Ash Wednesday

Ash WedAsh Wednesday marks the beginning of the Season of Lent. It is a season of penance, reflection, and fasting which prepares us for Christ’s Resurrection on Easter Sunday, through which we attain redemption.

 

Why we receive the ashes

Following the example of the Nine vites, who did penance in sackcloth and ashes, our foreheads are marked with ashes to humble our hearts and reminds us that life passes away on Earth. We remember this when we are told

“Remember, Man is dust, and unto dust you shall return.”

Ashes are a symbol of penance made sacramental by the blessing of the Church, and they help us develop a spirit of humility and sacrifice.

The distribution of ashes comes from a ceremony of ages past. Christians who had committed grave faults performed public penance. On Ash Wednesday, the Bishop blessed the hair shirts which they were to wear during the forty days of penance, and sprinkled over them ashes made from the palms from the previous year. Then, while the faithful recited the Seven Penitential Psalms, the penitents were turned out of the church because of their sins — just as Adam, the first man, was turned out of Paradise because of his disobedience. The penitents did not enter the church again until Maundy Thursday after having won reconciliation by the toil of forty days’ penance and sacramental absolution. Later, all Christians, whether public or secret penitents, came to receive ashes out of devotion. In earlier times, the distribution of ashes was followed by a penitential procession.

 

The Ashes

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.

Hallowe’en; All Saints; All Souls

How long has the tradition of Hallowe’en been around and why did it begin? Perhaps it started with the pagan festival of Samhain (one of the four major festivals in the Celtic Calendar – 1st February: Imbolc; 1st May: Bealtaine; 1st August: Lughnasa; 1st November: Samhain).

Festival of Samhain

Festival of Samhain

The festival of Samhain is a celebration of the end of the harvest season. The Celts were avid followers of nature and the cycle of life. They observed that in October plants died animals disappeared, days grew shorter and nights grew longer. Samhain was a time used by ancient pagans to take stock of supplies and prepare for winter. The ancient Gaels believed that on October 31, the boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead overlapped and the deceased would come back to life and cause havoc such as sickness or damaged crops.

On October 31 and November 1st every year they would try to pacify Samhain (the god of death) with food and also scare him off with bonfires (bone-fires: kindled from skeletons of sacrificed animals). They carved lanterns out of turnips. Masks and costumes were worn in an attempt to mimic the evil spirits or appease them.

How is this connected with Christianity? When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, deliberate efforts were made to announce its victory over paganism. This was done by replacing pagan symbols, places and feasts with Christian ones. In the ninth century, the Church officially designated November 1st as All Saints’ Day, a celebration commemorating all the saints (people who we are sure are in heaven). The night before became known as All Hallows’ Evening (Hallowe’en for short), a holy vigil to draw attention to the following day.

Over time, different cultures have added to the evolution of Hallowe’en. Medieval beggars knocked on doors for ‘soul cakes’ in exchange for prayers for the household’s deceased members. Costumes became a way for people to participate in pageant form in the story of life, death and what happens hereafter. Brought across the world by Irish emigrants, the feast eventually lost any religious significance and became a purely secular event.

All Saints' Day

All Saints’ Day

What about November 1st? This is All Saint’s Day and is a holy day of obligation – Catholics should attend Mass on this day. It celebrates the lives of all Christians who have died in a state of grace.

But what is a saint? Saints, broadly speaking, are those who follow Jesus and live their lives according to his teaching. Catholics, however, also use the term narrowly to refer to holy men and women who, through extraordinary lives of virtue, have already entered Heaven. St. Paul often addressed his letters to ‘the saints’ of a particular place. The assumption was that those who followed Christ had been so transformed, that they were now different from other men and women and should be considered holy. Soon, however, the meaning began to change. As Christianity began to spread, it became clear that some people lived lives of heroic virtue while others struggled to live out the Gospel of Christ. The word ‘saint’ took on the narrower meaning of those who easily practised the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity.

Why is November 2nd significant in the Catholic Church? This day is called All Souls’ Day and it commemorates all those who have died and are now in Purgatory being cleansed of their venial sin and atoning before fully entering Heaven. Praying for the dead is a Christian obligation. The Church devotes the month of November to prayer for the Holy Souls in Purgatory.

The triduum of Hallowe’en, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day may have its roots in a Celtic pagan festival, but today the last two have a richly Catholic significance with the first being a reminder of the holy days that follow.

All Souls' Day

All Souls’ Day

 

Remembering Our Dead

All Saints Day (November 1) and All Souls Day (November 2) are annual reminders to remember, honor, and celebrate the dead. Today these ancient observances are overshadowed by Halloween. However, the ritual of consciously remembering loved ones who have passed is an important spiritual practice in all our lives. It brings death into the context of our daily experience and reminds us that dying is not the end.

The community of Gormanston College – students, families, staff, and all connected with the school hold close to their heart a dear friend, wonderful student, beloved family member who passed away during the summer. November gives us a chance to remember the joy of Cian Maloney and to pray for the repose of his soul and for the comfort of his family, his friends, his teachers who miss him deeply.

Many religions and cultures remember the dead on the anniversary of the death. Since that date may bring back painful memories of a passing, some prefer to remember their departed loved ones in November or on their birthdays. Here are some of the practices that could be meaningful.

Light a candle.We can choose a candle in a colour that reminds us of the person. As we light it, we say a prayer of thanks to God for our memories of this loved one. During the day, as we look up from our work at the flickering flame, we recall the blessing this person was in our lives.

Make a donation.One way to signal that you still feel connected to someone who has died is to make a donation to a cause he or she supported. You give money to a church, school, local service organization, or favourite charity.

Find something to remember them by.The inspiration for this practice comes from the Bible account of Jesus’ disciples on the road to Emmaus. They were joined by a stranger whom they did not recognize as Jesus until they stopped to eat and he broke the bread for their meal. They knew him in that act; it was something he had given them earlier to remember him by. So for a close loved one, there may be an act, a saying, a song, a place, an object that helps us to remember that person.

When we think back on our relationships with people who have died, we can find something to remember each of them by. Other common triggers to memory are a favorite song, a particular recipe, a certain type of weather, a special fragrance, a piece of jewelry. Each creates a feeling of connection beyond the grave.

This year on All Saints Day and All Souls Day, and during the month of November, make a list of your departed loved ones and find one act, one object, one gift that can be your remembrance for each of them as you go about your daily life in the year ahead. This simple spiritual practice becomes an expression of gratitude, wonder, and your continuing love.

May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed, rest in peace. Amen.

The Paschal Candle

The most important celebration in the Christian year is Easter. The beginning of this season is marked by the Easter Vigil and the Lighting of the Paschal Candle. Paschal means ‘Passover’, indicating Jesus’ passing over from death to life.

This candle represents the risen Jesus – the light of the world. During the Easter Vigil that takes place on Holy Saturday night, the candle is lit to represent the resurrection of Jesus Christ. There are many features to the candle and each one has a special meaning. In the centre of the candle is a cross representing the crucifixion. Jesus’ wounds made by the crown of thorns and nails used on his body are symbolised by the brass markers around the cross. You will see the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, alpha and omega. This shows that God is the beginning and the end. The present year is also given, showing God’s presence in the here and now.

(Note to third years – this is important for Section E – the Celebration of Faith – Easter Vigil as ceremony/ritual, Easter as a time of religious significance, Paschal Candle as a religious symbol etc..)

 

Happy Easter!

The Simple Truth About Easter

The meaning of Easter is Jesus Christ’s victory over death. His resurrection symbolizes the eternal life that is granted to all who believe in Him. The meaning of Easter also symbolizes the complete verification of all that Jesus preached and taught during His three-year ministry. If He had not risen from the dead, if He had merely died and not been resurrected, He would have been considered just another teacher or Rabbi. However, His resurrection changed all that and gave final and irrefutable proof that He was really the Son of God and that He had conquered death once and for all.

Today, the meaning of Easter, for million of Christians, is that of honoring and recognizing Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead, and His glorious promises of eternal life for all who believe in Him.

He is Risen – Alleluia!

 

Here’s a short prezi dealing with the divinity of Our Lord and Saviour:

 

Happy St Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick’s Day Facts: Snakes, a Slave, and a Saint

On St. Patrick’s Day—Saturday, March 17—millions of people will don green and celebrate the Irish in, and around, them with parades, good cheer, and perhaps a pint of beer.

But few St. Patrick’s Day revelers have a clue about St. Patrick, the man, according to the author of St. Patrick of Ireland: A Biography.

“The modern celebration of St. Patrick’s Day really has almost nothing to do with the real man,” said classics professor Philip Freeman of Luther College in Iowa.

Who Was the Man Behind St. Patrick’s Day?

The real St. Patrick wasn’t even Irish.

He was born in Britain around A.D. 390 to an aristocratic Christian family with a townhouse, a country villa, and plenty of slaves.

What’s more, Patrick professed no interest in Christianity as a young boy.

At 16, Patrick’s world turned.

He was kidnapped and sent overseas to tend sheep as a slave in the chilly, mountainous countryside of Ireland for seven years.

“It was just horrible for him,” Freeman said. “But he got a religious conversion while he was there and became a very deeply believing Christian.”

Hearing Voices

While in Ireland, a voice came to Patrick in his dreams, telling him to escape. He found passage on a pirate ship back to Britain, where he was reunited with his family.

The voice then told him to go back to Ireland.

“He gets ordained as a priest from a bishop and goes back and spends the rest of his life trying to convert the Irish to Christianity,” Freeman said.

Patrick’s work in Ireland was tough—he was constantly beaten by thugs, harassed by the Irish royalty, and admonished by his British superiors.

After he died on March 17, 461, Patrick was largely forgotten.

But slowly, stories grew up around Patrick. Centuries later he was honored as the patron saint of Ireland, Freeman noted.

No Snakes in Ireland

The St. Patrick mythology includes the claim that he banished snakes from Ireland.

It’s true no snakes exist on the island today, Freeman said. But they never did.

Ireland, after all, is surrounded by icy ocean waters—much too cold to allow snakes to migrate from Britain or anywhere else.

But since snakes often represent evil in literature, “when Patrick drives the snakes out of Ireland, it is symbolically saying he drove the old, evil, pagan ways out of Ireland and brought in a new age,” Freeman said.

St. Patrick’s Day Celebrations: Made in America?

Until the 1970s, St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland was a minor religious holiday. A priest would acknowledge the feast day, and families would celebrate with a big meal, but that was about it.

“St. Patrick’s Day – the commercial side – was basically invented in America by Irish-Americans,” Freeman said.

Irish charitable organizations originally celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with banquets in places such as Boston, Massachusetts; Savannah, Georgia; and Charleston, South Carolina.

Eighteenth-century Irish soldiers fighting with the British in the U.S. Revolutionary War held the first St. Patrick’s Day parades. Some soldiers, for example, marched through New York City in 1762 to reconnect with their Irish roots.

Other parades followed in the years and decades after, including well-known celebrations in Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago, primarily for flourishing Irish immigrant communities.

“It becomes a way to honor the saint but also to confirm ethnic identity and to create bonds of solidarity,” Freeman said.

Wearing Green Clothes, Dyeing River Green

Sometime in the 19th century, as St. Patrick’s Day parades were flourishing, wearing the color green became a show of commitment to Ireland, Meagher said.

In 1962 the show of solidarity took a spectacular turn in Chicago when the city decided to dye a portion of the Chicago River green.

The tradition started when parade organizer Steve Bailey, head of a plumbers’ union, noticed how a dye used to detect river pollution had stained a colleague’s overalls a brilliant green, according to greenchicagoriver.com.

Why not, Bailey thought, turn the river green on St. Patrick’s Day? So began the tradition.

What does Saint Patrick’s Day mean for Catholic young people?

St. Patrick’s Day is a celebration that holds a lot of spiritual meaning for Catholic teens.  First, the holiday is a traditional day for spiritual renewal.  It is a day that Catholics can use to reflect on their spiritual walk and reflect on their relationship with God.  St. Patrick found that renewal, because he considered himself a pagan before he became a slave and discovered his relationship with God through prayer.

Second, Catholics can use the time to pray for missionaries around the world and consider the calling on their lives to become missionaries either in their schools or in other areas of the world.  St. Patrick was adept at speaking and converting pagans in Ireland, and he faced many trials due to his mission work.  Missionaries today face many of the same trials, and need the prayers of Christians near and far.

HAPPY SAINT PATRICK’S DAY TO YOU ALL!

 

 

 

Ash Wednesday and Lent

Ash Wednesday is the first day in the Christian season of Lent. It begins about 40 days before Easter. The 40 days represents Jesus’ time in the desert before the start of his public ministry. It also represents the 40 years that the Hebrews spent in the desert searching for the Promised Land. Ashes have been used for thousands of years as a sign of repentance. We don’t wear ashes to proclaim our holiness but to acknowledge that we sin and are in need of repentance and renewal. By putting ashes on our forehead, we are reminded that we should be embarrassed about some of the things we do. Having the mark in the shape of the cross shows that we believe that Jesus can make things better.

This Lent step up and do what is right – make a decision to “turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel”. Follow the way of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Here’s a list of things you might consider doing:

  • Make a commitment to read the Sunday readings before you go to Mass
  • Don’t have time to read all 3? Just read the Gospel
  • Make a commitment to try something new spiritually – eg Eucharistic Adoration
  • Think about what you usually spend your money on – new clothes? iTunes? eating out? Pick one type of expenditure, fast from it and give the money to charity.
  • Go to a weekday mass once during the week
  • If you don’t have a cross in your house, buy one and put it in your room
  • Read the Gospel of Mark – it’s the shortest! The cross, a traditional Lenten symbol, plays a central role.
  • Attend the Stations of the Cross
  • Eat fish on Fridays during Lent
  • Turn off your iPod or the radio on the way to school – the silence may be hard at first, but you may become more in tune with the world around you
  • Buy a book of daily reflections and keep it by your bed
  • Think about a habit that has kept you from who God wants you to be. Consciously give up that habit for Lent.
  • Fast from more than just food
  • Fast from cruel comments about others
  • Make a point of learning about a particular social issue eg: racism, AIDS, child poverty etc
  • Pray for somebody – a close friend or someone who you see on the street that you think is in need
  • Remind yourself of the baptismal commitment to renounce sin
  • As you fall asleep at night, repeat the mantra ‘Lord Jesus, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me.’
  • Read the works of mercy as Jesus describes them in Matthew 25 ‘For I was hungry . . .’
  • Make a list of all the excesses in your life. Which ones could you do without?
  • Attend the Sacrament of Reconciliation

January 6th – Feast of the Epiphany

The Feast of the Epiphany is a celebration of the ‘revelation’ of God in human flesh. Today the Epiphany is celebrated on January 6th. In many European countries the Epiphany, rather than Christmas (Feast of the Nativity), is the day of gift-giving. This is in commemoration of the gifts of the Magi, taken from Matthew 2:1-12. The popular song beginning “We three kings of Orient are…” is well known but it spreads an unlikely interpretation of Matthew’s account of the Visit of the Magi. It is generally believed that the three “kings” were actually astrologers following an unusual star. Had these three men been kings, they were likely to have brought escorts rather than travelling alone.

The story of the Visit of the Magi makes an important point about the role of the Messiah. Jesus is called “the newborn king of the Jews” by the magi who travel from the east. These men were not Jewish yet they paid homage to the King of the Jews. Matthew, who wrote to a Jewish audience, hoped to express the universal role of Christ in this story. These men were foreigners but they honored Jesus as their king. Herod, who is not an heir of King David and not the rightful King of the Jews, was threatened by this new king and attempted to kill him. This reveals another important theme of the Gospels: Jesus was not to become a political King of the Jews to dethrone Herod or even the emperor; he was to usher in a new kingdom that extended beyond political regimes.

The gifts of the magi (as described in Matthew) are also symbolic:

  • Gold for royalty, wealth and the kingship of Christ
  • Frankincense, made of gum from an Asian and African tree. It may be burned to produce aromatic smoke used in worship, and symbolizes divinity and prayer
  • Myrrh is a bitter resin used in ancient times to anoint bodies before burial. It is a symbol of suffering and death, foretelling Christ’s giving of self through death.