Category Archives: Church Seasons

Key to the Twelve Days of Christmas

The “Twelve Days of Christmas” refer to the eight days of the Christmas Octave from December 25 to New Years Day, and the four additional days up to and including the eve of January 6, the traditional date of the Epiphany.  In the USA and many other countries, Epiphany is now celebrated on the first Sunday after New Years, so the exact number 12 does not necessarily apply.  But the point is, don’t throw out the tree on the 26th–the birth of the Savior can’t be celebrated adequately in one day.  Let the celebration continue through at least through the Feast of the Epiphany–if not through the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.
 
According to the Handbook of Catholic Sacramentals by Ann Ball, the famous song about the 12 Days of Christmas was written in England as a catechism song for young Catholics in the days when it was illegal to practice or teach the Catholic Faith.  It contains hidden meanings intended to help children remember lessons of faith. Instead of referring to an earthly suitor, the “true love” mentioned in the song really refers to God.  The “me” who receives the presents is symbolic of every baptized person. 
 
There appears to be no conclusive historical evidence to prove this origin of the song,  Nevertheless, the traditional association between the gifts mentioned in the song and various spiritual gifts is a fun way to turn a seemingly secular Christmas carol into a valuable catechetical tool.  So let’s have fun with it!
 
Partridge in a pear tree: Jesus Christ, symbolized as a mother partridge that feigns injury to decoy predators from helpless nestlings. (Also Partridge in a pear tree = Christ on the cross.  Call to mind that Christ is the “New Adam” and according to Christian folklore the new “tree of knowledge of good and evil” {the cross} is no longer an apple tree.)
 
Two turtle doves                  Old & New Testaments
 
Three French Hens                 Faith, hope, charity – the 3 Theological Virtues  (or the 3 Evangelical Counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience
 
Four Calling birds                The Four Gospels (Or the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) (or The four Cardinal Virtues – prudence, justice, fortitude {or courage}, and temperance {or moderation}) 
 
Five Golden Rings                 The Pentateuch or Five Books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy)
 
Six geese a laying                Six days of creation
 
Seven Swans a swimming     7 Gifts of the Holy Spirit  (wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude (or courage), knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord)
 
Eight maids a-milking             8 Beatitudes
 
Nine Ladies Dancing               Nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit (Love, Joy, Peace, Longsuffering, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness. Self-control  Cf. Galatians 5)
 
Ten Lords a-leaping               10 Commandments
 
Eleven pipers piping     The 11 faithful disciples (Peter, Andrew {his brother}, James {son of Zebedee}, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James {son of Alphaeus}, Thaddeus and Simon {the Zealot})
 
12 drummers drumming          12 articles of the Apostles Creed 
 

Church lenten No No’s

Good morning, good people,
May the Lord give you His Peace!

Since becoming ordained in Easter Week of 1983 I have lived in two Dioceses (Ordained for Brooklyn, NY, and Incardinated into the Savannah, GA, Diocese after moving here), and have visited a great many others both in the US From Massachussetts to Florida and over to Kentucky and Missouri and in the West Indies and Europe.  I have assisted at Masses as Deacon in almost all of these and simply attended from the pews in others.  I have seen much and have cringed a great many times.  I have been edified and scandalized.  I have complained many times to no avail because of the pastor’s listening to his so-called “Liturgist” or Liturgy Committee (who read some wild ideas somewhere on how to make this or that part of the Mass “more meaningful”) instead of reading/saying the Black (the actual words of the prayers as printed in the Missal) and doing the Red (the “stage directions” printed in the Missal) or the the actions as outlined in the General Instruction to the Roman Missal (GIRM) or the changes to the GIRM that are approved by the Conference of Bishops.  Lent and Holy Week seemed to be especially vulnerable to these wild ideas – examples:
sand in the Fonts in place of the Holy Water, 
washing everybody’s hands on Holy Thursday,
staging a “Passion Play” in the Sanctuary on Palm/Passion Sunday and Good Friday instead of the reading of the Passion Narrative,
excluding the Deacon(s) and/or Priest(s) (who are present) from reading the Passion with only laity taking the parts and having a woman specifically taking the part of the Christ
Organ accompaniment behind the reading of the Passion
the choir/congregation singing some sort of non-liturgical “antiphon” at various places during the Passion Narrative or other Gospel Readings  (example: Singing “Take the stone away, come out, come out.” at various places during the Gospel that recounts the Raising of Lazarus {Year “A” Readings)
I could go on and on….But here is something specific in this regard:
In 1988 the Holy See published a circular letter on the Easter celebrations. No. 33 deals with the readings of the Passion:
”The passion narrative occupies a special place. It should be sung or read in the traditional way, that is, by three persons who take the part of Christ, the narrator, and the people. The passion is proclaimed by deacons or priests, or by lay readers. In the latter case, the part of the Christ should be reserved to the priest.”
Deacon Dennis, OFS

6 Liturgical No-No’s During Lent



by Jimmy Akin Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Should we have holy water in the fonts during Lent or should they turn into little ash trays? What does the Church say?
Like other liturgical seasons, Lent has its own special rules, and there are certain things that should not be done in Lent.
Here are 6 of them . . .
 
1. Instrumental music with no singing
In some parishes, instrumental music is used at certain points during Mass. A passage will be played on an organ or on another instrument or instruments, even though nobody is singing.
But not in Lent (with a few exceptions).
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) states:
313. In Lent the playing of the organ and musical instruments is allowed only in order to support the singing. Exceptions, however, are Laetare Sunday (Fourth Sunday of Lent), Solemnities, and Feasts.
 
2. Singing or saying the Gloria
Just after Sunday Mass begins, it is common to sing or say the Gloria (“Glory to God in the highest”).
But not on the Sundays of Lent.
The General Instruction states:
53. The Gloria in excelsis (Glory to God in the highest) . . . is sung or said on Sundays outside Advent and Lent, and also on Solemnities and Feasts, and at particular celebrations of a more solemn character.
 
3. Singing or saying the Alleleuia before the Gospel
During most of the year we sing or say the Alleluia before the reading of the Gospel.
But not in Lent.
The General Instruction states:
62. a) The Alleluia is sung in every time of year other than Lent. The verses are taken from the Lectionary or the Graduale.
b) During Lent, instead of the Alleluia, the verse before the Gospel as given in the Lectionary is sung. It is also possible to sing another Psalm or Tract, as found in the Graduale.
 
 4. Flowers on the altar
It is common for the altar to be decorated with flowers during most of the year (that is, there will be flowers around the altar, though not on top of the altar table itself).
But not in Lent (with a few exceptions).
The General Instruction states:
305. During Lent it is forbidden for the altar to be decorated with flowers. Exceptions, however, are Laetare Sunday (Fourth Sunday of Lent), Solemnities, and Feasts.
 

5. Emptying holy water fonts
In recent years, some parishes have taken the holy water out of the holy water fonts during Lent. They have even filled them with sand in some cases.
The idea, they say, is to convey the thought that Lent is a time of spiritual dryness–a “desert” experience–that precedes Easter, in which we refrain from using the sacramental of holy water.
Despite its popularity in some places, this practice is not permitted.
It has been the Church’s practice to empty the holy water fonts during Triduum, but for a different reason. It is not permitted to have them empty through the whole season of Lent.

The Congregation for Divine Worship has stated:
This Dicastery is able to respond that the removing of Holy Water from the fonts during the season of Lent is not permitted, in particular, for two reasons:
1. The liturgical legislation in force does not foresee this innovation, which in addition to being “praeter legem” [i.e., “apart from the law”] is contrary to a balanced understanding of the season of Lent, which though truly being a season of penance, is also a season rich in the symbolism of water and baptism, constantly evoked in liturgical texts.
2. The encouragement of the Church that the faithful avail themselves frequently of the sacraments is to be understood to apply also to the season of Lent. The “fast” and “abstinence” which the faithful embrace in this season does not extend to abstaining from the sacraments or sacramentals of the Church. 
The practice of the Church has been to empty the Holy Water fonts on the days of the Sacred Triduum in preparation of the blessing of the water at the Easter Vigil, and it corresponds to those days on which the Eucharist is not celebrated (i.e., Good Friday and Holy Saturday) [3/14/03: Prot. N. 569/00/L].
 
6. Veiling crosses and statues before the Fifth Sunday of Lent
In recent years, some parishes in the United States have veiled or otherwise removed crosses and statues as soon as Lent begins.
They’re jumping the gun.
This practice is permitted beginning with the Fifth Sunday of Lent, but not before.

The Roman Missal states:
In the Dioceses of the United States, the practice of covering crosses and images throughout the church from this [Fifth] Sunday may be observed.
Crosses remain covered until the end of the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday, but images remain covered until the beginning of the Easter Vigil.
Notice that the practice is option (the practice “may be observed” not “is to be observed”).

If it is not observed, in a particular parish, from the Fifth Sunday of Lent, there is additional encouragement to do remove or veil crosses after the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday.

The rubrics in the Roman Missal for that day state:
At an appropriate time, the altar is stripped and, if possible, the crosses are removed from the church.

It is expedient that any crosses which remain in the church be veiled.
 
Read more: http://www.ncregister.com/blog/jimmy-akin/6-liturgical-no-nos-during-lent?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+NCRegisterDailyBlog+National+Catholic+Register#When:2013-02-14 01:12:01#ixzz2Kt0ygZ2m

The Incarnation, Greccio, and St. Francis

By Bret Thoman, OFS

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town. And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:1-7)

In 1223, just three years before he died, St. Francis recreated the nativity of Jesus in Greccio, a small village in the Rieti valley in the same region as Rome. With the assistance of a local nobleman named John, they assembled some animals including an ox and donkey, a young couple with a newborn baby, and some hay in a cave on a cliff about one mile from the town of Greccio. Francis, as a deacon, sang and preached to the people and to the brothers gathered there about the humility, poverty, and simplicity of God who came in the form of a babe. No one had ever done this before. He began a tradition called the crèche, which name comes from the town of Greccio through the French.

Francis’s desire was to reflect on and re-live the historical, concrete, human dimensions of the life of Christ – in this case his birth. Through the nativity scene, Francis created the possibility of entering into the place. Through the presence of the characters – Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the Magi, and the Christ-child himself – together with the animals, the hay, the manger, Francis enhanced the possibility of entering into the mystery of the Incarnation.

Today, we have many more opportunities to experience the Gospel stories; for example, through hearing the Scriptures in our own language, movies, paintings, pictures, etc. But in Francis’s day, religion tended to be loftier; earlier medieval liturgies were often difficult for laypersons to understand, as they were in Latin and preaching more theological.
Let’s listen to the story from Thomas of Celano. While I do so, I want you to close your eyes and use your imagination.

The Manger he made in Celebration of the Lord’s Birthday
By Thomas of Celano

His highest aim, foremost desire, and greatest intention was to pay heed to the holy gospel in all things and through all things, to follow the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ and to retrace His footsteps completely with all vigilance and all zeal, all the desire of his soul and all the fervor of his heart.

Francis used to recall with regular meditation the words of Christ and recollect His deeds with most attentive perception. Indeed, so thoroughly did the humility of the Incarnation and the charity of the Passion occupy his memory that he scarcely wanted to think of anything else.

We should note then, as matter worthy of memory and something to be recalled with reverence, what he did, three years prior to his death, at the town of Greccio, on the birthday of our Lord Jesus Christ. There was a certain man in that area named John who had a good reputation but an even better manner of life. Blessed Francis loved him with special affection, since, despite being a noble in the land and very honored in human society, he had trampled the nobility of the flesh under his feet and pursued instead the nobility of the spirit. As usual, blessed Francis had John summoned to him some fifteen days prior to the birthday of the Lord. “If you desire to celebrate the coming feast of the Lord together at Greccio,” he said to him, “hurry before me and carefully make ready the things I tell you. For I wish to enact the memory of that babe who was born in Bethlehem: to see as much as is possible with my own bodily eyes the discomfort of his infant needs, how he lay in a manger, and how, with an ox and an ass standing by, he rested on hay.” Once the good and faithful man had heard Francis’s words, he ran quickly and prepared in that place all the things that the holy man had requested.

Here, I want you to do something: Imagine that you are present in Greccio, or better yet, present in Bethlehem.
Finally, the day of joy has drawn near, the time of exultation has come. From many different places the brethren have been called. As they could, the men and women of that land with exultant hearts prepare candles and torches to light up that night whose shining star has enlightened every day and year. Finally, the holy man of God comes and, finding all things prepared, he saw them and was glad. Indeed, the manger is prepared, the hay is carried in, and the ox and the ass are led to the spot. There simplicity is given a place of honor, poverty is exalted, humility is commended, and out of Greccio is made a new Bethlehem.

The night is lit up like day, delighting both man and beast. The people arrive, ecstatic at this new mystery of new joy. The forest amplifies the cries and the boulders echo back the joyful crowd. The brothers sing, giving God due praise, and the whole night abounds with jubilation. The holy man of God stands before the manger, filled with heartfelt sighs, contrite in his piety, and overcome with wondrous joy. Over the manger the solemnities of the Mass are celebrated and the priest enjoys a new consolation.

The holy man of God is dressed in the vestments of the Levites, since he was a Levite [i.e. deacon], and with full voice sings the holy gospel. Here is his voice: a powerful voice, a pleasant voice, a clear voice, a musical voice, inviting all to the highest of gifts. Then he preaches to the people standing around him and pours forth sweet honey about the birth of the poor King and the poor city of Bethlehem. Moreover, burning with excessive love, he often calls Christ the “babe from Bethlehem” whenever he means to call Him Jesus. Saying the word “Bethlehem” in the manner of a bleating sheep, he fills his whole mouth with sound but even more with sweet affection. He seems to lick his lips whenever he uses the expressions “Jesus” or “babe from Bethlehem,” tasting the word on his happy palate and savoring the sweetness of the word. The gifts of the Almighty are multiplied there and a virtuous man sees a wondrous vision. For the man saw a little child lying lifeless in the manger and he saw the holy man of God approach the child and waken him from a deep sleep. Nor is this vision unfitting, since in the hearts of many the child Jesus has been given over to oblivion. Now he is awakened and impressed on their loving memory by His own grace through His holy servant Francis. At length, the night’s solemnities draw to a close and everyone went home with joy.

The hay placed in the manger there was preserved afterwards so that, through it, the Lord might restore to health the pack animals and the other animals there, as He multiplied his holy mercy. It came to pass in the surrounding area that many of the animals, suffering from various diseases, were freed from their illnesses when they ate some of this hay. What is more, women who had been suffering with long and hard labor had an easy delivery after they placed some of this hay upon themselves. Finally, an entire group of people of both sexes obtained much-desired relief from an assortment of afflictions.

At last, the site of the manger was consecrated as a temple of the Lord. In honor of the most blessed father Francis, an altar was constructed over the manger, and a church was dedicated. This was done so that where animals once at the fodder of the hay, there humans henceforth for healing of body and soul would eat the flesh of the immaculate and spotless lamb, our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us with supreme and indescribable love, who lives and rules with the Father and the Holy Spirit as God, eternally glorious forever and ever. Amen. Alleluia, Alleluia.

So what is the message of the Incarnation and Greccio? God has appeared – he has revealed himself. Previously, God had revealed himself to mankind only partially. “In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through a son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe” (Heb 1:1-2). In this, something new has happened: God has appeared and has revealed himself. He has emerged from the inaccessible light and has come into the world. He is no longer merely an idea, a hoped for promise, an article of faith; now he has appeared.

But how has he appeared? In what form did he appear? Who is this Christ child? “The kindness and love of God our Savior for mankind were revealed” (Tit 3:4). This was the real “epiphany,” that God appeared to us as kindness and love. In the Christ child, God is not a wrathful executioner of justice, nor is he an angry judge; rather, he is “kindness and love.” We recall the prophecies of Isaiah: “For a child is born to us, a son is given to us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace. His dominion is vast and forever peaceful” (Is 9:5f). This is the only text in the Old Testament that prophesies the coming of a child, which tradition has assigned to be the Christ child. The prophet describes how the Child will be: “Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.” Here, a child, in all its weakness, neediness, and dependence is the Mighty God, the Eternal Father. His peace “is forever.”

God has appeared as a child born in a stable in Bethlehem, not in the palaces of kings. This is the “epiphany” – the manifestation of God. The person that God assumes is a child; and this is striking in that it shows us who God is.

Saint Francis was very devoted to the Nativity of Christ and Christmas. He called Christmas “the feast of feasts,” the feast above all other feasts – and he celebrated it with “unutterable devotion” (2 Celano 199). He kissed images of the Christ-child with great devotion and he stammered tender words such as children say, according to Thomas of Celano (ibid.). For the early Church, the feast of feasts was Easter – since Christ saved mankind from sin through the Resurrection. Francis neither changed nor intended to change this order of precedence among the feasts, centered on the Paschal Mystery; in fact, the Resurrection presupposes the Incarnation. And yet through Francis and the character of his faith, something new took place: Francis discovered Jesus’s humanity in an entirely new depth.

This human existence of God was most obvious to Francis at the moment when God’s Son, born of the Virgin Mary, was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. For God’s Son to take the form of a child, a truly human child, made a profound impression on the heart of the Saint of Assisi, transforming faith into love. In the child born in the stable at Bethlehem, we can as it were touch and caress God.

In this new experience of the reality of Jesus’s humanity, the great mystery of faith is revealed. Francis loved the child Jesus, because for him it was in this childish estate that God’s humility shone forth. God became poor. His Son was born in the poverty of the stable. In the child Jesus, God made himself dependent, in need of human love, he put himself in the position of asking for human love – our love. Today Christmas is often over-commercialized; its bright lights hide the mystery of God’s humility, which in turn calls us to humility and simplicity.

Questions:

Why was Francis so devoted to the crib? To the Christ child?
When you think of God, what does he look like? Is he the “mighty conqueror” or the humble, needy child? Or is he both?

Faith challenge: Now spend some time now meditating and reflecting on the mystery of the Incarnation. St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit Order and writer of the great “Spiritual Exercises” described meditating on historical events. Find some time and a place to be quiet. Read slowly from the beginning of the Gospel of Luke and/or Matthew describing the birth of Christ. Now close your eyes and meditate on the event. Imagine yourself in the scene. What do you see? What do you hear, What do you smell? What do you feel?

A FRANCISCAN CHRISTMAS

In the book ≈ The Last Temptation of Christ, Nikos Kazantzakis, the author, tells the story of how a man came to Jesus and asked: “When shall I see the Lord? When shall I find peace?” Jesus answers him by telling him a story.

There was a marble throne near the East gate of a city large city.

Several thousand kings sat upon the throne, each longing to see God, but all had died and their hope had been frustrated. The royal line had run out. A beggar, barefooted and hungry, seized the opportunity to sit on the marble throne. He sat and whispered, “God, the eyes of man cannot bear to look directly at the sun, for they will be blinded. How then, O God, Almighty One, can they look directly at you? Have pity, Lord, temper your strength so that I who am poor and afflicted may see you.”

And God did temper his strength. God became a piece of bread, a cup of cool water and a warm tunic. The beggar stretched out his arms happily and said, “Thank you, Lord, you humbled yourself for my sake. You became bread, water and a warm tunic in order that I might see you. I bow down and worship your many sided face.”

It is not too far fetched to see this beggar as St. Francis. He who was poor discovered Christ who became poor. This is why he appreciated the great mystery of God becoming “enfleshed”. It was a mystery of humility, poverty and love.

The Great Almighty God through his humility became one of us out of love. For Francis, Christmas was a time when God became a baby and was cared for by a woman and man. It was a time to meditate on the humility of God who gave up his divine perogatives in love and peace to save us.

For Francis Christmas was a time ofjoy. There was to be no fasting, no frowns but singing and joy. In the year 1223 Francis and his followers were to celebrate Christmas in a very special way. He sent the Friars to the small town of Greccio to prepare for the great feast.

A manger was found on a mountainside and REAL hay was to be used.

Brother Juniper was to supply the animals and this he did – supplying more than needed.

A REAL baby and a REAL mother were to be found. On Christmas Even night the Friars and people from the nearly villages came carrying candles and torches so that the hills were filled with light and the mountains with Christmas carols.

At midnight Mass was celebrated with Francis as the deacon and the manger as the altar so that the divine Child under the forms of bread and wine should come to the place as he came to Bethlehem. After the gospel Francis preached a simple and yet moving sermon, “Let us love the Babe of Bethlehem.”

Later he was seen taking up the sleeping baby from the manger and clasping it in his arms. The child awoke, smiled and stroked his Franciscan habit. Thus, Christ, who had been asleep in the hearts of men and women for many years, had been restored to his rightful place the world by the voice and example of Francis Bernadone. It is the great Christmas gift of the Most High Father – the gift of his Son Jesus Christ to become a human being.

The Feast of Christmas affected Francis as no other feast. Bethlehem spoke of love, humility and peace. Maybe if cannot appreciate the REAL meaning of Christmas -the humility, love and peace of Christ then maybe We are not humble enough, nor loving enough or not peaceful enough.

In the Last Temptation of Christ it was not the rich and powerful kings who had the eyes to see God but rather the humble beggar. When you are humble you possess nothing but God who takes possession of you!