Upcoming Church Holidays

Just a reminder that we have pages on the following upcoming Church Holidays that may interest the readers that occasionally check out our blog. Check them out!

Next week begins Holy Week. The Sunday of Holy Week is Palm Sunday, which commemorates the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. The Thursday of Holy Week is called Holy Thursday, or in many churches, Maundy Thursday, and it is the day Christians recall the institution of the Eucharist and Ordination. Good Friday is when we celebrate the crucifixion and death of Jesus, which leads to Holy Saturday, when Jesus was in the tomb. Finally, this culminates in the feast of feasts, Easter Sunday and the Easter Season, which celebrates the glorious resurrection of the Lord.

Of note, in Catholicism, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter make up the Easter Triduum.

Assumption, 2010

Almighty God,
You gave a humble Virgin
the privilege of being mother of your Son,
and crowned her with the glory of heaven.
May the prayers of the Virgin Mary
bring us to the salvation of Christ
and raise us up to eternal life.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever. Amen.
From the Liturgy of the Hours

Wishing all of our readers a blessed Solemnity of the Assumption on this vigil of the holiday

Happy Ascension Day 2010!

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”  He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Acts 1:6-11 (RSV)

Happy Solemnity of the Ascension (for most Catholics throughout the world, who celebrate it on the traditional date)

From an Ancient Easter Homily

Saint Paul rejoices in the knowledge that spiritual health has been restored to the human race. Death entered the world through Adam, he explains, but life has been given back to the world through Christ. Again he says: The first man, being from the earth, is earthly by nature; the second man is from heaven and is heavenly. As we have borne the image of the earthly man, the image of human nature grown old in sin, so let us bear the image of the heavenly man: human nature raised up, redeemed, restored and purified in Christ. We must hold fast to the salvation we have received. Christ was the firstfruits, says the Apostle; he is the source of resurrection and life. Those who belong to Christ will follow him. Modeling their lives on his purity, they will be secure in the hope of his resurrection and of enjoying with him the glory promised in heaven. Our Lord himself said so in the gospel. Whoever follows me will not perish, but will pass from death to life.

Thus the passion of our Savior is the salvation of mankind. The reason why he desired to die for us was that he wanted us who believe in him to live for ever. In the fullness of time it was his will to become what we are, so that we might inherit the eternity he promised and live with him for ever.

Here, then, is the grace conferred by these heavenly mysteríes, the gift which Easter brings, the most longedfor feast of the year; here are the beginnings of creatures newly formed: children born from the life-giving font of holy Church, born anew with the simplicity of litúe ones, and crying out with the evidence of a clean conscience. Chaste fathers and inviolate mothers accompany this new family, countless in number, born to new life through faith. As they emerge from the grace-giving womb of the font, a blaze of candles burns brightly beneath the tree of faith. The Easter festival brings the grace of holiness from heaven to men. Through the repeated celebration of the sacred mysteries they receive the spiritual nourishment of the sacraments. Fostered at the very heart of holy Church, the fellowship of one community worships the one God, adoring the triple name of his essential holiness, and together with the prophet sings the psalm which belongs to this yearly festival: This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad. And what is this day? It is the Lord Jesus Christ himself, the author of light, who brings the sunrise and the beginning of life, saying of himself: I am the light of day; whoever walks in daylight does not stumble. That is to say, whoever follows Christ in all things will come by this path to the throne of eternal light.

Such was the prayer Christ made to the Father while he was still on earth: Father, I desire that where I am they also may be, those who have come to believe in me; and that as you are in me and I in you, so they may abide in us.

From Vatican.Va

Lenten Wisdom From Irenaeus

One of my Lenten season disciplines this year is to read the daily texts from the Office of Readings. I bought the 4-volume Liturgy of the Hours set last year, yet have been sporadic in my readings. I have enjoyed the readings, and found them very helpful. This excerpt from Irenaeus made a strong impact on me, particularly the bolded phrase:

…Nor did the Lord need our service. He commanded us to follow him, but his was the gift of salvation. To follow the Saviour is to share in salvation; to follow the light is to enjoy the light. Those who are in the light do not illuminate the light but are themselves illuminated and enlightened by the light. They add nothing to the light; rather, they are beneficiaries, for they are enlightened by the light.

The same is true of service to God: it adds nothing to God, nor does God need the service of man. Rather, he gives life and immortality and eternal glory to those who follow and serve him. He confers a benefit on his servants in return for their service and on his followers in return for their loyalty, but he receives no benefit from them. He is rich, perfect and in need of nothing.

The reason why God requires service from man is this: because he is good and merciful he desires to confer benefits on those who persevere in his service. In proportion to God’s need of nothing is man’s need for communion with God.

Shameless Lenten Plug

We have a lot of Lent resources over at ChurchYear.Net. These include Lent Prayers, Lent Canticles, and the Church Fathers Lenten Reading Plan. Also, we can’t forget about our main All About Lent page, which contains information and history about this major Church season.

Bless The Lord, Ice and Cold

…Bless the Lord, all powers,
sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever…
Bless the Lord, all rain and dew,
sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
Bless the Lord, all winds,
sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
Bless the Lord, fire and heat,
sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
Bless the Lord, winter cold and summer heat,
sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
Bless the Lord, dews and snows,
sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
Bless the Lord, nights and days,
sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
Bless the Lord, light and darkness,
sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
Bless the Lord, ice and cold,
sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
Bless the Lord, frosts and snows,
sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever…

From Daniel 3, “Song of the 3 Young Men”

Correcting a Symbol Deficiency

One of my favorite authors I studied in graduate school was Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the Anglican romantic author and poet.  Coleridge loved symbols, and believed that symbols were the medium through which we encountered invisible realities. This is something the iconoclasts haven’t understood: in order to partake of invisible realities (such as love, etc), we must use some sort of symbol from the created order. Catholics and Orthodox have understood this, and made it a part of our theology.

A few days ago, to begin our semester on sacraments, I discussed symbols with the seventh graders. I think it is important to discuss symbol because it sets the stage for why Catholics believe that God uses earthly “stuff” to convey grace (for example the water of baptism). God doesn’t just magically and “spiritually” effect our regeneration, he uses a meaning-rich symbol from the created order in the process: water. One of the exercises I had for the class was to look at a relatively boring photo of my wife, sister-in-law, mom, nieces, and grandmother, standing on a road in a cemetery. I asked them to tell me all the symbols they see, and to tell me what invisible reality they symbolize. At first, the students didn’t come up with much. However, as they got started, they came up with ones that I didn’t even notice (for example, there were American flags on a few graves). After awhile, they began to realize that the world is full of symbols that we use to convey deep and invisible realities. I also helped them see that any great artist is going to appreciate and utilize the power of symbol.

And yet, as I was worshiping yesterday at a Catholic parish in the Cleveland area, I was noticing how purposefully empty the worship space was of symbols. The walls were white, and the crucifix was tiny and barely there. There was one banner that looked like it was out of the 1970s, that had a symbol that was intentionally made to look obscure (was it a candle flame? a sun? a child’s first finger painting creation?). In other words, if there was a symbol, it was designed to be unconnected to our experience. I remember thinking that in our natural world we are surrounded by symbols that point us to God, yet many of our modern churches purposely take these symbols away from us, perhaps seeing them either as distracting or out-of-date.

But are symbols out of date? The natural human craving for symbols hasn’t gone away, which is why even those traditionally cool to symbols, evangelicals, are discovering their value. My reading on brain waves suggests that non-verbal symbols stimulate alpha waves in the brain, which serve as a bridge to theta waves. When measuring the waves of individuals in deep meditation and spiritual experiences, theta waves are dominant. Whether you accept the science of brain waves and spirituality, nonetheless, the evidence suggests that words appeal to only one aspect of our brain’s capabilities, while visual, kinesthetic, olfactory, and auditory symbols touch us at a different level. In other words, I would argue that this is where the Gnostics erred: trying to escape the physical world misses the point. The incarnation demonstrates to us that God uses the physical world to give us grace (although obviously we must always remember the physical world is the vehicle, full of symbols, not God himself).

I truly believe that whitewashed churches devoid of sights, sounds, and smells leave us wanting more. Great movies, classic books, and even nature itself, are full of symbols, yet we have seen a period when Catholic churches have tried to strip away all their symbols. I believe that more symbols, saint statues, incense, stain glass, mosaics, etc, all help us connect to God, and correct the “symbol deficiency” many of us have sadly had to endure attending modern parishes.