Archive for March, 2011

And for all Christians, there was a time of preparation before the great festivals which became longer and more elaborate in direct proportion to the elaboration of the festivals themselves.  From early days, the time of anxiety and tragedy which led up to the Resurrection was marked out by abstinence and vigil.  By a natural progression of ideas, this was linked to the story in the Synoptic Gospels that Christ had retreated from his active life and ministry into the desert for forty days and nights.  It was the perfect time if the liturgical year for catechumens to spend a last rigorous preparation before their triumphal reception into the Church during the celebration of Easter.  This forty-day period, first explicitly mentioned with much fanfare in the Canons of the Council of Nicaea and therefore probably of long standing, was the season which in English is known as Lent. . . The forty-day season would make all the more joyful the Christmas and Epiphany festivals at the darkest time of the calendar, when the days were at their shortest, as the release came at last from the time of preparation. (200)

Christianity : The First Three Thousand Years, Diarmaid MacCullouch

Christ in the Wilderness Surrounded by Angels, Charles de la Fosse


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The 40 weekdays from Ash Wednesday until Easter observed by Christians as a season of fasting and penitence in preparation for Easter.

[from Middle English lenten, lente, spring, Lent, from Old English lencten]

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In Rome, towards the end of the second century, the Church was already acquiring rights to excavate tunnels for burial in the soft tufa stone of the region, the first Christian catacombs – not refuges from persecution, as the pious Counter-Reformation Catholics assumed in the sixteenth century, just places for decent and eternal rest.  The whole system of catacombs in Rome (named after one particular complex of tunnels beside the Appian Way in a sunken valley, In Catacumbas, knowledge of which has survived when all the others were forgotten) 875,000 burials made between the second and ninth centuries.  What is interesting about the earliest of these burials is the relative lack of social or status differentiation in them:  bishops had no more distinguished graves than others, apart from a simple marble plaque to record basic details such as a name.  This was a sign of a sense of commonality, there poor and powerful might be all one in the sight of the Saviour. (160)

Christianity : The First Three Thousand Years, Diarmaid MacCullouch

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Rivers of Electricity

From The Fortnighty Review:

The familiarity of speech means we easily overlook how astonishing even its basic mechanics are. Breath swells from our lungs, moving up through the trachea to be shaped by vocal cords, tongue, teeth, jaws and lips and emerge from our mouths as a series of sonic pulses that spread as waves into the world around us. Ears are shaped to receive these vibrations, turn them into electrical signals and transmit them to the brain, where these “rivers of electricity” are unpacked at high speed as sounds, words, and (ideally) sense in other people’s minds.

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