Friday, December 7, 2012
Las Posadas is a New Mexican holiday tradition that arrived with the Spanish in the 17th century. Posada is Spanish for “lodging” or “accommodation” and is said in the plural, “Las Posadas” because Joseph and Mary visit many places before finding lodgings which will accept them.
The tradition of re-enacting their journey is carried out to allow each of the participants to experience the rejection Mary and Joseph felt as they traveled from place-to-place. In the dark the participants go from home to home knocking on doors, beginning the traditional song, only to have those inside shout, “No hay espacio en la posada!” “There’s no room at the inn.” The participants feel the indignation of having the door slammed in their faces and having to walk away and knock elsewhere. Customarily the participants are rejected at eight homes before they are finally accepted in. This helps to remind us all that most times we fail to recognize Christ when we see him.
At the last home the visitors are finally recognized as Mary and Joseph and are welcomed inside. There they enjoy the warmth of the home, share prayer, and enjoy some refreshment.
Las Posadas is a novena, that is a nine-day prayer, which begins December 16th and ends the evening of December 24th at the Church where the participants are welcomed inside and lay the infant Jesus in the crèche at the beginning of Mass.
The word “Novena” is from the Latin word “novum” which means nine and the practice of praying for nine days predates the early Church; both the Romans and the Greeks to pray for nine days following the death of a loved one. Novenas have always been associated with a sense of longing or urgency, and Las Posadas is no exception.
We anxiously await not only Mary and Joseph finding room in the stable, but also the Second Coming of Jesus when he will come in glory and majesty. As we prepare our homes and hearts to accept Jesus, we are all encouraged to enter into Las Posadas, either by joining in the tradition one or more evenings or by praying a private novena of prayers. Either way, we are praying, Come, Lord Jesus, Come!
Thursday, November 29, 2012
Advent is the four Sundays which mark the preparations for Christmas. Notice that I did not say four weeks. If you recall, there have been years when the Fourth Sunday of Advent and Christmas Eve are the same day. This year Christmas is on Tuesday.
There is a layering to Advent. The first layer is a focus on the Second Coming of Christ at the end of the world. Even though the end of the church calendar was last Sunday with the Feast of Christ the King, this beginning of the church year connects with His final coming. Beginnings and endings have much in common.
On the 16th of December we shift to the second layer; the First Coming of Jesus, which is a novena. These are the “O” antiphons; O Wisdom, O Holy One, O Flower of Jesse’s Stem, O Radiant Dawn, O King of all Nations, O Key of David, O Dayspring, O Come Emmanuel. This is the Posadas of the Hispanic world. Most cultures have rich traditions of preparing for Jesus’ coming. Your own family may have traditions which help you prepare for the coming of the Lord; Advent Calendars and wreaths, Jesse Trees, Nativity Scenes, and Evergreen Boughs.
When you are preparing for a baby, we also look to the mother. Mary is a major focus of Advent as we celebrate the Immaculate Conception and the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Please note that the Immaculate Conception is for Mary’s conception — not Jesus’ as many wrongfully say. In nine months from December 8th – that is September 8th — we observe the Virgin’s birth. We celebrated the conception of Jesus on March 25th – nine months ago.
Advent is a joyful season. Celebrate your own traditions and those of the Church as we anxiously await the birth of the Great High Priest, the Alpha and the Omega, the Lord and King of all.
Thursday, November 8, 2012
There are some Catholics who say that the Church allows cremation. Others say that cremation is always forbidden in the Church. What should we believe?
The Catholic Church's preference has always been to bury the dead. The ban on cremation was to oppose the pagan practices that were considered to be anti-Christian. The Romans did not believe in an afterlife. As such, they cremated their dead. The Christians of the early Church avoided cremation because of the connection with the Roman view. To be cremated served the purpose of denying the resurrection and afterlife.
Another reason why this practice fell into disfavor among Christians was the fact that Jesus wasn’t cremated. There is also the belief that the body is the home of the Holy Spirit and it should be respected as such.
The Catholic Church's rejection of cremation was never intended to imply that someone who is cremated would never go to heaven. The church has never opposed the cremation of Catholics after disasters such as a plague, earthquakes or floods when mass casualties occurred, making individual burials next to impossible.
The Church also permitted cremation in extra-ordinary situations where transporting a body a very great distance would have created extreme financial hardship.
In 1963, while continuing to maintain a strong preference towards burial, the Catholic Church became more open to allowing cremation. As more and more Catholics became aware of this change in the law, there has been an increase number of cremations among Catholics.
Prior to 1997, cremations had to take place after the funeral Mass so the body could be present during the rite. Since then, the Vatican has granted permission to allow funeral Masses with the presence of the ashes.
To this day, the Catholic Church Law forbids cremation when it is chosen for reasons that are contrary to Christian teaching. These include being cremated in an effort to deny the resurrection of the body.
The ashes of cremated Catholics are to be preserved after the funeral in the same manner that a body would be preserved, either through being placed in a mausoleum or buried in a grave which has been blessed. The Catholic Church does not permit the ashes of our loved ones to be scattered.
Our respect for the human remains of our loved ones is evident in the teaching of the United States bishops who wrote, “This is the Body once washed in baptism, anointed with the oil of salvation, and fed with the bread of life. Our identity and self -consciousness as a human person are expressed in and through the body...Thus, the Church’s reverence and care for the body grows out of a reverence and concern for the person whom the Church now commends to the care of God.”
Thursday, November 1, 2012
This year we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Pope John XXIII opening the Second Vatican Council. It was actually the 21st Ecumenical, or worldwide, Council of the Church, the second to be held at the Vatican. Today, it is most commonly referred to as “Vatican Two.” Why was there a Council?
While it may sound like a flip answer, there was a Second Vatican Council because there was a First Vatican Council. The First Council met in 1869 to begin addressing the Church in the modern world, but ended abruptly in 1870 when a civil war broke out in Italy. As early as the 1920’s Pope Pius XI considered calling a council to resume the work that had been begun, but not completed. The rise of Fascism in the 20’s in Italy and tensions throughout Europe which led to the Spanish Civil War and World War II pushed these thoughts to the back burner. During the 1950’s Pope Pius XII again considered a council. However Pope John XXIII, now Blessed John XXIII, took the idea to reality in 1959 when he called for a council.
After two years of planning and preliminary work, the council convened October 11, 1962 with the largest body of bishops ever assembled, with some 2,100 in attendance for the opening Mass.
The scope of the issues the Council addressed is almost breathtaking. It dealt with: the use of the organ in Mass, stockpiling nuclear weapons, the place of Thomas Aquinas in seminary curricula, how priests are to be compensated, the purposes of marriage, translations of the Bible, the role of conscience in moral decision-making, worshipping with non-Catholics, and so much more.
Of the 70 documents which the preliminary work had recommended, the Council, meeting in 4 separate sessions, finally agreed on 16. They included the four “Divine Constitutions” which deal with Liturgy, the Church, Divine Revelation, and the Church in the Modern World. The nine “Decrees” dealt with the Communication Media, Eastern Catholic Churches, Ecumenism, Bishops, Religious Orders, Training of Priests, the Life and Ministry of Priests, Missionary Activity, and the Role of the Laity. Finally, there were three “Declarations” which dealt with Christian Education, non-Christian Religions, and Religious Liberty.
Some of these documents were written after much argument and discussion by the bishops and passed by the skin-of-their-teeth. Other documents, like Sacrosanctum Concilium [sac-ro-sank-tum con-sill-e-um] that simplified our worship and put Mass into the language of the people, passed by overwhelming majorities.
Together, these documents form a turning point in the history of the Church. They bring about what Blessed John XXIII called Aggiornamento [ӑj-gee-or-nӑ-men-to], bringing the Church up-to-date and out of the Middle Ages and Counter-Reformation.
During this Year of Faith we are all challenged by the Holy Father to study these 16 documents and enter into Aggiornamento ourselves.
Thursday, October 25, 2012
This time of year, we celebrate All Saints Day, followed by All Souls Day, and then there’s Halloween thrown into the mix! How do all of these fit together?
If you look at your Church calendar, you will notice the names of saints on almost every day. The feast of All Saints was established by the Church because numerous martyrs and other saints could not be honored with individual feast days: there simply weren’t enough days in the year! So, as the prayer of the Mass states, "we venerate the merits of all the saints by this one celebration” on November 1st.
From the very beginning, the commemoration of All Saints included, in a special way, the Blessed Virgin. When Pope Boniface IV dedicated the former pagan temple of the Pantheon as a church almost 1400 years ago, he called it the church of the "Blessed Virgin Mary and all the Martyrs." Thus, All Saints Day is really a great feast day of Mary, too. It is a Holy Day of Obligation.
The commemoration of All Souls was introduced in the year 1000. All the monks of a Benedictine congregation in France began offering a Mass for the suffering souls in Purgatory every year on November 2nd. The popes in Rome extended this celebration to the whole Church, and since then, we continue to pray for the holy souls throughout the year, but also have a special day devoted to their prayerful memory.
What does this have to do with Halloween on October 31st? The word “Halloween” is short for All Hallow’s Eve, which is the eve or evening before we honor those who are “hallowed” or have been made holy - that is, the saints. You’ve heard the word before, in the Lord’s Prayer, when we pray, in reference to God, “hallowed be Thy name.” Although the name of this tradition is taken from the great Christian feast, the ways we observe Halloween, like dressing in costume and going trick-or-treating, are not connected with any Christian meaning. These practices have come down to us from the pagan practices of the ancient Celtic societies. And while there is little harm in dressing up and eating candy, in a Catholic home, participation in Halloween should not be explained as being connected to the Christian feast. We may certainly enjoy the fun and games, but we should not neglect to talk about the great feasts of All Saints and All Souls. After the Halloween frolics are over, perhaps while the Snickers and candy corn are being consumed, turn your mind to God and prepare to greet all the heroes of God during this time of remembrance and celebration.