Archive for Know Your Catholic Faith

Stations of the Cross

For Roman Catholics throughout the world, the Stations of the Cross are synonymous with Lent, Holy Week and, especially, Good Friday.

The Stations of the Cross began as the practice of pious pilgrims to Jerusalem who would retrace the final journey of Jesus Christ to Calvary.

Later, for the many who wanted to pass along the same route, but could not make the trip to Jerusalem, a practice developed that eventually took the form of the fourteen stations currently found in almost every church.

This devotion is also known as the “Way of the Cross,” the “Via Crucis,” and the “Via Dolorosa.”

The Stations of the Cross are a fourteen -step Catholic devotion that commemorates Jesus Christ’s last day on Earth as a man.

The stations focus on specific events of His last day, beginning with His condemnation.

The stations are commonly used as a mini pilgrimage as the individual moves from station to station.  At each station, the individual recalls and meditates on a specific event from Christ’s last day.

Specific prayers are recited, then the individual moves to the next station until all fourteen are complete.  The Stations of the Cross are commonly found in churches as a series of fourteen small icons or images.  They can also appear in church yards arranged along paths.

Although the stations are most commonly prayed during Lent they can be said anytime. (9:18)


The scrutiny rites, held on the last three Sundays of Lent, are ancient and may, at first, seem strange.  These very special rites are celebrated at liturgies where the Elect are present.

The Elect are those preparing for Baptism, usually performed at the Easter Vigil.  Part of the journey of the Elect to the font is having been received into the community at the Rite of Acceptance, and having been enrolled in the Book of the Elect in the Rite of Election held with the Bishop within the Cathedral.

Even if these rites are not celebrated in the parish, it can be wonderful to reflect upon the journey these Elect are making during Lent, as an inspiration and source of renewal for one’s own spiritual journey.

The scrutinies, which are solemnly celebrated on Third, Fourth and Fifth Sundays of Lent, are reinforced by an exorcism, and are rites for self-searching and repentance and have above all a spiritual purpose.

They are profoundly rooted in the human experience.  The scrutinies are meant to uncover, and then heal all that is weak, defective, or sinful in the hearts of the Elect; to bring out, then strengthen all that is upright, strong, and good. (9:17)

Sundays of Lent

Sundays are not counted in the days of Lent; otherwise, there would be 46 days of Lent between the first day of Lent and Easter Sunday.  But why are not the Sundays included?

The answer goes back to the earliest days of the Church.  Christ’s original disciples, who were Jewish, grew up with the idea that the Sabbath—the day of worship and of rest—was Saturday, the seventh day of the week, since the account of creation in Genesis says that God rested on the seventh day.

Christ rose from the dead, however, on Sunday, the first day of the week, and the early Christians, starting with the apostles (those original disciples), saw Christ’s Resurrection as a new creation, and so they transferred the day of rest and worship from Saturday to Sunday.

Since all Sundays—and not simply Easter Sunday—were days to celebrate Christ’s Resurrection, Christians were forbidden to fast and do other forms of penance on those days.

Therefore, the period of fasting and prayer in preparation for Easter do not include Sundays in the count.  (9:16)

Forty Days of Lent

There are 46 days between Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, and Easter Sunday.  But the days of Lent do not include any of the six Sundays; therefore, there are only 40 days of fasting.

So why is Lent forty days?  Well, think about some of the Old Testament stories.

Noah and family were in the Ark for 40 days.  Moses and the Israelites wandered around the desert for 40 years.  Also consider that it takes forty weeks for a developing baby in the womb before a new birth can take place.

All these “forties” (and there are other examples): what does it mean?  For the new born, of course, it is a new life.

In Noah’s case, it’s the rebirth of a sinful world that had been cleansed by raging flood waters.

For the nomadic Israelites, it was the start of a new, settled existence in the Promised Land.

And for Jesus’ forty days it meant the birth of a new Israel liberated from sin, reconciled to God, and governed by the law of the Spirit rather than one etched in stone.

Our diligent prayer, fasting, and charitable service nourished by the Eucharist and Scripture can ease our darkness toward light for something new and wonderful to be reborn in us. (9:15)

Fast and Abstinence

In the United States, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has affirmed the policy on fasting and abstinence.

Thus, the rules for fasting and abstinence in the United States during Lent are: 1) Every person 14 years of age or older must abstain from meat (and items made with meat) on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and all the Fridays of Lent; and 2) every person between the age of 18 and 60 must fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

This Lenten fasting and abstinence is not simply a form of penance, however; it is also a call to take stock of one’s spiritual life.

As Lent begins, specific spiritual goals should be set that will aid in preparation for the upcoming Easter.  These goals could be, for example, to attend more frequently daily Mass and the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

It should also be noted that the USCCB also states that every person 14 years of age or older must abstain from meat (and items made with meat) on all other Fridays throughout the year, unless some other form of penance is substituted for the abstinence.

The USCCB allows the substitution of some other form of penance for abstinence on all of the Fridays of the year, except for those Fridays in Lent.  (9:14)

Ash Wednesday

In the present Church calendar, Ash Wednesday is the first day of the observance of the forty days of Lent.

It takes its name from the solemn ceremony of the liturgy of the day ashes are blessed and marked on the foreheads of the faithful in the form of a cross with the accompanying words, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return,” or “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”

It is thus a solemn call to penance so that one may enjoy eternal life.

Ash Wednesday was established as the first day of Lent by St. Gregory the Great (590 to 604).  Pope Paul VI declared this movable observance to be a day of universal fasting and abstinence.

The Alleluia is not sung or said from the beginning of Lent until the Easter Vigil.  During Lent the altar should not be decorated with flowers and musical instruments may be played only to give necessary support to the singing.

Lent continues until the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday. (9:13)

Cycle A

During the current Church calendar, the Gospel of Matthew will be used in our Sunday liturgy.

Next year and the year following, the Church uses the Gospels of Mark and Luke for Cycles B and C, respectively.

This order of use, Matthew, Mark and Luke, are how the Gospel are so arranged as the first books of the New Testament.

According to the bishop Papias (c. 125 AD), the Church’s canonical text of Matthew draws upon the Aramaic traditions associated with his name. Composed c. 85 AD, the gospel is generally arranged in an alternating pattern of narrative and discourse.

Intended for largely Jewish-Christian audience, it seeks to portray Christianity as consistent with the Jewish tradition and a continuation of it. (9:12)

Becoming One Body

The Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith.  We come together as a community to worship, and as Catholics we are given the richness of God’s saving graces through participation in the sacrifice of the Mass.

The Mass is not a reenactment of an event, but a participation in the once-for-all sacrifice that occurs 2,000 years ago.

Receiving the Eucharist is also not meant to be a “Jesus and me” moment only, but a celebration of becoming one body in Christ with the rest of the community.

We receive Holy Communion to become a holy community.   That is one reason why the community shares in a common physical disposition after Communion to show unity in community.

After reception of the Blessed Sacrament, participants show this unity by joining the rest of the community that collectively agrees to stand, or kneel or sit while others partake of the Body and Blood of Christ. (9:11)

Presentation of the Lord

At the end of the fourth century, a woman named Etheria made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  Her journal, discovered in 1887, gives an unprecedented glimpse of liturgical life there.

Among the record of celebrations she describes, one identifies the gala procession in honor of Christ’s Presentation in the Temple 40 days after the Nativity. This feast emphasizes Jesus’ first appearance in the Temple more than Mary’s purification.

According to Jewish law, the firstborn male child belonged to God, and the parents had to “buy him back” on the 40th day after his birth, by offering a sacrifice of “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons” in the temple (thus the “presentation” of the child).

On that same day, the mother would be ritually purified (thus the “purification” of Mary).  Under the Mosaic Law, a woman was ritually “unclean” for 40 days after childbirth, at which time she was to present herself to the priests and offer sacrifice—her “purification.”  Contact with anyone who had brushed against the mystery of birth or death excluded a person from Jewish worship.

At the beginning of the eighth century, the blessing and distribution of candles, which continues to this day on the Feast of the Presentation, became part of the celebration, giving the feast its popular name of Candlemas.

Many Catholics might remember Saint Blaise’s feast day because of the Blessing of the Throats that takes place on February 3.  Two blessed candles crossed one over the other are held slightly open and pressed against the throat as a blessing is said, which is: “Through the intercession of Saint Blaise, bishop and martyr, may God deliver you from every disease of the throat and from every other illness: in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

While very few facts are known about Saint Blaise, he was a bishop in Armenia who was martyred in the early fourth century.  Saint Blaise is associated with the healing of throats.  (9:10)


IHS is a monogram for the name of Jesus, using the first three letters of the word written in Greek.  From the third century the names of our Savior are sometimes shortened, particularly in Christian inscriptions.  Greek monograms for the sacred name continued to be used in Latin during the Middle Ages.

In the Middle Ages, it was erroneously thought that IHS stood for Jesus Hominum Salvator (Jesus, Savior of Men) or the popular English, “I have suffered.”  It is found as a sign for the Holy Name of Jesus.

The letters INRI, to be found inscribed above the head of the figure of the crucified Christ, the “corpus,” on most crucifixes, are the initials for the inscription which Pontius Pilate had placed on the cross of Our Lord, as the charge for which the Lord was crucified.

The Gospels give accounts of this inscription, stating that Pilate put “Jesus of Nazareth (literally, the Nazarene), King of the Jews.”  The Gospels tell us that this was inscribed in Hebrew, Latin and Greek.

INRI stands for the initials of the Latin inscription Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum. (9:9)