Archive for Know Your Catholic Faith

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)


The Sacraments of the Catholic Church are, “efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us.  The visible rites by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper to each sacrament.  They bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions.”

While the Church itself is the universal sacrament of salvation, the sacraments of the Catholic Church in the strict sense are seven sacraments that touch all the stages and all the important moments of Christian life.

It is good to know that the sacraments produce grace.  Since grace is a gift of God, the sacrament must come from and depend upon God.  Sanctifying grace is given by reason of the rite itself, and grace is not given if the sacrament is not received with the necessary moral disposition.

It is also necessary that both matter and form are present with each sacrament; the matter is the material used (e.g. water for Baptism), and the form is the accompanying words and actions by the minister of the sacrament.

The minister is someone authorized to give the sacrament with the intention of doing what the Church intends.

The seven sacraments are: Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders and Matrimony. (8:10)

Rogation Days

Rogation Days, like their distant cousins the Ember Days, are days set aside to observe a change in the seasons.  Rogation Days are tied to the spring planting.

There are four Rogation Days: the Major Rogation, which falls on April 25, and three Minor Rogations, which are celebrated on the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday immediately before Ascension Thursday.

Rogation” is simply an English form of the Latin verb rogare, which means “to ask.”  The primary purpose of the Rogation Days is to ask God to bless the fields and the parish (the geographic area) that they fall in.

The Rogation Days were marked by the recitation of the Litany of the Saints, which would normally begin in or at a church.  After Saint Mary was invoked, the congregation would proceed to walk the boundaries of the parish, while reciting the rest of the litany (and repeating it as necessary or supplementing it with some of the penitential or gradual Psalms).  Thus, the entire parish would be blessed, and the boundaries of the parish would be marked.  The procession would end with a Rogation Mass, in which all in the parish were expected to take part.

Like the Ember Days, Rogation Days were removed from the liturgical calendar when it was revised in 1969.  Parishes can still celebrate them, though, very few in the United States do; but in portions of Europe, the Major Rogation is still celebrated with a procession.

As the Western world has become more industrialized, Rogation Days and Ember Days, focused as they are on agriculture and the changes of the seasons, have seemed less “relevant.”  Still, they are good ways to keep us in touch with nature and to remind us that the Church’s liturgical calendar is tied to the changing seasons.

If your parish does not celebrate the Rogation Days, there’s nothing to stop you from celebrating them yourself.  You can mark the days by reciting the Litany of the Saints.  And, while many modern parishes, especially in the United States, have boundaries that are too extensive to walk, you could learn where those boundaries are and walk a portion of them, getting to know your surroundings, and maybe your neighbors, in the process.  Finish it all off by attending daily Mass and praying for good weather and a fruitful harvest.  (8:9)

Ember Days

Before the revision of the Catholic Church’s liturgical calendar in 1969, the Church celebrated Ember Days four times each year.  They were tied to the changing of the seasons, but also to the liturgical cycles of the Church.

The spring Ember Days were the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after the First Sunday of Lent; the summer Ember Days were the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after Pentecost; the fall Ember Days were the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after the third Sunday in September (not, as is often said, after the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross); and the winter Ember Days were the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after the Feast of Saint Lucy (December 13).

The origin of the word “ember” in “Ember Days” is not obvious, not even to those who know Latin.  According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “Ember” is a corruption (or we might say, a contraction) of the Latin phrase Quatuor Tempora, which simply means “four times,” since the Ember Days are celebrated four times per year.

The Ember Days are celebrated with fasting (no food between meals) and half-abstinence, meaning that meat is allowed at one meal per day.  (If you observe the traditional Friday abstinence from meat, then you would observe complete abstinence on an Ember Friday.)

With the revision of the liturgical calendar in 1969, the Vatican left the celebration of Ember Days up to the discretion of each national conference of bishops.  They’re still commonly celebrated in Europe, particularly in rural areas.

In the United States, the bishops’ conference has decided not to celebrate them, but individual Catholics can, and many traditional Catholics still do, because it’s a nice way to focus our minds on the changing of the liturgical seasons and the seasons of the year.  The Ember Days that fall during Lent and Advent are especially useful to remind children of the reasons for those seasons. (8:8)

Ordinary Time

Besides the times of the year that have their own distinctive character, there remains in the yearly cycle thirty-three or thirty-four weeks in which no particular aspect of the mystery of Christ is celebrated, but rather the mystery of Christ itself is honored in its fullness—the Church contemplates the entire mystery of salvation—especially on Sundays.  This period is known as Ordinary Time.

But “Ordinary” does not mean boring or ho-hum, but the word “ordinary” comes from the word “ordinal” which means counted (i.e. First Week of Ordinary Time, Second Sunday of Ordinary Time, etc.).

Ordinary Time then, is a period that is counted that doesn’t fall in Lent, Easter, Advent, etc.  Ordinary Time begins at the conclusion of the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which is also the end of the Christmas Season.

Ordinary Time has two defined periods: the first period begins after the Baptism of the Lord and continues through the day before Ash Wednesday; and the second begins after Pentecost and continues to Evening Prayer on the Saturday before the First Sunday of Advent. (8:7)

Christmas Season

The liturgical season of Christmas begins with the vigil Masses on Christmas Eve and concludes on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which normally falls on the Sunday following the Epiphany, as it does this year.

The Feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord Jesus Christ is one of the oldest Christian feasts, though, throughout the centuries, it has celebrated a variety of things.  Epiphany comes from a Greek meaning “to reveal,” and all of the various events celebrated by the Feast of the Epiphany are revelations of Christ to humanity.

During the Christmas season, we celebrate the birth of Christ into our world and into our hearts, and reflect on the gift of salvation that is born with him.

Our celebration of Christmas does not end on December 26, rather Christmas season ends and the return to Ordinary Time occurs at the conclusion of the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which is on January 13.  (8:6)


The use of “Christ,” meaning “the anointed,” the “Messiah,” as a proper name became common after the death of our Lord, particularly in the writings of St. Paul.  It might be used either before or after the name “Jesus.”  Its use by St. Paul declared the Apostle’s belief and affirmation of the divinity of Jesus.

However, the word Kyrios in Greek is a translation of the Aramaic equivalent of “the prophesied king.”  Thus, Jesus fulfilled in His Incarnation the promise made to Abraham, as given in the genealogy found in the first chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel.

Vatican II spoke of Christ:  “He who is the image of the invisible God is Himself the perfect man.  To the sons of Adam He restores the divine likeness which had been disfigured from the first sin onward.  Since human nature as He assumed it was not annulled, by the very fact it has been raised up to a divine dignity in our respect too.  For by His Incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every human.  He worked with human hands.  He thought with a human mind, acted by human choice, and loved with a human heart.  Born of the Virgin Mary, He has truly been made one of us, like us in all things except sin.”  (8:5)

Apostolic Blessing

This Benediction, or blessing, is given by the pope at the close of liturgical function at which he presides and sometimes at the close of papal audiences.  To this blessing a plenary indulgence is attached.

This blessing may also be delegated by the pope to be given by others; priests attending the sick at the moment of death may give the apostolic blessing.

This also refers to the blessing or solemn benediction Urbi et orbi (the blessing to the “city” of Rome and to the “world”) given by the pope from the balcony of St. Peter’s after his election and on other solemn occasions. (8:4)


The “breaking,” from the Latin fractio, is the act of breaking the bread of the species consecrated in the Mass.  This action of breaking is part of the communion rite.

The breaking of bread, the gesture of Christ at the Last Supper, gave the entire Eucharistic action its name in apostolic times.  In addition to its practical aspect, it signifies that in communion we who are many are made one body in the one bread that is Christ (1 Cor 10:17).  It is thus a sign of unity and community. (8:3)