By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Previously published 12/26/97 in The Madera Tribune
“On the anniversary of the day on which the Gentiles had defiled it, on that very day [the 25th of Kislev] it was reconsecrated with songs, harps, flutes and cymbals ... For eight days they celebrated the dedication of the altar and joyfully offered holocausts and sacrifices of deliverance and praise.”
— 1 Maccabees 4:54,56
The fourth candle will be kindled this evening, and so continues the eight-day Jewish festival of lights (AKA the feast of dedication, feast of Maccabees, Hanukkah, and Chanukah) which commemorates the reconsecration of the Temple of Jerusalem (c. 165 B.C.) after being recaptured from the Syrian Greeks, or Seleucids.
The history revolves around the Joarib family of priests, and in particular Judah “the Maccabee” (d. 161 B.C.), glorified in G.F. Handel’s “Judas Maccabeus.” Following the lead of his father Mattathias, Judah and his four brothers spearheaded a revolt against the Seleucid dynasty, who waged several violent campaigns against the Jews.
The trouble began with the prohibition of local religions by the King Antiochus Epiphanes, who seized a remnant of Alexander the Great’s kingdom in 175 B.C. Circumcision, holocausts, sacrifices, libations, and other observances of the law were outlawed. Some Jews apostasized (“left the faith”), while others were forced into hiding.
“A man could not keep the shabbat [meaning ‘sabbath’] or celebrate the traditional feasts, nor even admit that he was a Jew.”
— 2 Maccabees 6:6
In 168 B.C, King Antiochus sent an Athenian senator to Jerusalem to force the Jewish people to abandon their faith. The senator dedicated the Temple of Jerusalem to the “Olympian Zeus.” All were forced to partake in sacrifices to Greek and pagan gods or face the penalty of death. All the scrolls of the Jewish law that were found were torn then burnt.
When a Jew came forward to sacrifice to Zeus, fury overcame the priest Mattathias and he slew the apostate Jew at the altar, as well as the king’s messenger and enforcer of the sacrilege. Mattathias tore down the altar to Zeus, and then he and his sons fled to the mountains with others who wished to keep their faith.
Mattathias led a successful war against the Seleucids, and after his death his five sons continued an ultimately victorious guerrilla war against the supporters of the king. Before and during this time, many Jews died rather than forsake their traditions and their God.
“Thus, two women who were arrested for having circumcised their children were publicly paraded about the city with their babies hanging at their breasts and then thrown down from the top of the city wall. Others, who had assembled in nearby caves to observe the shabbat in secret, were betrayed to Philip and all burned to death. In their respect for the holiness of that day, they had scruples about defending themselves.”
— 2 Maccabees 6:10-11
Scholars and rabbis differ on why Judah received his famous nickname, Maccabee, which has come to refer to the two Jewish books of this period and the heroes in them. The most popular explanation however translates Maccabee as “hammer” (in Hebrew “makkebet” or “makkaba”) in reference to his crushing victories. A variant theory argues that the name refers to the peculiar shape of his skull, a “makban” or hammerhead.
Others believe the name Maccabee is an acronym for the scripture verse “Mi kamokha ba’elim Hashem” (“Who is like unto thee among the mighty, O Lord!”), inspiring words that Judah may have carried into battle. The use of Hebrew acronyms as names came into use around the turn of the millennium.
“After him they brought the sixth brother. When he was about to die, he said: ‘Have no vain illusions. We suffer these things on our own account, because we have sinned against our God; that is why such astonishing things have happened to us. Do not think, then, that you will go unpunished for having dared to fight against God.’”
— 2 Maccabees 7:18-19
So why is Hanukkah also known as the festival of lights? The Jewish Talmud records that when the rededication of the Temple began no supply of pure olive oil could be found, except enough for one day’s burning. The person sent to purchase more oil wasn’t able to return until eight days later, and yet the oil lamps miraculously continued to burn.
Thus it was that the eight-branched Menorah candelabrum has become an appropriate symbol of the holiday, which really celebrates how the seeming impossible is truly possible with God. Shalom!
By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Previously published 11/07/97 in The Madera Tribune
"Though blind men see no light, the sun doth shine.
Sweet cakes are sweet, though fevered tastes deny it.
Pearls precious are, though trodden on by swine;
Each truth is true, though all men do not try it."
— Robert Southwell, "Of the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar"
LANCIANO, Italy — By late Friday morning, this Maderan's tour bus rode into the city of Lanciano for a lunch break. That afternoon, we pilgrims would catch our flight at the Leonardo Da Vinci airport in Rome for Dubrovnik, Croatia.
Our tour guide Sylvia Puppio led the 11 Californians from the bus to the little Church of St. Legontian. We were to meet again near there an hour later to continue the last leg of our journey through Italy.
In the back of this church sat an alleged 1,200-year-old miracle of the Eucharist, where the bread and wine of Communion had reportedly become Jesus' flesh and blood in a visible fashion.
Except for Sylvia, all silently prayed for a time before leaving to eat or shop. Another group of European and Middle-Eastern pilgrims filled the pews as my fellow pilgrims left one-by-one.
As for myself, I wasn't overwhelmed at the sight before my eyes. As a Catholic, I had always believed and don't recall ever doubting that Jesus truly became physically present in the bread and wine of Communion at mass. For me, appearances could not change what the scriptures and early Christians so clearly attested (I.E. Mat. 26:26-28; John 6:51-58; 1 Cor. 10:16; 11:23-32).
Sylvia had warned us earlier that we weren't allowed to take photographs of the Eucharist out of reverence. But several pilgrims — including myself — couldn't resist taking at least one shot. I prayed first to ask God permission to take His picture even though this was discouraged. If He did mind, I asked that the photo wouldn't come out ... and when I returned I discovered that it hadn't.
"I stooped to see the wonder, when, behold!
Within the cup a Countenance divine
Looked upward at me through the trembling wine,
Suffused with tenderest love and grief untold."
— Frederick Tennyson, "An Incident"
In the eighth century Frentanese city of Anxanum, a Basilian monk who had been studying the science of the day began to doubt the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. How could Jesus be physically present when the apparent nature of the bread and wine didn’t change? While celebrating mass one day, he interiorly begged God to help him know for sure that Jesus was present in the bread and wine, he later claimed. After the two-fold consecration during mass, the outer edge of the large Communion host publicly appeared to transform into flesh, and the wine into blood. It seemed his prayers had been dramatically answered.
The blood, now kept in an old rock-crystal cup, coagulated into five irregular globules and has a yellowish earthy color. The light brown flesh, minus the bread center which wasted away, has sat in a silver Ostensorium since 1713.
A scientific investigation was conducted in 1970-'71, and partly in 1981, by Prof. Odoardo Linoli, a professor in anatomy and pathological histology and in chemistry and clinical microscopy. Prof. Ruggero Bertelli of the University of Siena assisted. Their conclusions were that the flesh and blood are real flesh and blood, belong to the human species, and have the same blood-type: AB.
The flesh consists of muscular tissue of the heart: the myocardium, endocardium, the vagus nerve, and the left ventricle of the heart. The blood contains proteins in the same normal proportions (percentage-wise) as the sero-proteic make-up of fresh human blood. They could not explain how this flesh and blood, which had been left exposed to atmospheric and biological agents for 12 centuries, could remain preserved and fresh, despite signs of age in the ancient tissue.
"And I heard Agnus, Agnus Dei,
Pleading for man with Love's own breath;
And Love drew near me,
And Love drew near me
And I drank Life through God’s own death."
— Alfred Noyes, "The Strong City"
Too soon the hour of prayer passed. I made sure this time to be at the designated meeting place a few minutes earlier than requested. I would not be late this time, and happily endured the tardy return of a few shopping pilgrims.
We travelled westward, and upon arriving in Rome at half-past three we were delayed by a necessary detour. The bus driver, who had driven in a relatively subdued fashion during our travels, began to drive more like the other drivers with a heavy pedal. We had to reach the Da Vinci airport in time or miss checking in for our 5:25 p.m. flight.
"Your journey here has ended," announced Sylvia as we passed a statue of Leonardo da Vinci holding a model of the primitive helicopter he thought up.
She wouldn’t have another tour group until Thursday, but she stayed at the airport to help us all check-in and lingered behind to watch her odd bunch of 'tourists' off. I couldn't think of anything to say at the last, so I said farewell with a silent bow which amused her.
All of the pilgrims felt a bit sad to leave Italy, but all were excited and eager to go on to Medjugorje.
"Thou art the Way.
Hadst Thou been nothing but the goal,
I cannot say
If Thou hadst ever met my soul...
I'll not reproach
The road that winds, my feet that err.
Art Thou, Time, Way, and Wayfarer."
— Alice Meynell, "'I Am the Way'"