Archive for Know Your Catholic Faith

Sign of the Cross

The sign of the cross is the most frequently used sacramental of the Church.  The sign is a repetition in motion of the symbol of our salvation, the cross on which Christ died.  The sign of the cross is made during the Mass, at blessings and generally at the opening and closing of prayer.

St. Cyril of Jerusalem, 315 – 386 had written, “Let us not then be ashamed to confess the Crucified.  Be the Cross our seal made with boldness by our fingers on our brow and in everything; over the bread we eat, and the cups we drink; in our comings in, and goings out; before our sleep, when we lie down and when we awake; when we are in the way and when we are still.”

God speaking, through Ezekiel, to the remnant of Israel, tells the faithful: “And the Lord said to him: Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem: and mark a Tau (the Hebrew symbol “x” or “+”) upon the foreheads of the men that sigh, and mourn for all the abominations that are committed in the midst thereof” (Ezekiel 9:4).

The Catholic Sign of the Cross is absolutely ancient, rooted not only in the Old Testament but the New Testament (the Book of Revelation, written around 100, speaks of those who have the sign of God on their foreheads).

When Catholics undergo the Sacrament of Confirmation, the Bishop (sometimes a priest) seals the sign on our foreheads with holy Chrism.

St. John of Damascus, d. 749, wrote: “This was given to us as a sign on our forehead, just as the circumcision was given to Israel: for by it we believers are separated and distinguished from unbelievers.”

The Christian sign of the cross was originally made in some parts of the Christian world with the right-hand thumb across the forehead only.  In other parts of the early Christian world it was done with the whole hand or with two fingers.

Around the year 200 in Carthage (modern Tunisia, Africa), Tertulian says: “We Christians wear out our foreheads with the sign of the cross.”  Vestiges of this practice remain: Catholics sign a cross on their forehead before hearing the Gospels during Mass; foreheads are marked with an ash cross on Ash Wednesday.

By the fourth century, the sign of the cross involved other parts of the body beyond the forehead. (8:2)


The liturgical season of Advent begins the Church year.

The word Advent derives from the Latin word advenio, meaning coming or “to come to,” and refers to the coming of Christ.  Advent is a time of preparation for the coming of Christ.

This refers, first of all, to our celebration of Christ’s birth at Christmas; but second, to the coming of Christ in our lives through grace and the Eucharist; and finally, to His Second Coming at the end of time.  Our preparations, therefore, should have all three comings in mind.  We need to prepare our souls to receive Christ worthily.

Advent is a period beginning with the Sunday nearest to the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle (30 November) and embraces four Sundays.  That means that the First Sunday of Advent can fall as early as November 27 or as late as December 3.

In its symbolism, the Church stresses the penitential and preparatory nature of Advent.  Purple vestments are used, and the Gloria is omitted during Mass.  The only exception is on the Third Sunday of Advent, known as Gaudete Sunday, when rose-colored vestments can be used.  This exception is designed to encourage us to continue our prayer and fasting, because we can see that Advent is more than halfway over.

Perhaps the best-known of all Advent symbols is the Advent wreath, a custom which originated in Germany.  Consisting of four candles (three purple and one pink) arranged in a circle with evergreen boughs (and often a fifth, white candle in the center), the Advent wreath corresponds to the four Sundays of Advent.

The circle of the wreath, which has no beginning or end, symbolizes the eternity of God, the immortality of the soul, and the everlasting life found in Christ.  The purple candles represent the penitential nature of the season, while the pink candle calls to mind the respite of Gaudete Sunday.  The white candle, when used, represents Christmas.  The candle flames signify Christ, the Light of the world.  (8:1)

Church Calendar continued

The Church calendar is also called the “Liturgical Calendar.”

A new Liturgical calendar was promulgated January 1, 1970, and in 1972 the U.S. Bishops ordered the new calendar into effect with the introduction of the Sacramentary in 1974.

Within the cycle of a year, Holy Mother Church unfolds the whole mystery of Christ, not only from His Incarnation and birth until His Ascension, but also as reflected in the day of Pentecost, and the expectation of a blessed, hoped-for return of the Lord.

In celebrating this annual cycle of Christ’s mysteries, Holy Church honors with special love the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, who is joined by an inseparable bond to the saving work of her Son.

A liturgical day runs from midnight to midnight, but the observance of Sunday and of solemnities begins with the evening of the preceding day.  Celebration of the Eucharist, with the fulfillment of the Sunday or holy day obligation, may be on the evening before.

The liturgical season of Advent begins the Church year. (7:52)

Church Calendar

The Church calendar is also called the “Liturgical Calendar.”  It has been the traditional practice of civilized peoples to have the cycle of the times of the year associated with their religious practices.

This has been true of the Jewish calendar, the calendar of the Muslims, which began with the year 1 corresponding to the year A.D. 622, as well as, the Chinese and Japanese calendars.

The early Church Calendar followed the time cycles of twelve lunar months, amounting to 364 days in the year, but this was incorrect and could not be brought into proper reckoning with the Julian calendar.

There were inaccuracies in the Julian calendar in calculating the length of the year and this error, amounting to ten days by 1582, was corrected by the Gregorian calendar under the urging of Pope Gregory the XIII.  The accumulated error of ten days was eliminated, and the slight astronomical difference was corrected by the new reckoning of leap year.

The Church Calendar is an arrangement of a series of liturgical seasons throughout the year and a daily assignment of feasts of the saints.

There is unity and harmony in this procedural course of integrating each day of the year into a continuing, interrelated cycle of divine worship that takes into account both the daily celebration of the Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours.  (7:51)


Immutability is the state of being unchangeable; an attribute of God alone, since He alone is unchangeable not only in His essence but in the perfection of all His attributes.

Since change implies an imperfection in the sense that something new could be added to the principal, there can be no change in God who is infinitely perfect.  Created things do not have existence of themselves but receive it from God the Creator.  They are dependent upon God’s creative will.

God alone in His existence is absolutely perfect and immutable. (7:50)


An oratory is a place set aside for divine worship, but not primarily for the public, and, therefore, differs from a church.

There are three types of oratories; public, that is, one erected for the use of a community, such as religious, but to which the public has access for divine services; semipublic, which is one that is intended for the use of some particular group, for example, a chapel in a seminary, to which the public does not have access; and private, that is, an oratory for the particular use of a family or person within the house or manor.

The establishment of such an oratory requires an apostolic indult. (7:49)


Charity is a supernatural virtue infused with sanctifying grace, by which we love God above all as the greatest good and for His own sake, and ourselves and our neighbors for the love of God.

It is the greatest of the three theological virtues (faith, hope and charity) and of all virtues.  The object of the virtue is our union with God through love; the act itself is the giving of ourselves to God.

Charity is given as the greatest commandment in Matthew 22:34–40, and it is joined inseparably by the command to love one’s neighbor.

Although charity may be manifested in many ways, it is not to be confused with almsgiving as such, nor is it only good deeds that may arise out of natural virtue and the emotion of goodwill or compassion.

Rather, charity is the very basis, the foundation that prompts, and is the motivating force by which all acts of good directed toward ourselves or our neighbors are performed for love of God.  (7:48)


The word “laity” is derived from the Greed word meaning “people.”

It is the general term used for all the members of the Mystical Body, of the Church universal, of the Catholic and other Christians who are not members of a professed religious order, society, or congregation, or are not ordained deacons, priests, or bishops.  Sisters and brothers in religious life are considered members of the laity, except in canon law.

Through baptism and confirmation, the layperson becomes a member of the Church and is permitted to celebrate the Eucharist, offering with the bishop and priests this spiritual sacrifice.

It follows that the laity should assist the clergy in Christianizing their community and world.  And the layperson, through their development in sanctity, will bring about a growth of the Mystical Body.

It is therefore of the utmost importance in understanding the laity and its role in the Church that we know the “full, conscious, and active participation of the faithful’ in the liturgy.  Upon this, to a large extent, the unity of the people of God depends.

The laity and the clergy have a common end, salvation for all.  (7:47)


From the Greek, this word means “conversion,” or more clearly, “to change one’s mind, repent, be converted.”

In the modern thinking and teaching of the Church this term has come to mean the relationship of the Christian community within the Church as experienced by individuals.

The first “conversion” is the fundamental gift that one receives in baptism; if this gift is lost through sin, another “conversion” (or return to the ecclesial community) is gained and makes the individual more vigorous in faith through the Sacrament of Penance.

Metanoia is considered fundamental to the pursuit of authentic Christian perfection.  It entails true repentance of sin and the subsequent turning toward the Lord.  There is a complete change in one’s life, turning from unbelief to belief, a change of heart from sin to the practice of the virtues, and the zealous demonstration of that faith through baptism, confession, and a worthy penance.

Metanoia is commonly used in the Greek New Testament, especially in the preaching of the Apostles. (7:46)


The word “viaticum” comes from the Latin viaticus, i.e. “of or pertaining to a road or journey.”

Subsequently, “viaticum” figuratively meant the provision for the journey of life, and finally by metaphor the provision for the passage out of this world into the next.  It is in this last meaning that the word is used in sacred liturgy.

Therefore, viaticum is the name of Holy Communion when it is given in a public or private manner to someone in danger of death, during an illness, or to soldiers going into battle.  It may thus be given without the communion fast and may be repeated during an illness as often as required.

In the presence of the priest, viaticum may also be combined with the sacraments of Confession and the Anointing of the Sick.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “Thus, just as the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist form a unity called ‘the sacraments of Christian initiation,’ so too it can be said that Penance, the Anointing of the Sick and the Eucharist as viaticum constitute at the end of Christian life, ‘the sacraments that prepare for our heavenly homeland’ or the sacraments that complete our earthly pilgrimage (1525).   (7:45)