Archive for the ‘Catholic Symbols’ Category

Some five years ago Cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera, as he was confirmed Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, stated that reception of Holy Communion according to the Church’s ancient tradition, kneeling and on the tongue should be encouraged. When asked if this were simply a question of external form, he replied that “it is not just a matter of form,” and went on to discuss the “profound meaning” of a man kneeling before God in adoration.

At the time of his statement, many believed that his concluding words on the subject may have pointed to an alteration in the Church’s current discipline for the novus ordo Mass: “What we have to grasp is that profound attitude of the man who prostrates himself before God, and that is what the Pope wants. (Emphasis mine.) Although Vatican prefects don’t generally say something is “what the Pope wants” unless they are really speaking for the Man in White himself, Pope Benedict at the time. That Canizares Llovera has earned for himself the name he Ratzingerino — the “Little Ratzinger” — is a sign of his like-mindedness with the Pope Emeritus, who was said to be amused by the sobriquet.

Several years on, since the statements above, we continue to witness worldwide triviality of Catholics while receiving Holy Communion. It makes one wonder whether there is an intrinsic problem with the way Catechism has been taught since the II Vatican council. That is, are Catholics still being taught to appreciate that Holy Communion really is the Presence of the Lord at Mass? If so, it is rather puzzling to verify that although most would not hesitate to prostrate before God should anyone be blessed with a ‘burning bush’ like encounter, most Catholics are reluctant to solemnly kneel at communion.

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Introductory Prayer:

In you, Lord, I find all my joy and happiness.
How could I offend you by chasing after fleeting success and lifeless
trophies? I believe in you because you are truth itself. I hope in
you because you are faithful to your promises. I love you because you
have loved me first. I am a sinner; nevertheless, you have given me
so many blessings. I humbly thank you.

Petition: Lord, make me more aware of the people around me who need
my help.

1. Nice Isn´t Enough –  The rich man in the Gospel story of Luke 16 is the
proverbial “nice guy.” His good qualities abound. He does, after all,
accept his fate meekly. He doesn´t ask to be released from hell; he
asks for only a drop of water to quench his thirst. And when he
can´t get even that much relief, he begs for a special messenger in
the hopes of sparing his own brothers a similar fate. He at least
thinks of the welfare of others. Yet, all that niceness didn´t save
him from eternal punishment. Do I ever think that just being a
“nice” person will get me to heaven? Might I be using my own
standards to judge my worthiness, rather than using God´s standards?

2. The “O” Word The rich man never seemed to be bothered by
Lazarus. The poor man was doubtlessly a pitiful sight to behold. Some
people would have been quick to send servants to chase the beggar
away. But not the rich man; no, he deliberately left the beggar
alone. And that is where the rich man erred. His was a sin of
omission. The rich man lost his soul not for what he did, but for
what he failed to do. Am I much better? Is there someone in need,
right under my nose, who I routinely ignore? Is there something I
could be doing to end an evil? Do I help the pro-life effort? Do I
contribute to the poor? Do I dedicate time to a needy child or
sibling or in-law?

3. Late Love The rich man, now condemned, shows concern for his
five brothers. They, presumably, are living it up — and
destined for the same end as their hapless sibling. The rich man´s
concern is well-placed, but his timing is late. If only he had shown
concern for his brothers´ souls when he was alive — then he
might have made an impact. Caring for family members, helping them
reach heaven, is the most loving thing we can do for them. Everything
else will be meaningless if our own behavior (or omission) prevents
others from attaining salvation. Does that prompt me to pray
constantly for family members? To offer up sacrifices for them? Do I
try to help others grow in their faith?

Conversation with Christ:

Lord, my time in this world is short.
Too many people suffer the unexpected death of loved ones and then
regret that they didn´t do more for them. Let me not make that same
mistake. Help me see that each day is a gift, and each encounter with
another person is an opportunity to show your love to them.


I will do an act of charity for someone whom I have
been taking for granted

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Crucifix at Saint Etienne-du-Mont

Most Catholics wear a Crucifix rather than a cross, but protestants in general think crucifixes are offensive because they focus on the suffering of our Saviour and that, in away, they take away from the Glory of His Resurrection, which is what Christians should concentrate on, they argue.

Firstly, Catholics don’t under value the Resurrection of Christ, in fact the Catholic Church exults the risen Lord in many ways in her Tradition. Every Sunday at  Holy Mass, before the Liturgy of the Word begins,  we pray or sing The Glory, a traditional Catholic prayer in which we praise God the Father and Jesus resurrected:

[…] Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father,
Lord God, Lamb of God,
You take away the sin of the world:
have mercy on us;
You are seated at the right hand of the Father:
receive our prayer.
For You alone are the Holy One,
You alone are the Lord, You alone are the Most High,
Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of the Father.

However, the crucifix in  the Catholic tradition is a memorial to the redemptive Sacrifice of Jesus through which we were all saved. As St Paul proclaims, we must not lose sight of what this great act of love represents. As God, Jesus Resurrected and Ascended into Glory, but He suffered on the Cross as a man for the love of us. Through His Blood all who believe and are baptized are saved.

“When I came to you, brethren, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. ” (1 Corinthians 2, 1-2) “…but we preach Jesus crucified…”-St Paul to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 1, 23)

The Holy Bible gives us many insights into the Paschal Mystery and the awesome graces we receive as Christians because  of the Blood of Christ. Here are just a few examples:

Hebrews 9:22 “Without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins.”

1 John 1:7″… the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.”

Colossians 1:20 “And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled …”

Hebrews 9:14 “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God,purge your conscience …”

Hebrews 10:19, 22 “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus … Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience …” Revelation 1:5 “… Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood.”

In other words, the Cross of Jesus is not just any cross. It is because of His Blood shed upon it that it became a holy symbol and a memorial for all Christians. Jesus the Saviour cannot be separated from His Cross and His passion. This is why Catholics have no problem with crucifixes, but rather are encouraged to honour and revere them as part of our rich faith tradition.

“Do you not know that I and the Cross are inseparable? If you meet Me, you meet the Cross, and when you find the Cross, it is I whom you have found” – (Jesus to Sister Josefa Menendez 1890-1923)

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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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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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The Catholic Worship is called Holy Mass and, unlike what people might think, it is not the same as an ordinary  Christian ‘service’. In fact,  a Catholic Mass is not a service, but  both a Sacrifice and a thanksgiving celebration. However, even before Mass begins there are many things one sees in church, such as blessing with Holy Water, The Sign o the Cross and so on, that may seem strange at a first look, but all these ‘funny’ traditions can be easily explained as they all have a reason d’etre.

Candles in Church – Symbolize the Teachings of Christ, ‘the light of the world’ ( John, 8:12). They also symbolize prayer. Whenever someone cannot physically be or stay in church to pray for a special petition, it is common that they will light a candle to symbolize their prayer that will be said somewhere else whilst the candle burns out. 

Incense – Also used a symbol of prayer since biblical times. The smoke floats upward to God representing our prayers (Rev. 5:8, 8:3-4). Incense is also used as a symbol of purification.

Statues, Carvings and Pictures of Saints – This custom goes back to the Bible, when God commanded to the Israelites to fill their places of worship with images of angels (Exodus 25:18-20, 1 Chronicles 28:18-19, Ezekiel 41:17-20). This is because holy places symbolize heaven, and to remind us of that, God had them place representations of the inhabitants of heaven in their place of worship. Furthermore, the ancient Christians, before the Bible was compiled by the Church, were mostly illiterate people who could not read. Using paintings, statues and images to depict scenes of the Gospel or Biblical characters was a practical and effective way of teaching the Gospel, passing it on and keeping alive the teachings of Jesus.

The Tabernacle – Is the place where the Eucharist is kept for the devotion of the faithful and so that it may be taken to the sick. The Tabernacle is like the Biblical Ark of the Covenant that held the manna God send from heaven for the Israelites to eat ( Exodus 16:4). Jesus in the Eucharist is the manna that God had sent from heaven to the Christians to eat (John 6:32,41). In this way, the Tabernacle that holds the Eucharistic is like the Ark of the Covenant.  Catholics believe Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist, this is why to show their respect, people genuflect or kneel briefly when they pass in front of the tabernacle.

The Priest Vestments – Catholic priests cannot wear just any clothing while performing ecclesial ceremonies, especially while celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The liturgical vestments have by no means remained the same from the founding of the Church until the present day. There is as great a difference between the vestments worn at the Holy Sacrifice in the pre-Constantinian period, and even in the following centuries, and those now customary at the services of the Church, as between the rite of the early Church and that of modern times. The liturgical vestments of the Latin Rite are: the amice, alb, cincture, maniple, stole, tunicle, dalmatic, chasuble, surplice, cope, sandals, stockings (or buskins), gloves, mitre, pallium, succinctorium, and fanon.

The Blessing with Holy Water –  Catholic Churches often have holy water fonts, or a baptismal font,  just inside the main Entrance of the church, in which the faithful will dip their finger into and bless themselves as they make the sing of the cross. Old Testament Jews washed with water before entering the Temple precincts.  Building on a ritual familiar to the Jews, John the Baptist used water to represent repentance of sin and purification. So when we cross ourselves with holy water entering and leaving the church, we recall that history.  But we also refer to our Baptism when the priest used water to symbolize the washing away of our sins and to protect us from evil.



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Why do Catholics cross themselves three times  before the  Gospel Reading (in the Liturgy of the Word)?

At Mass, in what we call the Gospel Acclamation, all stand up and sing the ‘Alleluia’. The deacon or the priest anouces the Gospel reading, we respond with “Glory to you, Lord” and make three little signs of the cross. We then cross our forhead, Mouth and heart, this means: May I keep the word of the Lord in my mind, in my mouth and in my heart.

Why do Catholics pray seven daily prayers?

This is an ancient tradition that comes for the Old Testament, following King David, who said  ” seven times a day I shall praise your name, O Lord”. This catholic tradition is observed mainly by ordained religious, but also by lay members of the Church. Read more about this here on this blog.

Why do Catholics get ashes on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday?

To ancient Jews, wearing sackcloth and covering themselves or sitting in ashes showed repentance and humility, and acted as a penance. Thus, the early Church adopted the practice of wearing ashes at the start of Lent to show repentance too. The ashes today remind us to “Turn away from sin and remain faithful to the Gospel” and that our time on earth will pass away but our life in Heaven will last forever.

Why do Catholics use Holy Water?

The use of  Holy water in the Catholic Church has a biblical origin,  we read in Numbers 5:17 about a ritual that  is being described,  the text says, “[A]nd the priest shall take holy water in an earthen vessel and take some of the dust that is on the floor of the tabernacle and put it into the water.”

This shows that holy water not only has a basis in the Bible, but that it has been around since the days of Moses. Holy water was used for numerous Old Testament ceremonies that involved ceremonial sprinklings and washings. Today we are not bound to perform those ceremonies, but the fact holy water was used at all proves that it is not a superstitious or invalid practice invented by the Church.

Why do we believe that the Pope is head of the Church on earth?

The Church is the body of Jesus Christ. Where Jesus is the Head and we are the members. Jesus gave Peter his name, which means Rock, and declared that he will build his church on the Rock. Jesus also gave Peter “the keys to the kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 16:19). In Jesus’ day, the person who held the keys to the kingdom represented the king, and only the king could entrust the keys to whoever he decied. When Jesus gave the keys to Peter, he was making a symbolic reference to what King David did when he gave the keys of his kingdom to his Prime minister. This was an act of trust, but it also signaled to the other ministers that the one holding the keys was the leader and could act in his authority. So Jesus was signaling that Peter was given a special role of leadership. Catholics believe that the authority given to St Peter did not end with his death, but is passed to his successors who also become head of the Church.

Why do we sing carols at Christmas? The word “carol” means song of joy. St. Francis of Assisi first introduced the joyous spirit of caroling to Europe in the 13th century. He created nativity plays in which actors sang the story of Christ’s birth in the language of the audience. St Francis encouraged the listeners to join in. In time, the carols traveled from Italy to the rest of Europe and then to the United States. Today’s custom has carolers go from house to house singing Christmas songs of joy.

Why do Catholics do that?

What is Canon Law? Canon Law is the official body of laws for the Catholic Church that govern faith, morals, and discipline.  These laws assist the Church in carrying out her mission to the world and direct the various relationships between persons, offices, and groups within the Church.  Only a pope or an ecumenical council has the authority to create canon law or interpret it for the universal Church.  The legal system of the Catholic Church is the oldest such system continually operating in the world.

Why do Catholics say “Amen” at the end of some prayers? In Hebrew, the word “Amen” shares the same root as the word “believe.” This root also expresses trustworthiness and faithfulness. When you read the gospels, you’ll see that Jesus sometimes used the word “Amen” twice in a row to emphasize the trustworthiness of his teaching. He wanted his listeners to pay special attention. So when we say “Amen” at the end of a prayer, we reinforce our faith in what we just said. We also express our confidence that God will hear our prayers.

Why do Catholics give the Sign of Peace during Mass? The first words Jesus said to his apostles after his Resurrection were : “Peace be with you” (John 20:21). After that their fear disappeared. By offering each other the Sign of Peace at Mass, we share that peace with the entire Body of Christ. Jesus also told us to reconcile with one another before approaching the altar of God (Matthew 5:23). Thus, the Sign of Peace is a gesture of Reconciliation with those around us before coming to the altar to receive Holy Communion. Note  that records from as early as around A.D. 155 by Justin Martyr show that early Christians would exchange the kiss of peace at celebration of Mass, when prayers were concluded; this tradition seem to have persisted and evolved to the hand-shake of today.

Why do Catholics make the Sign of the Cross?  Back in the second century when this practice began, it was common to honor a ruler with a gesture of respect.  Whether bowing down on one knee or touching the forehead, such gestures were ritual ways to show humility before a person of great power.  The Sign of the Cross became one such devotion to the Holy Trinity, and acted as a sign of recognition between early Christians who were sometimes forced to worship in secret.  Now a prayer in itself, each time we make the Sign of the Cross we express respect for God and call down his blessings on ourselves.

Why do Catholics bless themselves when entering and leaving church? Old Testament Jews washed with water before entering the Temple precincts.  Building on a ritual familiar to the Jews, John the Baptist used water to represent repentance of sin and purification. So when we cross ourselves with holy water entering and leaving the church, we recall that history.  But we also refer to our Baptism when the priest used water to symbolize the washing away of our sins and to protect us from evil.

Why do Catholics use rituals?  Our everyday awareness of God comes to us through our senses: Sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste.  They are the pathways to the deepest parts of our imagination and understanding.  Some rituals of the Church go back to the times when few people could read or write—but they could be drawn to Jesus by using their senses.  Now we use sacred music, bells, incense, poetic prayers—they all plant our faith deep in our body and bones as Catholics. It is important to point out that many of these symbols refer to ancient Jewish practices, such as the use of incense , which is to this day used in the Catholic Church during the incensing of the Altar, the Sacrificial Table at Mass and the Book of the Holy Scripture, the ringing of the bell during the celebration of the Eucharist and so on. These are practices that were familiar to the first Christians, who were mostly of a Jewish background.

You may also want to read this related article: Understanding what you see at Church

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