Our community decided in 2008 that the mission of our parish was life-long learning. Everything we do centers around teaching the depth and richness of the Roman Catholic Faith. Our weekly 3-Minute Catechesis is read from the Ambo prior to Mass beginning. A written copy is made available in our weekly bulletin along with additional information for those who want to learn more. Visit us online at www.risensaviorcc.org for more information.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas and Tradition

Editor's Note: Our 3-Minute Catechesis is on vacation until the first of the year. In the meantime we invite you to enjoy this 3-Minute from our archives.

How did Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem? What did the innkeeper tell them? Which animals were present at Jesus’ birth? How many Wise Men came to visit? It might surprise you to know that we cannot find the answers to any of these questions in the Bible. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke tell us the story of our Savior’s birth, but are silent about many of the details we take for granted.

For example, Luke tells us that Joseph had to go to his hometown to be registered, so he went from “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.” That is all the Bible tells us about the 80-mile trip to Bethlehem; there is no mention of how the couple traveled to the distant town. However, tradition for centuries has given us the image of a pregnant Mary riding on a donkey led by Joseph.

Once they got to Bethlehem, they needed to secure lodging. In the Gospels, no innkeeper says anything: we read simply that “there was no place for them in the inn.” Small, 1st century Jewish villages didn't have inns or hotels, so Mary and Joseph probably would have sought out Joseph’s relatives for hospitality. It is possible that there was no room for them because other relatives were staying there too, but it is more plausible that Joseph was looking for a private place for Mary to give birth. Many homes were built in front of dug-out caves used for storage or to stable the animals.

Which brings us to the animals present at the birth of Christ: in every Nativity scene, there are horses, cows, sheep, and other farm animals. But what animals are listed in the Bible as being present at Jesus’ birth? Matthew doesn’t mention any, and Luke says only that shepherds came to pay homage to the Messiah before returning to their flocks in the field. Once again, tradition fills in the blanks for us and gives us a manger scene full of life.

How many Wise Men were there and where did they find the Holy Family? The number is never given in Scripture. Tradition, however, puts the number at three because they offered Jesus three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And while they may have arrived on camels, that isn’t mentioned in Scripture either. When they finally arrive in Bethlehem (and we don’t know how long it took them to get there from “the East” or how old Jesus was by then), they find the Christ-child with Mary his mother – not in a stable or a cave, but in a house.

If we were a “Scripture-only” people, these revelations might rock our world. Thankfully, as Catholics, we understand the connection between Tradition – those customs and beliefs and practices, many passed on orally – and the written Scripture, and so our Nativities are bustling with life. Some more than others: a Bible scholar recently talked about finding Superman and Barbie in the Nativity scene in his home, additions made by his daughter. When he asked why dolls had been added to the menagerie, his daughter replied, “Daddy, everybody needs Jesus!” Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christ's Mass

Editor's Note: Our 3-Minute Catechesis is on vacation until the first of the year. In the meantime we invite you to enjoy this 3-Minute from our archives.

As we approach the Holy Day this [coming Sunday], it’s important for us to stop for a moment and examine the origins of this great feast on the Church’s calendar.

The word Christmas is a contraction of the words “Christ’s Mass,” and it is the Mass that celebrates Jesus’ birth. But is December 25th really Jesus’ birthday? The truth is that we don’t know and that it doesn’t matter. We’re celebrating the fact that He was born – that God chose to come among us as one like us. The date of his birth was unimportant to the Fathers of the Church – that he was born is all that mattered.

Before the birth of Jesus, the Romans celebrated Dies Natalis Invicti Solis or the “Birthday of the Unconquered Sun” at the Winter Solstice, December 21st – the shortest day of the year. The festival was celebrated with feasts and merrymaking to welcome the light coming back into the world.

In the year 350, Pope Julius the 1st declared that Christ’s birth would be celebrated on December 25th. There is little doubt that he was trying to make it as painless as possible for pagan Romans (who remained a majority at that time) to convert to Christianity. The new religion was a bit easier to swallow, knowing that their feasts would not be taken away from them. So the merrymaking went from celebrating the sun returning to warm the world to the celebration of the Son of God coming as the Light of the World.

Most historians would agree that the celebration of Christmas as we know it today with Yule logs and evergreen trees began in Germany in the early 16th century. But it wasn’t until 1870 when President Ulysses S. Grant declared that Christmas would be a federal holiday that workers began to get the day off to celebrate the feast. Recall Ebenezer Scrooge in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol asking Bob Cratchit if he intended to take the whole day off. Most people took a little time off for Mass and then returned to their jobs.

In the years since 1870, many have begun to lose the meaning behind Christmas. Those of us who believe that God came to earth as one of us know that Christmas means giving thanks and praise to He who is our light and the Light of the World.

So with confidence we can pray, “Come, Lord Jesus, Come.” Let us strive to hand on the light of faith to future generations until He comes again at the end of time.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Novena of Las Posadas

Editor's Note: Our 3-Minute Catechesis is on vacation until the first of the year. In the meantime we invite you to enjoy this 3-Minute from our archives.

One of the prayer traditions of the Church is the novena. The word novena comes from the Latin word novem, which means ninth. A novena is a prayer recited for nine days in a row. It can be done either privately or publicly, alone or with others. This custom may have come from the Greeks and Romans who held special feasts on the ninth day after a death or burial.

In the Christian world, we find the concept of the novena in the New Testament book of Acts. When Jesus ascended into Heaven, his apostles, Mary, and others gathered to pray. They knew they would need the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Their prayers were answered when they were filled with the Holy Spirit and gained the courage needed to go out and preach the Gospel. Following Easter, you will find that there are nine days between our celebrations of Jesus’ Ascension and Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit

So why are we talking about novenas during Advent? In the Middle Ages, in Spain and France, Christians observed a novena of preparation. This had its origins in the nine months Our Lord was in his Blessed Mother’s womb. This novena was practiced by celebrating nine Masses on each of nine days before Christmas, with specific anthems and incense, along with Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.

In Old Mexico, this nine day celebration became Las Posadas, which is Spanish for the inn. This traditional festival re-enacts Joseph’s search for a suitable place for Mary to give birth. At Risen Savior, Las Posadas begins on the evening of December 15th at the home of one of our parishioners. Inside the home are the hosts and invited guests, usually friends, relatives, and neighbors. Outside, a group of people which includes a priest and others carrying carved wooden statues of Mary and Joseph, come seeking lodging for the night. A poetic dialogue begins between the inside people and the outside people which culminates in Mary and Joseph being invited inside. Mass is celebrated, followed by refreshments and fellowship. The following evening, this tradition is repeated at a different home, with different people, and so it continues for the nine evenings before Christmas Eve. The carved statues of Mary and Joseph make one last appearance at Midnight Mass, where all of the Las Posadas hosts have come to celebrate the birth of our Savior.

In addition to spreading the real Gospel message of Christmas - God coming into the world to save us - the novena of Las Posadas opens our eyes to the plight of the homeless and the immigrant, and leads us to opens our hearts to our brothers and sisters for whom there is “no room at the inn.”

Friday, December 2, 2011

Origins of Tradition

Editor's Note: Our 3-Minute Catechesis is on vacation until the first of the year. In the meantime we invite you to enjoy this 3-Minute from our archives.

Two children were overheard talking about the words in some old Christmas carols. "What's figgy pudding?" one asked. "And bells on Bob's tail ring - who's Bob?' commented the other. They weren’t trying to be funny, but their confusion speaks for many of us who don’t know the meaning and origins of many of our Christmas customs.

Without any understanding of the faith-foundation of our religious traditions, it is easy to dismiss their relevance in our lives today. We follow them now because they’re familiar, and "It just wouldn't be Christmas” without them. As adult Catholics, however, we are called to an awareness of why we do what we do.

For example, the Jesse Tree: the Jesse Tree dates back to the Middle Ages and came from Europe. Even some ancient cathedrals have Jesse Tree designs in their stained glass windows. The "tree" is usually a branch decorated with various symbols that remind us of the promises of God, from Creation to the Birth of Jesus Christ.

Jesse was the father of King David of Israel, and God promised David that his Kingdom would last forever. Two centuries after the death of King David, God spoke through the prophet Isaiah and said:

“… a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom. “

Jesus is that bud Isaiah was talking about, and so the Jesse Tree helps us make the connection between the Old Testament prophecies and Christmas.

Another traditional item is our Advent Wreath. The Advent Wreath originated in Germany about 500 years ago. The wreath is round as a symbol of God's eternity and mercy, and it is made of evergreens to symbolize God's "ever-lastingness" and our immortality. Green is also the Church's color of hope and new life. Representing the four weeks of Advent are four candles: three purple ones which represent penance, sorrow, and expectation, and one rose candle which represents hope and coming joy. Wreaths are an ancient symbol of victory and symbolize the "fulfillment of time" in the coming of Christ and the glory of His birth.

You may also have noticed that the clergy wear purple vestments during Advent, just as they do during Lent. This is a reminder of the reflective nature of Advent – a season that some have referred to as a “little Lent” because we are called to be mindful of our sinfulness even as we joyfully prepare ourselves for Christ’s coming.