Bras d'Or  Indian Village Band Association

 

 

                         A Donated Chasuble: Symbol of Reconciliation

 

 

A ritual vestment, known as a chasuble, was presented on March 13, 2011, by Rev. Dr. Bernard J. O’Connor to the Bras d’Or Indian Village Band Association.  Accepting the chasuble in the sanctuary of St. Joseph’s Church, North Sydney, is the Association’s Chief  Nancy Swan.

 

II. Chasuble: Origin

This chasuble was commissioned at the request of the donor from Quebec artisan, Suzanne Alwyn. The artist, a “consecrated virgin” according to the Roman Catholic Tradition, attests that extensive prayer and meditation preceded each phase in her design and preparation of a theme focused upon reconciliation. The context for her theme is the cultural heritage and experience of Canada’s indigenous population. Various features of the chasuble are a tribute to the uniqueness of the Native legacy; a patrimony in which the Bras d’Or Association participates.

III. Chasuble: Generic Symbol

A chasuble is the most visible liturgical vestment worn by the person who presides at the Catholic Eucharist (aka the Mass). The chasuble covers such other apparel as the alb (floor-length white garment) and the cincture (chord or belt).

In its earliest evolution, the chasuble was actually an adaptation of attire worn in everyday secular life. The rationale became apparent: what transpired at the altar was meant to reflect what marked ordinary existence. The sacred and the secular were never considered to be separate domains. They intertwined and harmonized without contradiction. This notion of the All-Encompassing Holy is also evident in Native spirituality.

Because the chasuble initially consisted of a circular or square piece of cloth with a hole cut at its center, such suggested to onlookers the image of “a little house (casula).” What this indirectly implied was that religious belief and praxis are intended to reach into and transform our every home, family and community. Individual piety aspires to benefit that of the common good and vice versa.

Throughout the ages, the bestowal of the chasuble during Ordination services was a prayerful act. Frequently, the bishop charged the ordinand to “receive the priestly vestment, by which is signified charity.” Hostility, resentments, and competitiveness are examples of what should dissolve through the influence of a divinely sustained vocation to love one’s neighbor as oneself. Said goal is accomplished through the living Spirit of Christ.

IV. Eucharist/Chasuble: Reconciliation

Reconciliation may be defined as a process which seeks to restore the life-giving relationship of balance and accord between God and humanity; within the human family, and among all the constituents of creation and creation itself.

Reconciliation is fundamental to Catholic doctrine, morality and liturgy. For example, the Eucharist, the central act of Catholic worship and the setting for usage of the chasuble, permits us to identify at least ten aspects of Reconciliation from the Church’s perspective.

To be reconciled:

a. one acknowledges their share of responsibility (cf. Penitential Rite: “I confess to almighty God, and to you, my brothers and sisters…”)

b. involves corrective of distorted values (cf. Glory to God: “For you alone are the Holy One, you alone are the Lord, you alone are the Most High …”)

c. affirms life’s endurance and inherent purpose (cf. Creed: “I believe in … life everlasting. Amen.”)

d. invites the cooperation of humanity and nature (cf. Offertory: “Through your goodness we have this bread to offer, which earth has given and human hands have made.”)

e. means refusal to exploit creation (cf. Preface for Sunday in Ordinary Time, V: “You made us stewards of creation, to praise you day by day for the marvels of your wisdom and power.”)

f. fosters universal solidarity (cf. Eucharistic Prayer I: “Father, accept this offering from your whole family… ;” Eucharistic Prayer III: “Lord, may this sacrifice which has made our peace with you, advance the peace and salvation of all the world …”)

g. renews in hope (cf. Consecration of Wine: “This is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant …”)

h. binds all generations from the beginning of time (cf. Eucharistic Prayer II: “Remember our brothers and sisters who have gone to their rest ... bring … all the departed into the light of your presence …”)

i. requires surrender of egoism (cf. Eucharistic Prayer IV: “And that we might live no longer for ourselves but for Him …”)

j. entails an openness to radical equality and to a capacity for healing (cf. Lord’s Prayer: “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…”; cf. “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world: grant us peace.”)

V. The Alwyn Chasuble: Depicts a Journey

It was recently announced (C. B. Post, March 5, 2011 that Queen Elizabeth II would formally visit the Republic of Ireland. Supporters of her gesture referred to it as “another step in the journey of reconciliation.” They are aware that much of the past century was marked by Ireland’s brutal war of independence from Britain and by persistent conflict in Northern Ireland. But what is indicated is that a vital step has been taken; one which denotes a profound change in attitude and which heralds a new depth of mutual acceptance and appreciation.

A similar attitude is represented by the Alwyn Chasuble. The journey of Reconciliation is ongoing. There can be no turning back. Historic bigotry and animosity toward Native peoples cannot be erased, but they need not be repeated. For current descendants of Bras d'Or Mi'kmaq Francois Lejeune, ethnic inter-marriage during a bygone era bequeaths to us more than a reason for tolerance. Rather, what we have acquired is a remarkable richness – a blend of cultures and a yearning to celebrate the unity of the Spirit’s diverse children.

The name ‘Bras d’Or’ traces to the French-Acadian language. ‘Bras d’Or’ translates as “arm of gold;” a possible reference to the landscape along the lakes when viewed as the sun sets. It is reverence for the earth which is shown in the gold colour of the chasuble’s fabric. Upon the chasuble is an image of a bird, suspended in its flight as if hovering over the Bras d’Or. The figure of the bird is deliberately ambiguous. Ms. Alwyn informed the donor that she wanted it to illustrate the Spirit dove, the deliverer of peace. But the image which she designed could likewise suggest most any winged creature, especially the majestic and ever vigilant eagle, known to nest in the vicinity of the Bras d’Or shores. The image’s colour is a striking red – the fire of an intense energy which imbues the Native heart. This image is further outlined in the same vivid silver as the underside of the abundant fish which ply the Bras d’Or waters; an allusion also the dazzling wealth of natural resources abounding amidst the region’s fields and slopes. And surrounding the head of the dove/eagle is a circular disk, the nimbus (aka halo) – the geometric shape frequently linked to the quest for holiness and spiritual fulfillment. Below the disk are three letters (IHS). These signify the name, Jesus, the Reconciler of all divisiveness and strife. The disk (halo) is designed to appear comparable to the Host, the consecrated Bread of the Eucharist (Mass); which is to say, Reconciliation placed within our physical grasp.

VI. The Chasuble: Donor

Rev. Dr. Bernard J. O’Connor, from Sydney Mines, is a priest of the Diocese of Antigonish. After serving in the Vatican’s Congregation for Eastern Churches (2004-2010), he was appointed in 2011 to the Chancellor’s Professorship in Law and Humanities at Indiana University, Kokomo. A brief biography is available on the website of the Graduate Theological Foundation, Indiana, (www.gtfeducation.org/Administration/Profiles/Oconnor.html), and where Dr. O’Connor has held a Visiting Professorship in Mediation and Conflict Management since 1996. ‘Fr. Bernie’s’ mother, Ella Mae Young (daughter of Joseph and Gertrude Young), was reared in Groves Point. Her ancestry includes Francois Lejeune.

VII. Historic Source

For additional data on the history of the chasuble, consult www.newadvent.org/cathen/03639a.htm .

 

 

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