Archive for Know Your Catholic Faith

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday occurs as the Sunday feast before Easter.  This day is also called Passion Sunday.  On this Sunday palm leaves are blessed and carried in a procession that follows the blessing ceremony.

The liturgy recalls the entry of Christ into Jerusalem to accomplish his Paschal Mystery.  The Gospel for the day’s liturgy is the account of the Passion taken from the synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark or Luke coinciding with the yearly cycle.

Holy Week precedes the feast of Easter beginning with Palm Sunday.  Holy Week is ordered to the commemoration of Christ’s Passion beginning with his Messianic entrance into Jerusalem.

The days of Holy Week, from Monday to Thursday, inclusive, have precedence over all other celebrations as the Passion of the Lord dominates these solemn days.

It is not fitting, except in the danger of death, that baptisms or confirmations be celebrated on these days since they have their natural place in the Easter Vigil.

During the days Holy Week, you may see the crucifix hidden from sight, and if not removed, draped with a violet or red cloth.  (8:20)

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.  (8:19)


This descriptive word is applied to those persons in some branches of religious orders who wear shoes.

This is in contrast to those members of religious orders who do not and who are designated as “discalced.”

St. Teresa of Avila, doctor of the Church, was of the order of Discalced Carmelites.  St. John of the Cross was also a discalced Carmelite.

The term is less in use today because of the travel and greater mobility of members of these religious orders.  (8:18)


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 Sundays and are reinforced by an exorcism, 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. (8:17)


The essential function of presenting knowledge of the Word of God, the message of Jesus Christ, is attained through orally instructing, explaining, and admonishing the people by means of preaching.

Preaching is the oral communication or instruction on the meaning of the Scriptures and other aspects of the Faith.

The office of preaching has always been considered a preeminent ministry in the Church.  According to present legislation of the Church, the Pope and bishops are allowed to preach anywhere.

Priests and deacons possess the faculty to also preach, but not the inherent right to preach anywhere without the presumed permission of the pastor or rector of another place.

The homily is the most important form of preaching.  It is the address given after the Gospel during the celebration of Mass.

Current custom is to limit the homily to ten to fifteen minutes.  However, the solemnity of the occasion may require one of greater length.

A homily is recommended at all Masses and is required at Masses celebrated on Sundays and holy days of obligation.  It is forbidden for anyone but a bishop, priest or deacon to give the homily. (8:16)

Precepts of the Church continued

The precepts of the Church are duties that the Catholic Church requires of all the faithful and are found listed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2041-2043).  Last week the first three were detailed.

The fourth precept of the Church is “You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church.”  Fasting and abstinence, along with prayer and almsgiving, are powerful tools in developing our spiritual life.  Today, the Church requires Catholics to fast only on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and to abstain from meat on the Fridays during Lent.  On all other Fridays of the year, we may perform some other penance in place of abstinence.

The fifth precept of the Church is “You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church.”  The Catechism notes that this “means that the faithful are obliged to assist with the material needs of the Church, each according to his own ability.”  In other words, we don’t necessarily have to tithe (give ten percent of our income), if we can’t afford it; but we should also be willing to give more if we can.  Our support of the Church can also be through donations of our time, and the point of both is not simply to maintain the Church but to spread the Gospel and bring others into the Church, the Body of Christ.

And for those who thought traditionally the precepts of the Church numbered seven instead of five, here are the other two precepts: To obey the laws of the Church concerning Matrimony; and to participate in the Church’s mission of Evangelization of Souls.  Both are still required of Catholics, but they are no longer included in the Catechism’s official listing of the precepts of the Church. (8:15)

Precepts of the Church

The precepts of the Church are duties that the Catholic Church requires of all the faithful.  Also called the commandments of the Church, they are binding under the pain of mortal sin, but the point is not to punish.

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, the binding nature “is meant to guarantee to the faithful the indispensable minimum in the spirit of prayer and moral effort, in the growth of love of God and neighbor.”

The list of five precepts is found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  Some may remember that there were seven precepts of the Church; the other two may be found at the end of next week’s column.

The first precept of the Church is “You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor.”

The second precept of the Church is “You shall confess your sins at least once a year.”  Strictly speaking, we only need to take part in the Sacrament of Confession if we have committed a mortal sin, but the Church urges us to make frequent use of the sacrament and, at a minimum, to receive it once each year in preparation for fulfilling our Easter Duty.

The third precept of the Church is “You shall receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least during the Easter season.”  Today, most Catholics receive the Eucharist at every Mass they attend, but it wasn’t always so.

Since the Sacrament of Holy Communion binds us to Christ and to our fellow Christians, the Church requires us to receive it at least once each year, sometime between Palm Sunday and Trinity Sunday (the Sunday after Pentecost Sunday). (8:14)

Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments, or the Commandments of God, also called the Decalogue, are the moral commands or laws given by God to Moses (Ex. 20:1–21) on Mount Sinai.

It is certain that the Decalogue (which the Greek root deca, meaning ten, is combined with logos, which means Word) was made up of ten distinct commandments (Deut. 5:2–33), no matter how they may be grouped.

These commands are interpreted by Christ in His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 5.  The first three are concerned with the love and true worship of God, and the other seven are directed to the love and justice due our neighbor.

The wording varies in either the original or translation, but the substance of the law remains.  The order traditional in the Church is that found in several common translations.

While the entire Judeo-Christian tradition uses the same Scriptural content for the Ten Commandments, their exact division and numbering varies.  The Catholic tradition uses the division of the Commandments established by St. Augustine.  (The Lutheran confessions also use this numbering, while some other confessions & traditions use slightly different numberings.)

Here are the Ten Commandments:

  1. I am the Lord your God: you shall not have strange gods before me.
  2. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
  3. Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day.
  4. Honor your father and your mother.
  5. You shall not kill.
  6. You shall not commit adultery.
  7. You shall not steal.
  8. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  9. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.

You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods.  (8:13)

Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi

This ancient Latin axiom is quoted often.  The phrase means, “The law of praying is the law of believing,” or put another way, it means the law of prayer (“the way we worship”), and the law of belief (“what we believe”).

This Latin phrase addresses the centrality of worship in the life, identity and mission of the Church.

The statement is sometimes extended and written as, “lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi”, further deepening the implications of this truth—how we worship reflects what we believe and determines how we will live.

The law of prayer or worship is the law of life.  Or, even more popularly rendered, as we worship, so will we live . . . and as we worship, so will we become!  (8:12)

Ex Opere Operato

Ex opere operato is a Latin expression meaning “by the work worked,” or “from the work of the work itself.”

It refers to the fact that the sacraments confer grace when the sign is validly affected—not as the result of activity on the part of the minister or recipient but by the power and promise of God.

Now, to receive the fruits of the sacraments, the recipient should be properly disposed with the intention of receiving the sacrament.  This means reception of grace via the sacraments is not automatic.

But the ex opere operato nature of the sacraments reminds us that, while a proper disposition is necessary to receive grace in the sacraments, it isn’t the cause of that grace.  The correct use of the sign instituted by Christ produces the grace irrespective of the merits of either minister or recipient. (8:11)