This week in Madonna House was, to put it mildly, packed. It was the week of feasts upon feasts, feast following feast, each with its own customs and beauty and grace.
It began last Sunday with St. Nicholas, of course not celebrated liturgically. But the Turkish bishop saint (or maybe one of his earthly helpers) was up early leaving candy in all of our boot slots. At supper, while we enjoyed the traditional gingerbread cookies for dessert, the man himself appeared to us, although there are some who insist it was just one of our young men guests dressed up in beard, robe, and miter. And he brought gifts again, this time a gift we could give to each other, the gift of intercessory prayer.
We came up with this custom some years ago, that on the feast of St. Nicholas we would receive the name of another person in the community, for whom we would pray for the next 365 days. As Nicholas ransomed the three young women with bags of gold from their poverty and disgrace, so we can ‘ransom’ one another by generous intercession and sacrifice.
So that was Nicholas. Then Tuesday brought Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception, which we celebrated with great beauty of liturgy, decoration, and table. Besides the feast itself and all it means for all creation, it has a special MH significance, as it was the day our first chapel above the dining room was consecrated, and so the day the Lord came to dwell among us in the Blessed Sacrament.
So we celebrated with a festive Mass, brunch, some time off in the afternoon, Vespers and supper, all of it with all the trimmings. I missed the latter part of the day as I was off to nearby Renfrew to give a talk launching the Year of Mercy at some of the parishes there.
A few days of relative normalcy followed, although at this time of the year that normalcy is largely a matter of preparing for the next round of celebrations and feasting. And so today we had my personal favorite feast of the year, Easter aside—Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The day began with the lovely Mexican custom of the mananitas, the morning song. In that culture, women are honored by being serenaded first thing in the morning on their special days. So on the great day of the Virgen Morena, Reina de Mexico, we tiptoed over to the island chapel where her image had been set in front of the altar on a beautiful blue cloth with many multi-colored vigil lights in front of her. The chapel was otherwise dark, and the effect is just spectacular.
And we had a time of spontaneous singing to our Mother, people chiming in with songs whenever the spirit moved them. Lauds followed, and then breakfast. At that meal, each of us could go to another image of the Guadalupana in the dining room, light a taper before it, and pick a ‘rose’, a paper adorned with a rose pattern on which one of her words to St. Juan Diego was written.
A festive Mass in the evening followed by a fantastic Mexican meal (a large crew had assembled to make tortillas the night before), and a fiesta where the story of Guadalupe was acted out and then we all had a chance to share our own testimonies of Our Lady’s intercession in our lives.
All of this was going on while we were very busy indeed. The kitchen is a place of constant activity, for example. I personally (oh, OK, with a little help from my friends) made 13 dozen butter tarts one evening, with another evening in the offing to make another batch (smaller, probably just four or five dozen more…).
Besides the usual work in the bush, the men collected greens and Christmas trees to adorn our many houses for the feast, and lights have already begun to go up on the outsides of the buildings. We try to wait for the last minute to do the inside decorating, though. Many guests arrived this week, as we still see quite a number coming through.