Sunday, March 30, 2008

First Communion

On the night he was betrayed, Jesus took time to spend with his apostles for the Passover meal. During this time with them he, revealed the Sacrament of Communion which he told each of us to do in memory of him. Though the ages, Catholics everywhere do just as Jesus Commanded and receive Eucharist at mass.

Steeped in a long history each Spring children, usually around age 7, receive the Sacrament of Communion for the first time. From that point forward parents, up until their child is old enough themselves, are encouraged to take their child to receive Communion as often as possible.

For a child to receive Communion for the first time, the child must be baptized. If the child is over the age of 4 but has not been baptized the child may be placed in the children's RCIA program at which point the child would receive the Sacrament of Communion but also they would receive Baptism as well as confirmation. As every Catholic Boy and Girl knows First Holy Communion is a big even in their lives. In the more modern times it has become a time for celebration, Communion Dresses, and parties. Usually on this day the family and the godparents gather with the child to celebrate.

Parishes have started making First Communion more prominent in the community as well. In the past you had the choice to enroll your child to celebrate their first communion as a group. They would hold the mass at an off time, usually Saturday afternoon and family and friends of the communicants were in attendance. In the last 15 years that has changed and moving to pulling the ceremony to one of the Sunday morning masses ..

With the new traditions, First Holy Communion Sundays become large celebration days within each parish community. Often a professional photographer is also hired which makes for lasting memories. For First Communion Gifts, often a picture frame is a good way to make lasting memories. It is a day so profound in each of our children's life's it will often be long remembered and held dear.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Easter Season

Easter Sunday is the most important day in all of Christianity. It is the cornerstone of all Christ-based churches because it is the celebration of the day that Jesus rose from the dead. It is also a season within the Catholic Church spanning Easter Sunday to Pentecost. This is the day that Jesus sent the Holy Spirit.

Jesus is often said to have passed over death. This is a reference that is Jewish in root. Passover is one of the high days within the Jewish. Easter Sunday can fall anytime between Late March and Late April and was assigned this time frame in 325 at the Council of Nicaea, when it was said that Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday and there for Easter should be celebrated on a Sunday. The Easter season follows the 40 days of Lent which is the period of penance that preceding Easter Sunday. Lent runs right though Palm Sunday which is the day of Jesus Triumphant return into Jerusalem .

The bridge between the end of Lent, Palm Sunday, and Easter Sunday is known as Holy Week. This includes the Easter Tritium, which is the Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday. According to the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew Mark and Luke, They all tell the story of Jesus arriving in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. They then move on to the preparation for the Passover meal which was actually Holy Thursday, and the meal which Jesus instituted Eucharist. Good Friday also has references in the Gospels to Passover where Pilates asks if the Jews wanted Jesus released as part of the Passover custom. This leads to what is called the Passion of Our Lord, his crucifixion and ultimately his death. And because of Passover and the Sabbath, Jesus was laid in the tomb. of Holy Saturday which lead into the Passover of the Lord, into Easter Sunday, which the Lord passed from Death into Life.

This is where the Easter season starts. The eight days immediately after Easter, or the Octave of Easter continues the Easter story in the gospels, which carries us though the Easter Season which will end at Pentecost.



Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Bravery and Courage of My Friends

This is a little off topic for my regular blog posts for sure. But I do think it's a story of Faith and courage. Two of my friends from RCIA found out that their son had a birth defect and had no brain and would not survive but a short time after his birth. They were encouraged to abort and both of my friends said they will allow Gods will to be done. They found this out one week before Christmas and with a deep faith in God and his will have carried the baby to full term. The miracle of it is this one little baby has opened up the discussion on abortion and the life that grows. My friends have spoken to the doctors and have explained why not to abort not just to play the percentages and take the easy way out. Conversation and education is one of the best weapons in the war on abortion.

I just received an email with the funeral arrangements for this child. His parents loved him enough to allow him to pass with dignity and not at the end of a vacuum hose or forceps. They have loved him enough not take the easy way out. If only all people put their children first in this way. If only people realized that terminating a pregnancy it terminating a life.

They are two of the most incredible people I've ever met as are the Godparents of this special little boy. If you happen across this post please keep this incredible family in your prayers, if I may ask for them The family has asked that if anyone wants to do anything in memory the family has asked for donations to be made to Birthright or to the St. Vincent DePaul Society. But most of all I hope you will remember to add this very special family and situation to your prayers tonight.



Monday, March 24, 2008

How the Day of Easter is Decided

As I look at the temperature seeing its 36 degrees in my old NJ neighborhood. I noticed that Easter 2008 is the earliest that I can remember, although I do remember an Easter snowstorm when I was a small child in the 60s. But as I think on this I started to wonder why Easter seemed so early this year. In 1984, it was in last April, where as it was the weekend my grandfather passed away. It is a moving target as to what date it is and it lead me to research how this came about.

The natural inclination is to think that Easter and Passover are on the same weekend. After all, the Gospels all speak of Jesus arriving in Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. The Last Supper was the Passover Meal. And the offer to release Jesus was part of a Passover Custom. This year they are split. So how is it that Easter is now and Passover is in April this year and they are not concurrent?

In the early church, Easter was commemorated by the early Christians on the same day as Passover. But the problem with that method is it meant that Easter Sunday could be on a Tuesday or whatever day Passover landed on that year. This would be the basis in later discussion of why Easter will always be on a Sunday and should not stay strictly to the day that Passover falls on in any given year, which was based on the lunar events in a Jewish Calendar. So to determine the date, according to the Jewish calendar, Passover, is picked to be on the first full moon after the spring equinox.

The alternate method for picking the day was holding Easter Sunday the Sunday after Passover. When Constantine legalized Christianity for the Roman Empire in the 4th century, he commanded that the method of selecting Easter be normalized so that all Christians were celebrating Easter on the same day.

The council of Nicaea was held. In addition to addressing the problem with the Gnostics, and the heretics in the church by instituting the Nicene Creed, they also added to the discussion how Easter would be handled from there on out.

The basic decision was that Easter would always be on a Sunday because that was taken directly from the Gospel. They went on to extend the power to decide which Sunday to the Bishop of Alexandria and he solely would announce what Sunday would be Easter Sunday Each Calendar year.

Friday, March 21, 2008

What is a Pyx?

As the Eucharist Ministers to the sick approach the altar they each have their Pyx to carry the Eucharist to the sick or homebound of the parish. But what is a pyx and why does it have such a funny name.

The word Pyx is rooted in Greek and means a container. The full word it originates from is Pyxis. Additionally the pyx is carried in a fabric pouch which is called a burse. This is the proper way to transport the Pxy. The Eastern Catholic church view the pyx as a "portable" tabernacle that is used to hold a host. In the Roman Catholic church the pyx is also known as a lunette.

The pyx is also used often by missionaries, this is in addition to those who use one to carry Eucharist to people who cannot attend mass within a particular community. The Missionary may use a pyx to carry the Eucharist into a mission type area. The pyx is filled with Eucharist, or consecrated host. They used a the Eucharist and a and a breviary, or set of prayers to hold large communion services which Eucharist is offered to large groups of people.

Through the centuries the pyx has been made of different materials and are constantly being redesigned to better serve the user. In the modern era, most are shaped like a pocket watch with an ornate image of something to do with Jesus

Antique Pyxides, the plural of the word pyx, were also made of glass or carved from wood. Some were very ornate and Large, almost more like a modern day tabernacle, these can hold many hosts making it easier for larger distributions. Oppositely some are very small and palm-sized which service only one or two communicants.

Whether the 15th century or the 21st century, the pyx is a is used in the exact same manner though out the world and throughout time.


Monday, March 17, 2008

The Rosary and Penance

The Blessed Mother appeared to three children in Fatima in 1917. Our Lady made three requests one of which was penance. As with Lent, a period of penance, it becomes worth the discussion to see how Our Lady, Penance and the Rosary all tie together.

When we look at penance and its use in the Gospels it was used to turn way from and bring life back to God. Thematically as well as the Gospels, the apparitions of Our Lady have also spoke of atonement, turning away from sin and praying the Rosary. And Fatima was a striking reminder of that. The Blessed Mother said that men needed to change their lives and ask for forgiveness for his sins. Sr Lucia who was one of the children the Blessed Mother appeared to spoke of how much she remembered Our Lady stressing not to offend God anymore and that God was already extremely offended with the way things were going. Keep in mind this was 1917.

It was not only Sr Lucia who spoke on penance but Jacinta the other young girl who was at the apparition of Fatima said that if mankind only knew what eternity was they would change their lives. Part of message also was that the Lord liked sacrifice to help make up for sin and that many of the souls that go to hell are go because there is no one to make sacrifices for them. So the question is how these sacrifices are defined. The sacrifice the Blessed Mother asked was for us to offer up the suffering that God may send us. We often here to offer up our cross. According to Our Lady sacrifice is required by everyone. One of the hopes of Fatima it would seem was that a person would turn problems over to God.

Another commonality of the Rosary and Penance is that the Rosary is usually prescribed as a penance a person may receive after they go to confession, the Sacrament of Reconciliation and receiving absolution.

In the end The Rosary is the path to salvation it is a pray that Our Lady advocates in her messages is sacrifice, and penance in conjunction with prayer and can most poignantly seen in the apparitions of Fatima.




Sunday, March 16, 2008

Palm Sunday Around the Globe

Palm Sunday is Christian observance which is celebrated around the world,. In 1970 the Roman Catholic Church changed the formal name of Palm Sunday Now know as Palm Sunday, Roman Catholic Churches have the palms being bless in a few different ways. First is the congregation gather outside the church with their unblessed palm in hand. The priest starts the service with the palms being sprinkled with holy water dispersed on a crowd. The Priest walks though the crowd as the congregation holds up their palms so that they may be bless. After the opening part of the service is completed the congregation processes inside usually in song, by way of reenacting Jesus' entry to Jerusalem, where the Jews sang the Psalm 118 and threw palms on the ground making Jesus' path more comfortable.

The entry procession may vary for each religion. The procession may consist of the Priest or Minister. The choir may also be part of the procession. The children of the parish are often in the procession as well and there may also be the entire congregation gathered outside as well.

The left over palms are saved and burned the following year as part of the the Ash Wednesday service. Other uniform items thought the church are the blood red vestments and décor thought the church. The Red is symbolic of blood and a reminder of the sacrifice that Jesus made to redeem the world.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, The Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem, is part of their 12 great feasts of the liturgical year. And of course, it is also the start of Holy Week in all Christian faiths. Unlike the other Christian sects, Palm Sunday is not part of Lent. In the eastern orthodox Tradition Lent ends on Friday, then there is Lazarus Saturday, the remembrance of Lazarus rising from the dead. On the Saturday before, the congregation spends their time making the palms into crosses.

Other customs that differ are Russian Orthodox who use pussy willows because of the they were hard to find that far north. Some Orthodox churches will also use olive branches.

Although there are many different customs out there, the center point of it all is the same. This day commemorate the day Jesus arrived in Jerusalem and it begins the week that lead to his passion, death and Resurrection.

The Roots of Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday is the last Sunday of Lent. It is always the start of Holy Week and the last Sunday of Lent. It is one of the events that is mentioned in all four Canonical Gospels. While in Bethany, Gospels describe how Jesus had sent two disciples on ahead to find a colt to ride back through the gates of Jerusalem. The Gospel all go on to say how some lad down palm branches in order to make the ride more comfortable. There was also the description of people singing Psalm 118.

Although depicted in art though the ages of Jesus passing though the Golden Gate of Jerusalem, there is nothing concrete in the Synoptic Gospels that would support this. Some scholars say that He entered though the southern part of the city that had the stairs that lead directly to Temple Mount because that makes more sense.
Though history , there have always been reenactment of the events of Jesus triumphant returned. The custom of the use of pals has a long history and harkens back the Old Testament. According to the Hebrew Bible Joshua also made a similar ride and was treated to the same way.

Even more interestingly is that many of the Pre-Christian religion also have similar stories of their central figure returning to the holiest city and be greeted in this manner. In Euripides Bacchae, there is a similar story of how Dionysus was arrested and questioned by Pentheus, very similar to how Jesus was arrested and brought before Pilot.

The palm branch itself that was used was also symbolic. It was deeply rooted in Jewish tradition and is mentioned in the old testament book of Leviticus (23:40). Its though this act of waving palms and making a path for Jesus with the Palms that Palm Sunday has gotten its name.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

RCIA and the Catechumenate: The Bishops were right!

Today was another day of personal growth for me. I had spent this weekend writing about the RCIA and its roots back to the early church. I thought it was interesting that the United Council of Bishops reviewed the RCIA changes implemented in 1988 and left them in place despite the fact that it appeared that they weren't being followed in all parishes. As i read it i was wondering why they were being so strong willed and not just return to the method that worked from the 16th century til 1988.

Well today we went on retreat and what was amazing is the real life application of what the Bishops were saying. The candidates and the elect were speaking about what participating in the group meant to them. What was really interesting was they said when they were just new and starting out they didn't understand why the Catholic Church had such a long process. They each said that after going though the process they now understood and may expressed that maybe they still weren't ready to do this. The said they appreciated the process and fully agree with it.

I was completely amazed because despite the resistance from the parishes the Bishop stuck by their guns and out of the mouths of the candidates did it show why they made the 100 percent right decision. As a team member and sponsor. I'm very proud to participate in such a wonderful process that has come to mean so much to these people that are participating.

How do you become Catholic

How does a person become Catholic? The short answer is to contact the local Catholic Church RCIA director They will explain the process and periods. The process can take about a year unless you have some type of issue that will not allow you to complete your sacraments. Those type impediments would be things like former marriages that need to be annulled.. Additionally if you have a strong background and understanding in another faith, it may not take as long.

So what is RCIA and what is involved with that process? The year is divided into several parts and each person will travel though these periods. The Pre-Catechumenate is the first stage. It’s also known as the Period of Inquiry.
Once you have decided to proceed, you will go through 3 other periods. They are the Catechumenate, Purification and Enlightenment, Mystagogy.

For now let’s review the Pre-Catechumenate because at this point there is still discernment as to whether or not to go through the process. This is the point that the Inquirer will work though the process and work to become Catholic. So what is involved with this period? The first thing that you can expect is an interview with the RCIA director. This interview will have you tell your story as to why you are seeking out the Catholic Church. It will also identify issues, like above, annulments, co-habitation are serious impediments to coming into the church. Don’t be upset with these questions. It is just a matter to of seeing where you are at and what processes need to be put in place for each person to complete their sacraments should they decide to continue.
The RCIA Director will also ascertain if you have been baptized or not. If you are baptized in a Trinitarian manner, in other words, in the name of The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit, your Baptism will be accepted by the Catholic Church. If you are unbaptized or Baptized in a faith such as Mormon, you enter the Catechumenate as a catechumen and will be baptized and confirmed at Easter Vigil.
Now is the time for questions. Each of the Pre Catechumenate meetings will give the inquirer the opportunity to challenge the Church and learn from the Catholic Perspective. This is the time to review the Bible and start finding out what the Church Laws or Canon says on topics and how everything in the Church is rooted in the Bible.
You will find you are not alone and that there are others in this group going through this process with you. Reaching back to the early days of the church, you are in a group with other inquirers now. This is rooted in the early church because just as the Apostles went to small communities they worked with small groups towards their conversion to Christianity and you with your parish RCIA team will work towards your conversion.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

RCIA History

When trying to put together a solid timeline of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), you have to go back to the early church. They would communally work on the call to conversion. Oddly as you will see the RCIA has come full circle in the 21st century.

After the first 100 years of the church the conversion process and the Initiation process began to have some form to it. This was the beginning of the catechumenate. The conversion of Gentiles was very comprehensive as to make sure that each person understood the Judeo Christian culture, teachings and history.

As we moved to the 3rd and 4th centuries, the process had developed into a three year program. During this time Constantine made Christianity legal. By the 5th century the catechumenate began to go. Many children were being baptized as infants.

In 1538 there was an Episcopal conference. During this conference these two groups asked that the pastors return to the missionary principles and return to missionary principle of the early church and reestablish the catechumenate. It was unsuccessful. The process stayed as it was all the way up through the early 20th century.

In the early 1900s there was a revival moment to re-add the Catechumenate to the process of conversion. In France there were many problems because of the number of non practicing Catholics. And in African, it was very apparent that they were working in a missionary capacity and needed to build the Catholic Church from the ground up just as the early Christians did by going to small communities.

Whether the success of the French and African programs or just the recognition that working within small groups makes for a more successful situation, Vatican II took up the cause of the Catechumenate, and called for it to e reinstated. The Bishops by overwhelming majority reinstated and restored the catechumenate. The vote was 2,165-9-1. By 1966 a temporary rite was handed out to all the parishes outlining the process and a secondary version was handed out in 1969 and by 1972 the Catechumenate was back and instated in parishes and by 1986 the US Bishops were mandating that this rite be implemented in ALL US Parishes and gave a nation plan of how to do it. By 1988 it was completely in place.

From 1988 though present the process has been evolving. In 2000 the Bishops visited the subject only to find that may parishes were not really fleshing out the program . But despite the tepid reception of the program and its installation, the Bishop to date have refused to change the program. They feel it is very important to the community for conversion of the entire parish.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Liturgical Calendar

Though each calendar year there are seasons in which the church enters. You have have heard of them. Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter and of course, Ordinary Time. This is how the Liturgical Calendar is divided.

The churches use this way to decide what readings are used, when Feast Days and Solenities are observed. IN the Catholic Church, they also have reading divided up into three year cycles and during that the entire Bible is read. Additionally the Liturgical seasons have distinctive colors, Green, Purple, Pink, White.

In both easter and western sects of Christianity the dates of the feast days may be vary from year to year. Things like Easter is the prime example. Easter's date is set within the Catholic Church by picking the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox. That sets the date for Easter, which you then count back 6 weeks and there you have the start of Lent.

Christmas is of course always on the the 25th of Dec and from there you could back 4 weeks and that makes the start of Advent and the week before that is the Feast of Christ the King which is the first Sunday of the Liturgical Calendar.

Now lets hop back to Easter a second. We now know how the date for Easter is selected. This also sets the date for the start of the long time period of ordinary time as well. Easter ends 50 days after with Pentecost Sunday being the last Sunday of the Easter season. And the period of ordinary time runs all the way though the Feast of Christ the King which starts the cycle all over. This why the Liturgical Calendar is shown as a circle where as it has no end

Why Fast During Lent

The Lenten Fast that many Catholics observer dates back into the ancient, a far stricter version. In the early church there was no set rules so the fast as observed in may differnet ways.

Once there was a central church, in the Middle Ages, meat, egg and dairy were singled out to the foods to abstain from. The thought of this these were bought more pleasure than fish according to Thomas Aquinas. In the Summa Theologica, St. Thomas Aquinas defines the rules of the Lenten fast. He says that the fast was instated to curb the strong desire or concupiscence of the flesh. Additionally it is said that the drinking of wine increased desires of the flesh and thus why that also was added.

However, because of the corruption of the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages, often a donation allowed a special dispensation from dairy products. A dispensation is by definition is the act of an authority, in this case the church, to make an exception to laws.

In the modern day maybe of the old world rituals are still observed. In the West, the rituals are far more relaxed. However in the Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches are far stricter and adhere to more old world traditions, meals consisting of mostly vegetarian meals. The Lenten practices in the West, centered on the Roman Catholic Church has been refined to be no meat on Fridays, however dairy products are allowed. What the Catholic Church has defined is as meat is Ungulates, or meat of a hoofed animals. The more customary fast is reserved for Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The Catholic Church defines more customary as been a full day of fast which includes no meat. Each person is allowed one full meal on this day and also may have two smaller meals if its needed.