Wednesday, February 29, 2012

40 Things #7: The Mass

***This post is part of my 40 Things I Love About Catholicism series.  Click here to read more!***   

The Mass is our central act of worship as Catholics.  We gather and participate in the Eucharist together.  The priest acts in persona Christi capitis (in the person of Christ the head), representing Christ as he presides over the assembly, speaks after the readings, receives the offerings of bread and wine, and recites the Eucharistic prayer.

The word "Mass" comes from the Late Latin word missa, meaning dismissal.  This word is used by the priest at the end of the Mass in Latin: "Ite, missa est" ("Go, it is the dismissal").  From Pope Benedict XVI's Sacramentum Caritatis:

After the blessing, the deacon or the priest dismisses the people with the words: Ite, missa est. These words help us to grasp the relationship between the Mass just celebrated and the mission of Christians in the world. In antiquity, missa simply meant "dismissal." However in Christian usage it gradually took on a deeper meaning. The word "dismissal" has come to imply a "mission." These few words succinctly express the missionary nature of the Church. The People of God might be helped to understand more clearly this essential dimension of the Church's life, taking the dismissal as a starting- point.
The Mass is comprised of the Liturgy of the Word and Liturgy of the Eucharist.  During the Liturgy of the Word, we hear two Scripture readings: the first is usually from the Old Testament (during the Easter season, it is from the Acts of the Apostles), and the second is from a book in the New Testament other than the Gospels.  In between these readings, we participate in the recitation of a Psalm.  After the readings, the priest or deacon reads a passage from one of the four Gospels and then gives a homily (sermon) about the Gospel, other readings, or both.

The Liturgy of the Eucharist includes the "heart and summit" of the celebration, when the community joins with all the angels and saints in their unending praise of the Father, through Christ, in the Holy Spirit, for all His works, and then "asks the Father to send the Holy Spirit upon the bread and wine, so that by His power they may become the body and blood of Jesus Christ and so that those who take part in the Eucharist may be one body and one spirit" (which is why the Eucharist may be referred to as "communion") (CCC 1352-1353).

The Mass is highly ritualistic: certain prayers are recited every time, and the basic format never changes.  There is always a priest dressed in vestments, always an altar, always various liturgical vessels and linens for the wine and bread offerings.  There is often music and candles, and sometimes there may be incense.  

Why I Love It:

1. It's heaven on earth.  Vestments?  Candles?  Chanting?  Incense?  An altar?  Sounds like a Catholic Mass.  Also sounds like John's vision of Heaven, recorded in Revelation, the last book of the Bible.  (Rev 4:4, 4:5, 4:8, 5:8, 8:3, respectively.)

There was a time in my life when I might have admitted that I thought going to Mass week after week was boring to me.  And for that I am ashamed.  Marc Barnes of BadCatholic wrote a fantastic piece about this:
The problem is that familiarity doesn’t breed contempt, it breeds boredom. And in Catholicism, familiarity is a lie. What we are essentially saying, when we bemoan a mass for being boring or long, is that we are too familiar with the meeting of heaven and earth, the infinite ripping into the finite and filling it to overflowing, glorifying everything, and saving the world. But the truth we are clearly denying is that the Mass is made up of the sort of stuff that we simply don’t have the capacity to become familiar with. You and I, being natural products of a natural universe, cannot become familiar with the supernatural....For the Mass is supernatural, so every time it is experienced it is in contradiction with our natural being, and in terrible alignment with our supernatural souls. The thousandth mass we attend is just as supernatural as the first; it doesn’t matter if we’ve attended it before – it still is outside of our experience, bursting into our lives like an uninvited adventure.

2. The basic format of the liturgy has remained the same since the early days of the Church.  Justin Martyr described the Eucharistic celebration in a letter to the pagan emperor Antoninus Pius around the year 155 AD:
On the day we call the day of the sun, all who dwell in the city or country gather in the same place.
The memoirs of the apostles and the writings of the prophets are read, as much as time permits.
When the reader has finished, he who presides over those gathered admonishes and challenges them to imitate these beautiful things.
Then we all rise together and offer prayers for ourselves . . .and for all others, wherever they may be, so that we may be found righteous by our life and actions, and faithful to the commandments, so as to obtain eternal salvation.
When the prayers are concluded we exchange the kiss.
Then someone brings bread and a cup of water and wine mixed together to him who presides over the brethren.
He takes them and offers praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and for a considerable time he gives thanks (in Greek: eucharistian) that we have been judged worthy of these gifts.
When he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all present give voice to an acclamation by saying: 'Amen.'
When he who presides has given thanks and the people have responded, those whom we call deacons give to those present the "eucharisted" bread, wine and water and take them to those who are absent.
3. I can go every day.  Catholics are obligated to go to Mass on Sundays, but Masses are celebrated every day of the year (except Good Friday).  The Liturgy of the Word on weekdays and Saturdays contains just one Scripture reading before the Psalm and Gospel, and usually there is no music, but otherwise daily Masses are just like Sunday Masses.  I am hoping to start taking Elise to Mass at least one day a week.

4. It's the same everywhere.  The universal Church has spread throughout the world, and each day, the same Mass is celebrated in every parish -- the same Scripture readings are read, the same prayers are recited, the same Eucharist is celebrated.

5. The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian Life.  "The Mass is at the same time, and inseparably, the sacrificial memorial in which the sacrifice of the cross is perpetuated and the sacred banquet of communion with the Lord's body and blood. But the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice is wholly directed toward the intimate union of the faithful with Christ through communion. To receive communion is to receive Christ himself who has offered himself for us." (CCC 1382) 

(Don't worry, I will be devoting a separate post to the Eucharist!) 

6. Participating in the Eucharist brings me into greater unity with the Church as the Body of Christ.  A lot of my faith is lived out alone -- private prayer, reading the Bible, writing these blog posts (wink).  These are all wonderful and important, but the Mass brings me to a place of communal worship.  "The comparison of the Church with the body casts light on the intimate bond between Christ and his Church. Not only is she gathered around him; she is united in him, in his body. Three aspects of the Church as the Body of Christ are to be more specifically noted: the unity of all her members with each other as a result of their union with Christ; Christ as head of the Body; and the Church as bride of Christ." (CCC 789)

7. The Scriptural passages read during the Liturgy of the Word allow me to ponder God's Word through all four Gospels and readings from the Old and New Testaments.  I have decided to try to read the entire Bible over the course of the next year using this guide (instead of reading cover to cover, I will be reading Old and New Testament books at the same time).  We'll see how it goes!  Thankfully, I am already familiar with a considerable portion of it, because I have heard it proclaimed at Mass so many times over the years.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

40 Things #6: Mercy and Prison Ministries

***This post is part of my 40 Things I Love About Catholicism series.  Click here to read more!***   

Many people don't want to hear about sin when it comes to sex, or convenient lies, or a little cheating on the IRS: the wisdom is that those things are one's own business, and religion has no place in them.  But when they hear about a child molester or someone who shoots and kills his pregnant wife, what is their response?  "I hope he burns in hell."

It's difficult to not have that sort of knee-jerk, horrified, disgusted response to people who commit heinous crimes.  The horror and injustice is mind-boggling.  I reflect the scandal that erupted at Penn State last November, and I think, how can this beHow can someone who (allegedly) made so many people's lives a living hell for so long still be breathing air? 

There is but one answer, and that is mercy.

Mercy, which God exercised when he called Saul, who persecuted Christians and threatened them with murder, to experience an incredible roadside conversion (Acts Chapter 9) and become Paul, apostle and greatest of the evangelists.

Mercy, which Jesus demonstrated when the "good" thief (who must have done something dreadful to be executed by crucifixion) asks Him to "remember me when you come into your Kingdom," and Jesus responds, "Today you will be with me in Paradise" (Luke 23:42-43).

Mercy, for which David begged God after he had sired an illegitimate child with Bathsheba and then killed her husband so he could marry her and appear magnanimous (2 Samuel 11):  "Have mercy on me, God, in accord with your merciful love; in your abundant compassion blot out my transgressions." (Psalm 51 -- I'll resist my desire to copy the whole thing here, but I love it!)

I desire God's forgiveness for my sins with all my heart, and I believe that he will forgive me -- so why would I believe that he would not forgive another, no matter how grave his or her sin?  I believe that God loves me and always will, and that He loves everyone -- so why would I believe that he would stop loving someone who has committed a terrible crime?

And indeed, He does not.  Catholics consider visiting prisoners (Matthew 25:36) to be one of the corporal works of mercy (which I'll discuss more in another post).  Local dioceses have chaplains who minister at the correctional institutions within their geographic areas, and Masses are celebrated for prisoners who want to go to Mass.  Volunteers can go to these Masses, too.

Pope John Paul II visited Mehmet Ali Agca, who attempted to assassinate him, in prison.
I must admit that I have never been to a prison, not to visit anyone, and not for Mass.  But it is something I want to do someday.  I believe that all people, even those who, through their actions, have been cast off from society, need to know that they have worth because God loves them.

Two stories come to mind as I write this.  I was inspired by a story in the Word Among Us Catholic daily meditations magazine, written by a man who is serving a 25-year prison sentence.  He was hoping to find other Christians in prison when he began his sentence, and he found a Catholic man who invited him to Mass.  As he learned more about the faith, he decided to become Catholic himself, and he now reaches out to other inmates to show them Christ's love.

The other story I think of is one that brought me to tears about 2 years ago during a homily at Mass.  It concerns a man named Jim who was incarcerated at the state penitentiary that's about 15 minutes from where I live between 1947-1967.  He shot and killed his pregnant wife when he was 20 years old.  He ended up experiencing a profound conversion to Catholicism in prison, after volunteering to assist the prison chaplain in an attempt to earn early release (he often referred to God as "Slick," saying he'd beaten him at his own game), and became a Franciscan brother after his sentence.  Brother Jim then worked earnestly in prison ministry for many years, until his health would no longer permit it.  He passed away last year.

The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
--From Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice

Monday, February 27, 2012

40 Things #5: The Sign of the Cross

***This post is part of my 40 Things I Love About Catholicism series.  Click here to read more!***  

You've probably seen Troy Polamalu do it before each and every play.  But did you know that the origins of the sign of the cross date back at least to 200 AD, and possibly to the time of the Apostles?

Not me! :)
As a child, I mostly thought of the sign of the cross -- whereby one crosses oneself by placing the hand on the head, lower chest, and each shoulder while reciting the Trinitarian formula, "In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and Holy Spirit" -- as a sort of "bookend" system for prayer.  A way to let God know you were starting and ending.  (In that vein, it's also helpful when you're praying in a group, as a definitive way to let everybody know you're starting!)
In my family, we would make the sign of the cross when passing a Catholic church, as a prayer and gesture of reverence for the Holy Eucharist inside.  My mom also taught us to cross ourselves whenever we passed an emergency vehicle (with its siren on) to pray for the people in trouble.

As I grew up, I grew to cherish the sign of the cross, because I saw it as a very beautiful Catholic ritual (there are some other faiths which use it, most prominently the Orthodox, and certain mainline Protestant denominations).  I learned to use it on its own not only when passing a church or ambulance, but anytime I wanted to pray a quick prayer.  Now, I always make the sign of the cross after I lay Elise in her crib at night, and I pray that she sleeps well.

I recently read an article (based on a book by Bert Ghezzi) about the six meanings of the sign of the cross, which I found fascinating and affirming:

1. Confession of Faith: In Scripture, praying in someone's name means you are declaring and entering into their presence.  The sign of the cross professes belief in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

2. Renewal of Baptism: The sign of the cross is used in the sacrament of Baptism links us to the Body of Christ.  Making the sign of the cross is a reminder of this.

3. A Mark of Discipleship: The Church Fathers referred to the sign of the cross using a Greek word that was the same word which a shepherd puts on a sheep or a general on a soldier.  The sign of the cross signifies that we belong to Christ.

4. Acceptance of Suffering: In declaring that we belong to Christ, we acknowledge that He became man and suffered for us, and we share in His suffering.  Even when we "feel" like God isn't there during times of trial, making the sign of the cross acknowledges and declares His presence.

5. Defense Against the Devil: The Church Fathers urged us to use the sign of the cross as a defense against the devil.  Reciting it is a way of saying, "Back off; I belong to God."

6. Victory Over Self-Indulgence: I think this one is related to #5 -- the Church Fathers encouraged Christians to make the sign of the cross when tempted (with anger, lust, etc.) to help dispel the temptation.

I give a hearty "yea!" to all of those!  And I love that I can do every one with this simple yet powerful gesture and prayer.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Haps in the Hood

Since it's Sunday, I'm taking a day off from my 40 Things posts, so I'll take the opportunity to share the recent haps around here!

1. Colin passed his dissertation defense on Thursday!!!!!!  Can I send out about a thousand alleluias (even though we're not singing them at Mass until Easter)?  We are so grateful that everything went smoothly.  Colin had a fantastic advisor and a great committee, and his research has been very fruitful.  I'm still wrapping my brain around the fact that my darling husband now has a Ph.D. in physics.  (All right, so the degree won't actually be conferred until commencement in early May.  Whatevs, his committee congratulated him as "Dr." and I'm stickin' with it!)

I can't even express how proud I am, especially since the average time it takes to finish in his department is six and a half academic years, and he'll have done it in five.  With a baby born three years into the program, too!

2. It looks like we'll probably be staying here for at least another year while Colin does a postdoc.  I had hoped that he might find an assistant professor position closer to home, but it looks like God has other plans for us right now.  (Also, it looks like it's very difficult to find an assistant professor position in physics without having a postdoc on one's CV -- competitive much?!)  I'm immensely grateful for this postdoc opportunity for many reasons, not the least of which is how it came about, basically falling into his lap.  He'll be working with a professor with whom he already has a great rapport and a history of collaboration.  And we can keep on living in the same home and spending time with the great people we have met in this town.

3. We had the pleasure of hosting Colin's parents on Thursday and Friday (they drove up from South Carolina to be here when he defended), and on Thursday, Elise and I will be traveling to Ohio to visit my family for the weekend.  I love seeing family and friends and having plans!  I'm a little worried that I'll get behind on my 40 Things series, but I'm hoping to keep up with it through our travels.  Shortening the posts might help a bit. ;)

4. I never addressed my other-than-blogging Lent plans!  They are: no more than 3 desserts/week, not counting Sundays. (Sigh, I know...we had a big ol' celebratory cake and then I made pie when Colin's parents were up, and I knew that was going to happen RIGHT after Ash I sheepishly said to Colin yesterday, "How else do you expect me to get rid of all this stuff?"  And I didn't think about sharing it with neighbors until it was just too stale to be passable.  MY BAD.)  Also, no pop, and limited FB time (generally no more than 1 login/day, unless there is some special circumstance).  (Did that just sound like a litany of exception clauses?  Should I have just reported "no pop"?)

5. Elise continues to be adorable, sweet, spunky, vivacious, and clever beyond my wildest dreams.  Enjoy!
She thinks my long-sleeved t-shirts are her scarfs.

Just goofing around in the morning.

Enjoying breakfast before Ash Wednesday Mass.

Her favorite pastime!

Dancing with Daddy the day after his defense.

Eating a bagel.  Mmm!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

40 Things #4: Churches Always Open

***This post is part of my 40 Things I Love About Catholicism series.  Click here to read more!***  

From time to time while I was growing up, when my mom, brother, and I were out running errands, my mom would say, "Let's make a visit to church."  We would stop at the Catholic church nearby (usually our home parish, but not always), go inside, kneel down, and pray quietly for a while.  Sometimes, we would light a candle in memory of my mother's parents, who passed away before I was born.

At the time, it didn't seem out of the ordinary, just as everything you do with your own family as a child does.  Now, of course, I realize that the practice is mostly a Catholic tradition.  And it's one that I love.

As Catholics, we believe that the Eucharist is literally the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ.  The tabernacle in every Catholic church contains the consecrated Eucharist (except on Good Friday).  So whenever we enter a Catholic church, we believe that Jesus is literally and wholly present there, at any time of day or night.

St. Columba Cathedral - Youngstown, OH
For this reason, the doors to most Catholic churches are always open.  I believe there are exceptions -- especially in unsafe neighborhoods at night -- but, chances are, whatever time of day, wherever you are, if you attempt to open the door of a Catholic church, it will open.  And Christ will be there, ready and happy to hear your prayers.

This has been a great comfort to me throughout my life, and one that I have largely taken for granted.  I'm happy to have the chance to reflect on how blessed I have been, time and again, to be able to pray in church whenever I wanted to.  Even during the darkest times in my life, when I wasn't even trying to live the Christian life that I ought, I would still "drop in" and visit Jesus.

I am thankful that my mom instilled this habit in my brother and me during our formative years.  It came naturally to her, and now it comes naturally to me.  Elise and I have made visits to church on multiple occasions, and I'm hoping to do this even more frequently as she grows older and more aware of our faith.

(Mark Wahlberg loves doing this, too!)

Friday, February 24, 2012

40 Things #3: Seven Virtues

Many thanks to Jen for hosting!

***This post is part of my 40 Things I Love About Catholicism series.  Click here to read more!***  

I've decided to combine quick takes with my Lenten series featuring Catholic beliefs, traditions, and moral teachings.  This week, I'll be looking at the seven virtues and talking about how each has played a role in my life.  The first four (prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude) were described by Aristotle and Plato; the final three (faith, hope, and love) are the theological virtues described in the letters of St. Paul.  Church fathers adopted all of them together as the seven virtues.

1. Prudence: this is "the ability to govern and discipline oneself by the use of reason."  It enables a person to choose between doing something virtuous and something vicious, all within an appropriate place and time.  In even more difficult situations, people rely upon prudence to choose among various goods (for example, in deciding how to allocate charitable contributions).

In recent times, English-speakers have used this word to mean a sort of cautiousness; the two are really not synonyms, however, because although cautiousness may indeed be prudent if a risk is not worthwhile, it may actually be cowardly in other circumstances.

This is a virtue I struggle with at times, especially in my role as a mother.  How best do I parent when my daughter is sleeping poorly?  Frustrated and cranky?  Wanting to nurse nonstop for no discernible reason?  There have been many occasions when I have been dreadfully imprudent in performing my parental duties!

2. Justice: this is the "moderation between selfishness and selflessness" to "render to each and all what is due to them."  This implies both an equality and an inequality: each person gets exactly what he or she is entitled to have (equal) but each person is not entitled to the exact same thing (unequal).

My hopes of being a just person were frequently on my mind during the time I taught at a two-year career school.  It was very important to me that each student have the attention and instruction he or she deserved (more or less equal); I also wanted to make sure each student's grade reflected what he or she had actually earned (unequal).

3. Temperance: this is "moderation in action, thought, or feeling," commonly thought of as control over excess.  As it can refer to many kinds of excess, it has many classes, such as chastity, humility, forgiveness, and mercy.

In my own life, I must admit I mostly think of temperance relative to alcohol.  I certainly understand that some people must avoid alcohol, and if someone chooses not to drink, I absolutely respect that.  But I've always rejected the idea that alcohol is evil and should be avoided by everyone.

4. Fortitude: this is acting rightly in spite of one's fears -- namely, courage.  It can be physical (in the face of physical pain or death) or moral (in the face of popular opposition, shame, scandal, or discouragement).

Well, I know I need to work on this one.  I do have a hideously awful story of a time I actually got it right.  One time, I was at a relatively intimate bridal shower (of all places), and the topic of assisted suicide came up (this was around the time of the tragic Terri Schaivo story).  One member of the party decided that we should all go around the table and say whether we'd want to go on living if we were in a condition like Terri's.  Every single person there said no, except me.

5. Faith: this is the virtue by which "we believe in God and believe all that he has said and revealed to us, and that Holy Church proposes for our belief, because he is truth itself." 

I have always believed in God and in the tenants of Catholicism, but I have not always necessarily lived my faith.  (Well, sinful as I am, I never live it 100%.  But there have been periods in my life, particularly during my teens and early 20's, when I blatantly ignored many of the most basic Christian teachings, like "love your neighbor.")  Our tradition emphasizes that acting on one's beliefs is an integral part of faith -- "Even so faith, if it have not works, is dead in itself." (James 2:17)  "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." (John 14:15)

6. Hope: this virtue enables us to "desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ's promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit."

It is comforting to know that I am not "going it alone."  I think that, especially in America where our  history has emphasized the self-made man and pulling oneself up by one's own bootstraps, there is a great emphasis on self-reliance.  To an degree, I'm happy about that: it does someone no good to insist on an "external locus of control" and accept no personal responsibility.  However, I think we must be careful not to go too far the other way in our thinking.  We do not, and cannot, rely on our own strength to be virtuous, and we need not: "I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always....the Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name -- he will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you."  (John 14:16, 26)

7. Charity: this is Christ's greatest commandment: to love God with one's whole heart, soul, and mind; and to love one's neighbor as oneself. (Matthew 22: 37-39)

Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

How often have we heard these verses read at weddings?  And with good reason: St. Paul's words are some of the most beautiful ever written about love.  But I think it's good for us to remind ourselves that he was not writing specifically about romantic love in this passage.  We are called to "love our neighbor," and our neighbor is everybody.  Of course, this love is often not a feeling, but it is always an action.

As I mentioned in the section on faith, this is one of the virtues I have had difficulty living up to in my life.  "Love your neighbor" sounds great -- of course I should do that!  And I am hurt, or betrayed, or even simply irritated by a stranger in the grocery store, and loving that person doesn't even enter my mind.  I'm trying to change that, and it really takes a conscious effort!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

40 Things #2: The Liturgical Calendar

***This post is part of my 40 Things I Love About Catholicism series.  Click here to read more!***    

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

Given the naturally cyclic nature of time, I think that people enjoy great comfort in the yearly calendar: the rhythm of the seasons, the observances that are marked time and time again (birthdays, holidays, etc.), the passing of the seasons.  As Catholics, we follow a liturgical calendar each year with its own seasons and special days, which may be solemnities, feasts, or memorials.  This calendar helps us to remember and celebrate the holy mysteries of Christ.

An important part of the liturgical calendar is the lectionary, which gives us the daily Mass readings from the Holy Bible.  There is a three-year cycle for Sunday readings, and those years are denoted A, B, and C.  Year A's Gospel readings are primarily from Matthew, Year B's are from Mark, and Year C's are from Luke.  Readings from the Gospel of John (my favorite) are read during particular Sundays over the three-year period.  We are currently in Year B, so most of the Gospel readings have been from Mark.  There is a two-year cycle for weekday Mass readings -- Year I readings are read during odd-numbered years, and Year II readings are read during even-numbered years.

The Liturgical Seasons:

Advent: This first seasons beings late in the secular calendar year.  There are four Sundays in Advent leading up to Christmas Day, so Advent can begin anywhere from November 27 (when Christmas falls on a Sunday, as it did last year) to December 3 (when Christmas falls on a Monday).  This is a time of preparation and joyful expectation for the coming of Christ.

Each Sunday, a candle is lit on the Advent wreath -- the first two Sundays purple, the third pink, and the fourth, purple again.  Likewise, the priest wears purple vestments on the first two and last Sundays, and pink (rose) on the third Sunday.  Purple represents expectation, purification, or penance.  Pink represents joy.  It is used on the third Sunday of Advent (known as Gaudete Sunday) to emphasize our joyful expectation of Christ's birth.

I noticed this past Advent that most of the Old Testament Mass readings (for both Sundays and daily Masses) were from the book of Isaiah, which prophesies at great length about the coming of the Messiah.

Christmas: Of course, next is the Christmas season.  Happily, it lasts for more than one day!  We celebrate Christmas until the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which (in the United States) is celebrated the Monday after Epiphany.  The priest wears white or gold vestments, which represent joy and triumph.

The Gospel reading on Christmas is, of course, always an account of Christ's birth.

Ordinary Time (I): After Christmas, we have a period of Ordinary Time.  The priest wears green, which celebrates life and growth.

During Ordinary time, the Gospel readings center around the mysteries of the life of Christ.  This year, I noticed a lot of accounts of Christ's miracles.

Lent: This is our current season!  It begins on Ash Wednesday, which falls anywhere from February 4 to March 10, depending on when Easter is.  It is a time of penance, prayer, and reflection.  The priest wears purple vestments, although rose may be worn on Laetare Sunday (the fourth Sunday of Lent, during which we remind ourselves of our joyful expectation of Easter, similar to the joy on Gaudete Sunday during Advent).

During Lent, the Gospel readings typically include reference to Christ's passion and resurrection -- for example, the Transfiguration, after which Jesus "charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone, except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead."  On Palm Sunday (otherwise known as Passion Sunday), a Gospel reading about Jesus' entry into Jerusalem (when he was greeted as a king with palm branches) is read at the beginning of Mass; during the regular Gospel time, a lengthy reading of one of the accounts of the crucifixion is read.

Triduum:  This three-day period comprises Holy Thursday (the Thursday before Easter, when the Last Supper occurred), Good Friday, and Holy Saturday.  The evening of Holy Thursday, we celebrate the Mass of the Lord's Supper.  Good Friday is the only day of the entire year when no Masses are celebrated, and the Eucharist is removed from every Tabernacle, in memory of Christ's death on Good Friday.  On the evening of Holy Saturday, Easter Vigil Masses are held.

Easter: The greatest feast of the Liturgical year!  We celebrate Christ's resurrection with joy.  The priest wears white or gold vestments, just like during the Christmas season.  The date of Easter is moveable, and it can fall anywhere from March 22 to April 25.  This dates back to the First Council of Nicea (325 AD), when it was determined that Easter would be celebrated the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox (first day of spring).

The Easter season lasts until Pentecost Sunday, when we celebrate the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and the foundation and mission of Christ's Church.  Pentecost occurs on the fiftieth day of the Easter season, seven weeks after Easter Sunday.

Not surprisingly, the Gospel readings during the Easter season primarily focus on Christ's resurrection and the events afterwards.   The first reading, which is taken from the Old Testament during all other liturgical seasons, is taken from the Acts of the Apostles -- the evangelist Luke's writing about the earliest days of the Church.

Ordinary Time (II): The second period of Ordinary Time is much longer, stretching from the Monday after Pentecost (which falls anywhere from May 11-June 14) until the Saturday before the first Sunday of Advent.  The priest wears green vestments.
Although Easter, Christmas, and Pentecost are the most major celebrations during the liturgical year, there are many others.  The most important among them are solemnities, which observe an event in he life of Jesus, Mary, or the saints.  A few examples are January 1 (the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God), March 19 (The Solemnity of St. Joseph), the Sunday after Pentecost (the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity), and June 29 (the Solemnity of Peter and Paul, Apostles) (this happens to be Elise's birthday -- hooray!).  The second most significant type of commemoration is a feast day, which celebrates a concept or event (often commemorating a saint).  A memorial is a minor feast day.

Why I Love It:
I find it very natural and enriching to have a regular calendar to follow for liturgy.  It gives my life an uplifting rhythm throughout each season.  The penitential seasons (Advent and Lent) allow me to ground myself and reexamine my life; Christmas and Easter are sources of great blessings and joy.  The Triduum is so sacred and beautiful.  And even though Ordinary Time can feel quite lengthy during the summer and fall, I think it echoes everyday life rather nicely: most of our days are, after all, rather ordinary.  Within the seasons themselves, I love the many solemnities and feasts that occur throughout the year.  I hope to be able to incorporate the observance of these seasons and feasts in prayerful and memorable ways as our family grows.

***References: Catholic Doors and Robert & Linda Easterbrooks***

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

40 Things #1: Ash Wednesday

*Note: many Christian denominations celebrate Ash Wednesday, and I am not trying to present it as an exclusively Catholic feast.  Much love to all my brothers and sisters in Christ!

***This post is part of my 40 Things I Love About Catholicism series.  Click here to read more!*** 

Ash Wednesday is the first day of the season of Lent, which is a season of fasting and penance.  During Lent, which lasts for 40 days (excluding Sundays) leading up to Easter Sunday, Catholics prepare for the celebration of Christ's Resurrection.  Typically, people "give up" something they enjoy (often food) as a reminder of Christ's ultimate sacrifice for us.  We also do not eat meat on Fridays.

On Ash Wednesday, we go to Mass and receive ashes on our foreheads.  As the ashes are applied (in the shape of a cross), the priest says, "Remember, thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return." From
The ashes are made from the blessed palms used in the Palm Sunday celebration of the previous year. The ashes are christened with Holy Water and are scented by exposure to incense. While the ashes symbolize penance and contrition, they are also a reminder that God is gracious and merciful to those who call on Him with repentant hearts. His Divine mercy is of utmost importance during the season of Lent, and the Church calls on us to seek that mercy during the entire Lenten season with reflection, prayer and penance.
Why I love it: 

1. "Thou art dust." This is, of course, a direct reference to Genesis 2:7 ("Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being").  Now, while both creation accounts in Genesis were written as literature to transmit theological truths and not literal accounts of how creation took place, I find it very stirring to consider that "every element on earth, except for the lightest, was created in the heart of some massive star" (Science Daily, h/t Rambling Follower).  The very atoms in our bodies are stardust!

2. "And to dust thou shalt return." Certain events -- the death of a loved one, even the birth of a child -- remind us that we are mortal.  Our culture is so obsessed with eternal youth that it can sometimes be easy to overlook, but we will all die someday.  I'm not trying to be morbid here, but I think a healthy perspective on one's own mortality encourages us to make the most of each and every day.  We all hope to live long, good lives, but we truly never know which day is our last.

3. The physical ashes: I love Catholic sacramentals (and I will be posting specifically about them later this Lent).  Having the wet, fragrant ashes wiped directly on my face is a physical reminder of Christ's suffering and mercy.  Wearing them the rest of the day is not something we do to draw attention to ourselves ("like the hypocrites do" -- Matthew 6:16), but something to remind ourselves (every time we glance in a mirror: "what's THAT?-oh right the ASH!") and others of Christ's sacrifice for us.  For those unacquainted with the practice, it's a great conversation starter.

4. The beginning of Lent: I love Lent. I think it's beautiful that a penitential, somber time can do so much to transform our lives.  I've found it interesting over the years that, even among Catholics and Christians I've known who are lukewarm in their faith, it is often popular to still "give up something" or to abstain from meat on Fridays. 

Do you participate in Ash Wednesday services?  Are you planning to do anything for Lent this year?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Coming This Lent: 40 Things I Love About Catholicism

I've been puzzling for a while now over how I can incorporate blogging into my Lenten journey this year.  I love the tradition of making sacrifices during the season of Lent, but I also love doing extra positive things to live my faith during this special time.

A few days ago, I had an idea: I can share what I love about my faith throughout the Lenten season.  There are so many reasons that I love Catholicism, and it will bring me great joy to share some of them with you.  I hope that these posts will be enjoyable for all of my readers, regardless of your faith tradition.

As I publish these posts, I will use this one as an index post linking to all the topics.  My hope is that I will be able to post every weekday and Saturday throughout Lent (since Sundays are not counted as "days" of Lent -- but who am I kidding? That's probably when I'll be scrambling to catch up!).

As for today -- sausage with lunch and dinner, Jones blue bubblegum soda, and maybe doughnuts later.  Fat Tuesday and I are rollin' in style!

40 Things:
Day 1: Ash Wednesday 
Day 2: The Liturgical Calendar 
Day 3: The Seven Virtues 
Day 4: Churches Always Open 
Day 5: The Sign of the Cross
Day 6: Mercy and Prison Ministries 
Day 7: The Mass
Day 8: The Liturgy of the Hours 
Day 9: The Seven Sacraments 
Day 10: Lord of the Rings 
Day 11: The Sistine Chapel 
Day 12: View of Children 
Day 13: The Catechism 
Day 14: Gregorian Chant 
Day 15: The Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit 
Day 16: Religious Sisters and Nuns 
Day 17: Musical Notation 
Day 18: The Book of Sirach 
Day 19: The Nicene Creed 
Day 20: Days of Obligation 
Day 21: The Seven Corporal Works of Mercy 
Day 22: Lenten Sacrifices 
Day 23: Saints 
Day 24: Redemptive Suffering 
Day 25: Sacramentals 
Day 26: Purgatory 
Day 27: The Seven Spiritual Works of Mercy 
Day 28: Angels 
Day 29: Mary 
Day 30: Dying to Self 
Day 31: Sacrament of Penance 
Day 32: The Theology of the Body 
Day 33: The Way of the Cross 
Day 34: Palm Sunday and Holy Week 
Day 35: The Divine Name 
Day 36: The Church as the Body and Bride of Christ 
Day 37: Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary 
Day 38: The Eucharist 
Day 39: The Crucifix 
Day 40: The Easter Season

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

I'm Sure the "Early to Rise" Doesn't Hurt

For the first time in her life, my daughter woke up with a fever yesterday morning.  She cried in bewilderment and didn't want to nurse (not exactly the kind of behavior I expect from someone who needs to go to Nursers Anonymous).  Her little face felt hot, so we took her temperature: 101.6.  Not knowing what to do, I consulted The Toddler Owner's Manual.

No, for freaking real, I did.

The instructions were to administer ibuprofen, but not call the doctor.  I complied.

She was lethargic and unusually disinterested in food throughout the day, but otherwise she seemed to be feeling all right. Today she woke up her usual chipper, cheery self, and I'd say she's about 95% back to normal.

I feel bad that she was under the weather, but seriously folks, how ridiculously blessed are we?  19 months, FIRST fever, and she really wasn't even that sick.  Her first and only cold occurred when she was 16 months old.  She's never been to the doctor for anything but a well-baby visit.

No bragging here: just saying, thank you, God, for the incredible gift of my daughter's health.

Friday, February 10, 2012

7 Quick Takes Friday: National Marriage Week Edition

Thank you for hosting this week, Hallie!

It's National Marriage Week!  So I'm hoping these quickly-written takes will all be at least tangentially related to my marriage.

1. We're going to Washington D.C. for reals!  We were planning to last summer to celebrate our anniversary and my birthday (3 days apart), but it was the hottest stinkin' week of the year (as it usually is), and we decided it would be better to wait.  So we've waited and waited, and here, Colin is giving an invited talk at an American Mathematical Society sectional meeting in DC on HIS birthday!  Chicka chicka what now!  So we're going next month. 

2. Friday night is my favorite night of the week.  Partyin', partyin', yeah!  No, but seriously, I love knowing that the weekend is ahead and snuggling with Colin while we watch 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, and The Office (or some partial combination thereof -- can't be up too late when our little Elise alarm goes off at 6 AM every day).  Thanks, Hulu!

3. We have nothing planned for Valentine's Day, which is our usual schtick.  Based on the week's dinner schedule I wrote up earlier today, it looks like we'll be having some chicken and rice soup that evening.  And then he'll have to go back to work to tutor.  We're really bad at "occasions."  But hey, we went out to celebrate our 4.5-year wedding anniversary last month (baby in tow, of course), and that went well, so yippee!

4. Does anyone else get "phantom" baby-kick sensations in her abdomen?  (Don't worry, I'm not one of those women who doesn't realize she's pregnant, this has been going on practically since Elise was born.)  Just happened to me again.  (How is this related to your marriage, Louise?  Never happened until after I had OUR baby, skeptical one!)

5. Speaking of our baby, is the father-daughter bond not the most adorable thing on the planet?  Those two are just completely smitten.

6. Colin and I love food, and we love grocery shopping together.  Our Trader Joe's has WALLS now!  It is actually going up!  I can't wait to go on a grocery date there with my man.

7. A few weeks back, I mentioned to Colin before nursing Elise to sleep that I had a bunch of things I wanted to remember to do before going to bed myself.  When I came out of Elise's bedroom, I discovered this note he left for me on the fridge:
It only makes sense if you're familiar with this:
Def married the only man for me!