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In essence, yes, though they do not call it purgatory. Jews do believe in a purification (a purgation) which takes place after death. When a Jewish person’s loved one dies, it is customary to pray on his behalf for eleven months using a prayer known as the mourner’s Qaddish (derived from the Hebrew word meaning “holy”). This prayer is used to ask God to hasten the purification of the loved one’s soul. The Qaddish is prayed for only eleven months because it is thought to be an insult to imply that the loved one’s sins were so severe that he would require a full year of purification.

The practice of praying for the dead has been part of the Jewish faith since before Christ. Remember that 2 Maccabees 12:39-46, on which Catholics base themselves for one of  the main evidence for the observance of this practice, show that, a century and a half before Christ, prayer for the dead was taken for granted. Unlike Protestantism, Catholicism has preserved this authentic element of Judeo-Christian faith. 

Read also: Is Purgatory a second chace at Salvation?

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Do you wish your prayer to fly toward God? Give it two wings: fasting and almsgiving. Saint Augustine

Today is Ash Wednesday, so I thought I’d post a little note on lenten rules for Catholic fasting during this season.

Abstinence from meats is to be observed by all Catholics 14 years old and older on Ash Wednesday and on all the Fridays of Lent.

Fasting is to be observed on Ash Wednesday by all Catholics who are 18 years of age but not yet 59. [note: more sources say “not yet 60”]. Those who are bound by this may take only one full meal. Two smaller meals are permitted if necessary to maintain strength according to one’s needs, but eating solid foods between meals is not permitted.

The special Paschal fast and abstinence are prescribed for Good Friday and encouraged for Holy Saturday.

“The season of Lent is a preparation for the celebration of Easter. The liturgy prepares the catechumens for the celebration of the paschal mystery by the several stages of Christian initiation: it also prepares the faithful, who recall their baptism and do penance in preparation for Easter.” (General Norms for the Liturgical Year, #27)

By the threefold discipline of fasting, almsgiving and prayer the church keeps Lent from Ash Wednesday until the evening of Holy Thursday. All of the faithful and the catechumens should undertake serious practice of these three traditions. Failure to observe any penitential days at all or a substantial number of such days must be considered serious.

As the season of Lent draws near, it is helpful to recall the discipline of the Church in regard to fast, abstinence, and other forms of penance.

Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of fast and abstinence. The Fridays of Lent are days of abstinence in the United States.

The Obligation of Abstinence (refraining from eating meat) begins at the age of 14. The law of fasting (limiting oneself to one full meal and two lighter meals) obliges all between the ages of 19-59. No one should consider this obligation lightly.

Those individuals who have a medical condition in which fasting or abstaining may be considered harmful are not obliged to fast or abstain, but should perform some other act of penance or charity.

As a general rule, a request of dispensation from the obligation of abstinence on Friday of Lent will not be considered, unless some serious reason is present. The attendance at social events, banquets, wedding rehearsals or receptions are not considered sufficient reasons to request a dispensation.

Pastors and parents are to see to it that minors, though not bound by the law of fast and abstinence, are educated in the authentic sense of penance and encouraged to do acts of penance suitable to their age.

All members of the Christian Faithful are encouraged to do acts of penance and charity during the Lenten season beyond what is prescribed by law.

All members of the Christian Faithful are encouraged to avail themselves of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, since it is a true encounter with the loving, forgiving Savior, Who takes away the burden of our sin, forgives our failing and is the source of peace and joy.

A parish community may celebrate the Easter vigil only ONCE. In the Diocese of Pittsburgh, celebrations of the Easter Vigil ordinarily may not begin before 8:30 pm.

The celebration of an anticipated Easter Mass, prior to the Easter Vigil, is forbidden.

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As many non-Catholic denominations move toward ‘modernization and equality’ and begin to allow women to be priests and ministers of the Gospel, the Catholic Church faces more vocal criticism regarding her male-only priesthood teachings. The arguments in favour of women ordination are many, but mostly surrounding questions regarding gender-equality and non-subordination in the context of modern society; a concept, it is argued, that should be reflected within ecclesiastical environments. However, there are those who prefer to focus on a more ‘theological’ approach pointing out to the inclusiveness of the message of Christ which was proclaimed to all mankind and, therefore, should not exclude women from the privilege of acting as ministers of the Gospel of Jesus.

Only a baptized man (vir) receives sacred ordination. The Lord Jesus chose men (viri) to form the college of the twelve apostles, and the apostles did the same when they chose collaborators to succeed them in their ministry. The college of bishops, with whom the priests are united in the priesthood, makes the college of the twelve an ever-present and ever-active reality until Christ’s return. The Church recognizes herself to be bound by this choice made by the Lord Himself. For this reason the ordination of women is not possible. ( Catechism of the Catholic Church)

Both arguments seem to take a very simplistic approach to the subject in order to determine what is acceptable and what is not acceptable when it comes to the mission of the Church as the body of Christ on Earth; but not only that, they seem to ignore a great deal of evidence on what could be called gender ‘distinction’ present throughout the Bible, not only in matters of priesthood, but also when it comes to the role of both genders in society and family life.

However, scriptural evidence is acceptable as valid only when the Bible is actually regarded as the inspired word of God, and thus an authoritative instrument of instruction in the life of Christians. When this is not the case, the whole discussion will necessarily move away from the theological sphere and assume a dimension that may only be relevant from the social-cultural point of view.

When we turn to scriptures as a means of understanding the Church’s position, it is easy to verify where the Catholic Church is coming from. We see, for instance, in the old covenant that the Jewish priesthood was a male-only affair (Ex 29:1-30, see also Jos 13:33), with God’s blessings. Jesus’ own High-Priesthood represents the fulfilment and perfecting of that Old Testament precept (Gen. 14:10; Ps 110: 4; Heb. 5:6,10; 6:20; 7:15,17). Therefore, when it comes to the role of women in ecclesial life, we see that Bible condemns a female active teaching role, but not a devout living of the faith.

Because men are spiritual fathers to their families (as both ministerial and royal priests), God revealed through St. Paul that women should be silent in church, and not usurp the roles that God intended for men:

1 Cor. 14:34-35 – “the women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.”

1 Tim. 2:11-15 – “Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet woman will be saved through bearing children, if she continues in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.”

Paul is emphasizing the woman’s primary role as the giver of natural life, just as a man’s primary role is the giver of supernatural life. Again, Paul bases his teaching on God’s order of creation.

1 Cor. 14:34-35 – “the women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.”

Notice that Paul says women should be silent in churches “as even the law says.” In verse 37, he reiterates “what I am writing you is a command of the Lord.” Paul is explaining that forbidding women to speak (in the sense of preaching) in the in church is a divine command from Almighty God and not sexist or culturally motivated. This is precisely the standing of the Catholic Church: it has always been the tradition of the Church for the priest or deacon alone (an ordained male) to read and preach the Gospel. This doesn’t mean that the role and contribution of women is undermined in any ways, but is only in accordance with Holy Scriptures and the will of Jesus, which is in perfect conformity with that of the Father.

See Priesthood in the Old Covenant

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Many non-Catholics wonder why the Pope and most Catholic clergy wear what resembles to be a yarmulke, the little jewish skullcap eventhough Catholics have probably been wearing skullcaps before it became a popular jewish headgear. To be accurate the Pope does not wear a yarmulke or kippah, but a zucchetto, a name which comes from the Italian expression little gourd, as for the vegetable zucchini, since the hat resembles a small pumpkin cut in half.  However, the official Latin name for the Pope’s cap is Pileolus. It is also called Soli Deo, Latin for God alone, to denote that those wearing such hat have consecrated their lives to the Lord.

The skull cap became popular among the Jews, since the XIX century, as the most common form of kippah. The popularization was such that sometimes the skullcap came to have the name ‘Jewish cap’ synonymous with yarmulke. The skullcap is used as a yarmulke in remembrance of divine sovereignty and as a symbol of Jewish cultural identity. There is no standard materials or shape. It is usually made of knitting , silk, velvet or synthetic fabrics and stitched into segments or in one piece.

The Pileolus or Soli Deo became a customary part of the Catholic headgear in the XIII century, when it became widely used by Franciscan Monks; “St. Francis before Honorius III”, painted about 1290 in the upper church of St. Francis at Assisi. It is seen also under the tiara in the effigy on the tomb of Clement VI (d. 1352) at La Chaise-Dieu. The figures on the several tombs of bishops of the fifteenth century in the Roman churches show the zucchetto under the mitre. In the “Ordo” of Jacobus Gajetanus (about 1311) the zucchetto is mentioned in connection with the hat of the cardinals (cap. cxviii), and with the mitre in the “Ordo” of Petrus Amelii (cap. cxliv.), which appeared about 1400.

According to Catholic hierarchy, different color pileolus denote different status within the Catholic clergy, thus the Pope wears a white zuccheto, cardinals wear red ones, bishops wear purple and priests wear black zucchetos. This tradition dates back to the old testament,  in which jewish priests were required to cover their heads in the presence of God as a sign of humility. Moreover, all clerics who have episcopal character retain the skullcap for most of the mass, removing it at the beginning of the canon by placing it on completion of the fellowship. The other clerics can not use it outside of the liturgy. 

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On the first day he created a YouTube channel. On the second day he embraced social networking. On the third day, the Pope went mobile.

The Catholic Church has blessed “Confession,” a new iPhone app, according to a report from Reuters. Billed as the “perfect aid for every penitent,” the $2 app from Little iApps helps worshippers track sins and pay penance.

In addition to a step-by-step guide to the sacrament, Confession explores your conscience through a personalized examination of your sex, age, and marital status. Password-protected profiles mean than more than one sinner can confess with privacy.

Despite looking almost as much fun as the real thing, the app doesn’t aim to replace traditional confession—instead, it’s a tool to help users understand their actions before visiting their priest. To this, the church approves: in what appears to be a first, senior officials in America bestowed their seal of approval to a mobile phone application.

Granted, this isn’t the first time the church has embraced technology. In early 2009, the church launched a Vatican YouTube channel. At last month’s 45th World Communications Day, Pope Benedict also urged Catholics to expand their relationships by embracing social-networking sites like Facebook. In this context, the church’s e-embrace of Confession computes.

“Our desire is to invite Catholics to engage in their faith through digital technology,” explained Patrick Leinen, developer at Little iApps. “Taking to heart Pope Benedict XVI’s message from last years’ World Communications Address, our goal with this project is to offer a digital application that is truly ‘new media’ at the service of the word.”

Confession is available now through the iTunes App Store for $1.99. I for one plan to indulge, if only to see if the app scales to the demands of a devout sinner.

 

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Holy Father in Prayer

The Apostleship of Prayer has announced the prayer intentions of Pope Benedict XVI for January 2011.

The Pope’s general intention is “that the riches of the created world may be preserved, valued, and made available as God’s precious gift to all.” His missionary intention is “that Christians may attain full unity, witnessing to all the universal fatherhood of God.”

On December 30, the Vatican Information Service announced the papal prayer intentions for January 2011 but mistakenly reprinted the intentions for January 2010.

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This has been posted on a Catholic website ( see link below). I thought I should start with reason number 9, because that is so true…

9. Catholicism avoids ecclesiological anarchism – one cannot merely jump to another denomination when some disciplinary measure or censure is called for.

 …But on a second thought, number 2 is my favorit… Anyway, here are the top 3 reasons:

1.Best One-Sentence Summary: I am convinced that the Catholic Church conforms much more closely to all of the biblical data, offers the only coherent view of the history of Christianity (i.e., Christian, apostolic Tradition), and possesses the most profound and sublime Christian morality, spirituality, social ethic, and philosophy.

2. Alternate: I am a Catholic because I sincerely believe, by virtue of much cumulative evidence, that Catholicism is true, and that the Catholic Church is the visible Church divinely-established by our Lord Jesus, against which the gates of hell cannot and will not prevail (Mt 16:18), thereby possessing an authority to which I feel bound in Christian duty to submit.

3. 2nd Alternate: I left Protestantism because it was seriously deficient in its interpretation of the Bible (e.g., “faith alone” and many other “Catholic” doctrines – see evidences below), inconsistently selective in its espousal of various Catholic Traditions (e.g., the Canon of the Bible), inadequate in its ecclesiology, lacking a sensible view of Christian history (e.g., “Scripture alone”), compromised morally (e.g., contraception, divorce), and unbiblically schismatic, anarchical, and relativistic. I don’t therefore believe that Protestantism is all bad (not by a long shot), but these are some of the major deficiencies I eventually saw as fatal to the “theory” of Protestantism, over against Catholicism. All Catholics must regard baptized, Nicene, Chalcedonian Protestants as Christians.

By David Armstrong – Continue Reading

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ROME, September 13, 2010 – The image below is a partial panorama of the immense mosaic that covers the floor of the cathedral of Otranto, on the southeast coast of Italy.

Floor mosaic

Walking across it from the entrance to the sanctuary, the faithful have as a guide the tree of salvation history, a history that is sacred and profane at once, with episodes from the Old Testament, from the Gospels, from the chronicle of Alexander the Great and the cycle of King Arthur.

The mosaic is from the twelfth century, an era in which the churches had no chairs or pews, and the faithful were able to see the entire floor. Even when they were not adorned with figurative art, the floors of churches incorporated expensive materials and elaborate designs. They were walked upon. Prayed upon. Knelt upon in adoration.

Today kneeling – especially on a bare floor – has fallen into disuse. So much so that Benedict XVI’s desire to give communion to the faithful on the tongue, and kneeling, is cause for amazement.

Kneeling for communion is one of the innovations that pope Benedict XVI has introduced when he celebrates the Eucharist.

But rather than an innovation, this is a return to tradition. The others are placing the crucifix at the center of the altar, “so that at the Mass we are all looking at Christ, and not at each other,” and the frequent use of Latin “to emphasize the universality of the faith and the continuity of the Church.”

In an interview with the English weekly “The Catholic Herald,” master of pontifical ceremonies Guido Marini has confirmed that the pope will stick with this style of celebration during his upcoming trip to the United Kingdom.

In particular, Marini has announced that Benedict XVI will recite the entire preface and canon in Latin, while for the other texts of the Mass he will adopt the new English translation that will enter into use in the entire English-speaking world on the first Sunday of Advent in 2011: this because the new translation “is more faithful to the original Latin and of a more elevated style” compared with the current one.

The attraction that the Church of Rome exercised over many illustrious English converts of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries – from Newman to Chesterton to Benson – was in part the universalism of the Latin liturgy. An attraction to a solid and ancient faith that today is moving many Anglican communities to ask for admission to Catholicism.

The “reform of the reform” attributed to pope  Benedict in the liturgical field is taking place partly in this way: simply, and with the example given by him when he celebrates.

But among the standard-setting practices of Benedict XVI, the one least understood – so far – is perhaps that of having the faithful kneel for communion.

This is almost never done, in any of the churches all over the world. In part because the communion rails at which one knelt to receive communion have been abandoned or dismantled almost everywhere.

But the sense of church flooring has also been lost. Traditionally, the floors were very ornate precisely in order to act as a foundation and guide to the greatness and profundity of the mysteries celebrated.

Few today realize that these beautiful and expensive floors were also made for the knees of the faithful: a carpet of stones on which to prostrate oneself before the splendor of the divine epiphany.

The following text was written precisely to reawaken this sensibility.

Its author is Monsignor Marco Agostini, an official in the second section of the secretariat of state, assistant master of pontifical ceremonies and a scholar of liturgy and sacred art, already known to the readers of http://www.chiesa for his enlightening commentary on the “Transfiguration” by Raphael.

The article was published in “L’Osservatore Romano” on August 20, 2010.

KNEELERS OF STONE

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by Marco Agostini

It is striking how much care ancient and modern architecture, until the middle of the twentieth century, devoted to the floors in churches. Not only mosaics and frescoes for the walls, but painting in stone, inlaid, marble tapestries for the floors as well.

I am reminded of the variegated “tessellatum” of the basilica of Saint Zeno, or of the floor of Santa Maria in Stelle in Verona, or of the vast, elaborate floors of the basilica of Theodorus in Aquileia, of Saint Mary in Grado, of Saint Mark in Venice, or the mysterious floor in the cathedral of Otranto. The shining, golden cosmatesque “opus tessulare” in the Roman basilicas of Saint Mary Major, Saint John Lateran, Saint Clement, Saint Lawrence Outside the Walls, of Santa Maria in Aracoeli, in Cosmedin, in Trastevere, or of the episcopal complex of Tuscania or of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican.

And then there is the inlaid marble in Santo Stefano Rotondo, San Giorgio al Velabro, Santa Costanza, and Saint Agnes in Rome, and of the basilica of Saint Mark in Venice, of the baptistry of Saint John and of the church of San Miniato al Monte in Florence, or the incomparable “opus sectile” of the cathedral in Siena, or the white, black, and red shield designs in Sant’Anastasia in Verona, or the floor of the grand chapel of Bishop Giberti or of the eighteenth-century chapels of the Madonna del Popolo and of the Sacrament, also in the cathedral of Verona, and, above all, the astonishing and sumptuous stone carpet of the Vatican basilica of Saint Peter.

In reality, careful attention to the floor is not only a Christian concern: there are striking mosaic pavements in the Greek villas of Olynthus or Pella in Macedonia, or in the imperial Villa Romana del Casale in Piazza Armerina in Sicily, or those of the villas of Ostia or of the Casa del Fauno in Pompei, or the ornate Nile mosaic of the shrine of Fortuna Primigenia in Palestrina. But also the pavement in “opus sectile” of the senatorial curia in the Roman Forum, the fragments from the basilica of Giunio Basso, also in Rome, or the marble inlays of the “domus” of Cupid and Psyche in Ostia.

Greek and Roman attention to flooring was not evident in the temples, but in the villas, the baths, and the other public places where the family or civil society gathered. The mosaic of Palestrina was also not in a place of worship in the strict sense. The cell of the pagan temple was inhabited only by the statue of the god, and worship took place outside, in front of the temple, around the sacrificial altar. For this reason, the interiors were almost never decorated.

Christian worship is, on the other hand, an interior worship. Instituted in the upper room of the cenacle, decorated with rugs on the second floor of the home of friends, and propagated at first in the intimacy of the domestic hearth, in the “domus ecclesiae,” when Christian worship took on a public dimension it turned the home into a church. The basilica of San Martino ai Monti was built on top of a “domus ecclesiae,” and it’s not the only one. The churches were never the place of a simulacrum, but the house of God among men, the tabernacle of the real presence of Christ in the Most Holy Sacrament, the common home of the Christian family. Even the most humble of Christians, the most poor, as member of the mystical body of Christ which is the Church, in church was at home and was master: he walked on sumptuous flooring, enjoyed the mosaics and frescoes on the walls, the paintings around the altars, smelled the perfume of the incense, heard the joyful music and singing, saw the splendor of the vestments worn for the glory of God, savored the ineffable gift of the Eucharist that was administered to him from golden vessels, moved in procession and felt part of the order that is the soul of the world.

The floors of the churches, far from being an ostentatious luxury, in addition to constituting the walking surface had other functions as well. They were certainly not made to be covered up by pews, which were introduced relatively recently with the intention of making the naves of the churches suitable for listening comfortably to long sermons. The floors of the churches were supposed to be fully visible: in their depictions, their geometrical designs, the symbolism of their colors they preserve Christian mystagogy, the processional directions of the liturgy. They are a monument to the foundation, to the roots.

These floors are primarily for those who live and move in the liturgy, they are for those who kneel before the epiphany of Christ. Kneeling is the response to the epiphany given by grace to a single person. The one who has been struck by the brilliance of the vision falls prostrate to the ground, and from there sees more than all around him who have remained standing. They, worshiping, or acknowledging that they are sinners, see reflected in the precious stones, in the golden tiles that were sometimes used in ancient floors, the light of the mystery that shines from the altar, and the greatness of the divine mercy.

To consider that those beautiful floors were made for the knees of the faithful is emotionally moving: a perennial carpet of stones for Christian prayer, for humility; a carpet for rich and poor without distinction, a carpet for pharisees and publicans, but which the latter can appreciate above all.

Today the kneelers have disappeared from many churches, and there is a tendency to remove the communion rails at which one could receive communion while kneeling. And yet in the New Testament, the act of kneeling is present every time the divinity of Christ appears to a man: one thinks of the Magi, of the man born blind, of the anointing in Bethany, of the Magdalene in the garden on the morning of Easter.

Jesus himself said to Satan, who wanted to make him kneel wrongfully, that it is only to God that one’s knees must bend. Satan is still forcing the choice between God and power, God and wealth, and is tempting even more profoundly. But in this way glory will not be given to God at all; knees will bend to those whom power has favored, to those to whom the heart has been bound through an act.

A good training exercise to overcome idolatry in life is to return to kneeling at Mass, which is moreover one of the ways of “actuosa participatio” spoken of by the last council. The practice is also useful to realize the beauty of the floors (at least the older ones) in our churches. Some of them might even bring the urge to remove one’s shoes, as Moses did before God when he spoke to him from the burning bush.

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