – and exchanging them for things one should have: a love of virtue and a desire for God’s presence. In this prayer “a good name” assumes that all one’s neighbors are more-pious, holier Christians than oneself and that to have their good judgement is to have become more like them. This is very orthodox thinking in the Christian East as well as the West: I am the only sinner I know. Yes, we have all sinned and fallen short, but I am the only sinner I know. The state of your soul is not for me to judge, but rather something for which I should intercede and always assume the best.

The prayer to “haue my hart enamored of vertue, & the glorious prefence of thee” as it is printed in the 1599 text, is one of a sort that will be seen often: my heart is drawn away from you, God, but give me a heart, rather, that is drawn to you that I can become more like you.

The First Petition – Jesus Psalter

This whole series can be found under Jesus Psalter Series in the sidebar. The reader is referred there for “how to” and any historical notes. To the latter I will add more as I find them. Each petition will be posted in the same format: the petition itself, which is to be said ten times, followed by a collection of prayers compiled from my available sources, including in bold, the ones that see to be “the original” prayers, to differentiate them. (It will be noted that the first prayer is always the Petition plus an embolism which clarifies the intention. Then the closing prayer, Pater Noster, and Ave. 

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, have mercy on me. (x10)

Jesus, have mercy on me, O God of compassion, and forgive the many and great offenses I have committed in Thy sight. 
Many have been the follies of my life, and great are the miseries I have deserved for my ingratitude.
Have mercy on me, dear Jesus, for I am weak; O Lord, heal me, who am unable to help myself.
Deliver me from setting my heart upon any of Thy creatures, which may divert my eyes from continually looking up to Thee.
Grant me grace henceforth, for the love of Thee, to hate sin: and out of a just esteem of Thee, to despise worldly vanities.

Have mercy on all sinners, O Jesus, I beseech Thee; turn their vices into virtues and, making them true observers of Thy law and lovers of Thee, bring them to bliss in everlasting glory.
Have mercy also on the souls in Purgatory, for Thy bitter passion, I beseech Thee, and for Thy glorious name, Jesus.

O blessed Trinity, one true God, have mercy on me.

Our Father (or Pater Noster). Hail Mary (or Ave Maria)

A comment on the common concluding prayer, of course, “All Sinners” includes the person praying. The subtext of “change their vices into virtues” is that all vices are only misdirected virtues. There is no positive evil: only a deficiency of good in some area. One fails to love God enough and loves other things instead. But it is still love.

Jesus Psalter – Notes and Practice

Each section of the Psalter (a Section is Five Decades) opens with the recitation of two verses of Scripture, Philippians 2:10-11.

In nomine Jesu omne genu flectatur caelestium, terrestrium et infernorum, Et omnis lingua confiteatur, quia Dominus Jesus Christus in gloria est Dei Patris.
In the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth: And that every tongue should confess that the Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father. 

The Psalter of 1599 (above, left) only has two petitions in the first decade while the later edition has many more. The online edition has several petitions of the same sort as the later one.

Jesus, have mercy on me, O God of compassion, and forgive the many and great offenses I have committed in Thy sight. Many have been the follies of my life, and great are the miseries I have deserved for my ingratitude. Have mercy on me, dear Jesus, for I am weak; O Lord, heal me, who am unable to help myself. Deliver me from setting my heart upon any of Thy creatures, which may divert my eyes from continually looking up to Thee.  Grant me grace henceforth, for the love of Thee, to hate sin: and out of a just esteem of Thee, to despise worldly vanities. 

Because of this (and other differences between the editions) it seems that the earlier texts of the devotion might have had only one or two petitions – plus the prayer “Have mercy on all sinners” &c., ending in the Pater Noster and the Ave. The whole point was to set up a meditation on the thirty-fold invocation. “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus…” a couple of petitions and the meditation (ad hoc by the devotee, or prompted by other materials).  It helps if we think of this like a Rosary. We know an Rosary is supposed to be more than just quickly saying the ten Aves and one Pater Noster, one Gloria, and one O, my Jesus. But most of the time – especially in public recitation – the Rosary gets turned into just that.

When you read a text on how to pary the Rosary there is a complex “Contemplation” included for each decade.  You’ll not get it memorized! You’re not supposed to: it’s intended as a bridge or springboard to your own inner world. I hear advice that people should “say the Rosary while driving” and I think “OMG No!  It’s hella more dangerous than cellphones!”  It’s a bit more involved: it can take minutes to read, but an hour to pray. I see some advising doing only a decade of the rosary in 15 mins: thus, a properly done one would take almost an hour and a half. That’s advanced – very advanced – but not a bad target. Nor is it, in time, a bad target for the Psalter.


Same principle applies here: you can zip through the whole thing, but if you’re not engaged in a sort of Lectio Divina you’re not really doing it. The Contemplation of it should take a bit longer than the recitation, I think; but I’m not there yet.

As you begin to memorise the Psalter of Jesus, as a first step, only memorise the 15 invocations, together with the opening and closing prayers:

Opening Scripture:

Ut in nomine Jesu omne genu flectatur caelestium, terrestrium et infernorum, Et omnis lingua confiteatur, quia Dominus Jesus Christus in gloria est Dei Patris.
That in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth: And that every tongue should confess that the Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father. 

Make ten repetitions of the first invocation in a section, saying the Divine Name with slow deliberations:

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, have mercy on me. (x10)

End with the prayers:Have mercy on all sinners, O Jesus, I beseech Thee; turn their vices into virtues and, making them true observers of Thy law and lovers of Thee, bring them to bliss in everlasting glory.
Have mercy also on the souls in Purgatory, for Thy bitter passion, I beseech Thee, and for Thy glorious name, Jesus.

O blessed Trinity, one true God, have mercy on me. 

Our Father (or Pater Noster)Hail Mary (or Ave Maria)

Then go on to the second invocation followed by the same prayers.

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, help me. (x10)

End with the prayers:Have mercy on all sinners, O Jesus, I beseech Thee; turn their vices into virtues and, making them true observers of Thy law and lovers of Thee, bring them to bliss in everlasting glory.
Have mercy also on the souls in Purgatory, for Thy bitter passion, I beseech Thee, and for Thy glorious name, Jesus.  

O blessed Trinity, one true God, have mercy on me. 

Our Father (or Pater Noster)Hail Mary (or Ave Maria)

Proceed through the other invocations of the section in the same way.

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, strengthen me.
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, comfort me.
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, make me constant.

At the end of the fifth “O blessed Trinity” prayer close this way:

Dominus Noster Jesus Christus humiliavit semetipsum factus obediens usque ad mortem, mortem autem crucis.
Our Lord Jesus Christ humbled Himself, becoming obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross.Philippians 2:8 (modif. – This is actually the closing antiphon of the Tenebrae service in Holy Week.) 

Hear these my petitions, O most merciful Savior, and grant me Thy grace so frequently to repeat and consider them, that they may prove easy steps, whereby my soul may climb up to the knowledge, love, and performance of my duty to Thee and to my neighbor through the whole course of my life. Amen.

Our Father (or Pater Noster)Hail Mary (or Ave Maria)
Apostles’ Creed (or
Credo)  

After you’ve memorized the basic prayers (I’m still working on this) then I would suggest adding two or three petitions to each decade and contemplation. We’ll get to that in the following posts.

The Jesus Psalter

I first heard of the Jesus Psalter reading Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson’s wonderful Come Rack, Come Rope, a love story set in the time of the Elizabethan Pogroms. It was also my first introduction to how those Pogroms were conducted – hunters, star courts, betrayals, simony, etc. Reading such a story can drive one to despair, or conversion. The Jesus Psalter is mentioned a couple of times in the opening portion of the book, both rather offhandedly.

…in Marjorie at least, as will be seen more plainly later, there was a strong love of Jesus Christ and His Mother, whom she knew, from her hidden crucifix and her (rosary) beads, and her Jesus Psalter–which she used every day..

And:

Her advice, besides that which has been described, was, principally, to say his Jesus Psalter more punctually, to hear mass whenever that were possible, to trust in God, and to be patient and submissive with his father in all things that did not touch divine love and faith. 

As it turns out, despite Benson’s passing mention of it, it was a very important text in the Bad Old Times. It became a focus of piety for the beleaguered Catholic Church which historical context adds levels of meaning to the devotion.  As a side note: this is why I think it’s important today. It fell out of use over the last 500 years, but today we may need it again. There are Christians in name who will not fail to turn over the Faithful, I think, if things get much rockier.

So, being the religious geek I am, I had to go looking for it. And it’s out there, in a tiny few places.  The first place I found it was in on a website devoted to Latin prayers. I liked it, printed it out, and used it at the Monastery. Fr T even wants to reprint it. Then I found another text last summer, much more ancient, via Google Play. It is from a prayerbook published in 1599. (It’s here in the Google Play Store.)The Full Title (as such were, in those days) is:

A Manuall of Praiers, gathered out of many famous and good authors, as well auncient as of the time present. Distributed according to the daies of the Weeke. Whereunto is added a newe Calendar, with the order to helpe at masse. (Certaine deuout and Godly petitions, commonly called: Jesus Psalter.)

More recently (this month, in fact) I was handed a copy of the text printed by the Catholic Truth Society in the 1940s.

The Jesus Psalter is a set of 15 invocations of the name of Jesus, recited in “decades” as on the traditional Dominican Rosary, but each invocation is different. Each one includes a threefold recitation of the Divine Name and each decade ends with a a set of the same prayers, including the Pater Noster and the Ave. Each set of five decades ends with the Credo as well. Later editions of the text have a longer prayer said at the end of each five.   Each decade, between the invocations, there is a series of meditations. Although they have a common theme, they vary between each edition I have. The oldest one from 1599, doesn’t have meditations for all the decades and some are limited to only one or two sentences. This leads me to the conclusion that the meditations were intended to be personalized. This is as in, again, the Dominican Rosary, which is meant to be prayed (perhaps with a guidebook) until it comes “into one’s soul” and forms its own set of meditations in the heart.

Another difference in various online editions is a confusion about how the decades are said. Here I will go with the one that is most logical – and also included in the 1599 text: each invocation is intended to be said 10 times with 3 repetitions of the name of Jesus in each invocation. Thus the Holy Name gets said 150 times in each set of 5 decades and thence we get the name Psalter: for “Jesus” is said once for each of the 150 Psalms. Add that to the daily practice of the Rosary, 150 Aves said in sequence (through the 15 traditional mysteries), and the laity would get 9 sets of “Psalter Equivalences” each week.

When read as a sequence, you can see the progression of thought through the 15 invocations:

  1. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, have mercy on me.
  2. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, help me.
  3. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, strengthen me.
  4. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, comfort me.
  5. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, make me constant.
  6. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, enlighten me.
  7. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, grant me grace to fear Thee.
  8. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, grant me grace to love Thee.
  9. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, grant me grace to remember my death.
  10. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, send me here my purgatory.
  11. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, grant me grace to flee evil company.
  12. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, grant me grace to call to Thee for help.
  13. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, grant me grace to persevere in virtue.
  14. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, grant me grace to fix my mind on Thee.
  15. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, grant me grace to order my life to Thee.

I’ll do more posts on this. Look for the label “Jesus Psalter”.  Peace.