Sunday, December 27, 2015

Feast of the Holy Family

The Holy Family is the name given to the family unit of Jesus: The Divine Son of God Jesus, his mother the Virgin Mary, and his foster-father Joseph. We know very little about the life of the Holy Family through the canonical Gospels. They speak of the early years of the Holy Family, including the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, the flight into Egypt, and the finding of Jesus in the temple. Various non-canonical works, including the
Infancy Gospel of Thomas, try to fill in the blanks. However, even though these apocryphal works may contain some truth derived from oral tradition, they have been deemed unworthy of canonical status because of the way they present Jesus. While the exact details of the day-to-day life of the Holy Family may be unknown, we can still learn a lot from the stories we do have.
Devotion to the Holy Family is a recent development, but one that naturally grows out of a love for Jesus and his family. The cult of the Holy Family grew in popularity in the 17th century, and several religious congregations have been founded under this title. The Holy Family also became portrayed in popular art of the period. On October 26, 1921 the Congregation of Rites (under Pope Benedict XV) inserted the Feast of the Holy Family into the Latin Rite general calendar. Until then it had been celebrated regionally (see History below). Popes before and including Benedict XV (especially Leo XIII) promoted the feast as a way to counter the breakdown of the family unit. Today the Church celebrates the Feast on the Sunday between Christmas and New Year's Day (Known as the Feast of Mary Mother of God in the Catholic Church). If both Christmas and New Year's Day fall on Sundays, no Sunday exists between the two dates, so the Church celebrates the Holy Family Feast on December 30th. If the feast falls on the 30th, attendance is not obligatory. Up until 1969, the Holy Family feast was kept on the first Sunday after the Epiphany. It was transferred to its current date in 1969.
The Feast of the Holy Family is not just about the Holy Family, but about our own families too. The main purpose of the Feast is to present the Holy Family as the model for all Christian families, and for domestic life in general. Our family life becomes sanctified when we live the life of the Church within our homes. This is called the "domestic church" or the "church in miniature." St. John Chrysostom urged all Christians to make each home a "family church," and in doing so, we sanctify the family unit. Just how does one live out the Church in the family? The best way is by making Christ the center of family and individual life. Ways to do this include: reading scripture regularly, praying daily, attending Mass at least on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, imitating the actions of the Holy Family, going to confession frequently, and so forth, all done together as a family unit.
In addition to cultivating positive actions, the Church understands that various actions and behaviors are contrary to God's
Divine plan for the family. These include abortion, contraception, embryonic stem-cell research, divorce, spousal abuse, child abuse, among other things. Catholic Teaching is that a marriage must be open to children. Anything artificial that prevents this is contrary to divine law, although spacing births for a just reason is permitted (and may be accomplished through "natural family planning").
Also, poverty, lack of health care, rights violations, government intrusion in the life of communities and families, and other justice concerns must be addressed by faithful Christians because of the negative effect these conditions have on the family unit. St. Paul gives us some advice on family life in Colossians 3:12-21:
Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the Name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged (RSV).
The Holy Family feast is a good time to remember the family unit and pray for our human and spiritual families. We also may take this feast to reflect on the value and sanctity of the family unit, and to evaluate our own family life. What ways may it be improved? What would Jesus, Mary, and Joseph do? Finally, we can use this feast to ask ourselves what are we doing to promote the family within our own cultures, neighborhoods, and communities.

Prayer in Honor of the Holy Family

Lord Jesus Christ,
Who, being made subject to Mary and Joseph,
didst consecrate domestic life
by Thine ineffable virtues;
grant that we,
with the assistance of both,
may be taught by the example
of Thy Holy Family
and may attain to its everlasting fellowship.
Who livest and reignest forever. Amen.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Feast of the Expectation of the Blessed Virgin Mary ~ December 18

Come, Let us Adore the Lord, with ... Our Lady of Expectation ......

“As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19).

From the very beginning of Christianity, the believers in Christ cherished a special love for Mary, His Mother. Instinctively they sensed that she must be the purest of virgins and the most honored of all women, to whom they could confide all their trials. Reading the Holy Gospels and then following the teaching of the early Fathers of Church, they learned more of her unique role in the life of Jesus and of her power of intercession. Beneath the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome, we see the inscriptions and graffiti that depict Mary as the one who intercedes for the departed Christians to her Son, the Judge. In the Roman Catacombs, we find the wall drawings that represent Mary as the throne of wisdom “Sedes Sapientiae” holding the baby Jesus, the Incarnated Wisdom on her knees whom she presents to the poor shepherds of Bethlehem and to the Wise Men from the Orient.

As the Christian message began to reach different parts of the world, across the Mediterranean Sea, the knowledge of Mary increased considerably in the minds of the believers and the love for her grew ever deeper in their hearts. To express their sentiments of veneration, a litany of invocations was collected and new titles multiplied in number and affection. The popular devotion began to spring up in various regions and countries that enriched greatly the Marian piety. Many lovely hymns and prayers, mostly in Latin, were composed, just to mention the Angelic salutation “Ave Maria...” (Hail Mary), “Salve Regina” (Hail, Holy Queen) and the most ancient of them “Sub Tuum Praesidlum” (Under your protection) and they are still much loved to this day. Hundreds of new titles were given to Our Blessed Lady by her devotees and many of them were approved by the Church and included in the sacred liturgy. Some of them are celebrated in a particular region, country or continent.

As we celebrate Christmas again, the mystery of the Incarnation, we are to

contemplate the greatest gift of God for His people, the gift of His Son, born of the Virgin Mary, promised from the dawn of time, the woman’s “offspring, Who shall crush the serpent’s head” (Gn 3:15) one day; proclaimed by the prophets: “The Virgin is with the child and shall bear a Son, and she will call Him Emmanuel” (Is 7:14) and fulfilled in time “The Word of God became flesh, and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth” (J 1:14) and this “while they were there the time came for her to have a child, and she gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them at the inn.” (Lk 2:67).

One of the most inspiring days preceding Christmas is the feast of “Our Lady of Expectation,” unknown to many today, but still kept alive in many countries like Spain, Portugal, Italy and Poland as well as in a few religious orders. In older editions of missals, this feast is still listed as a votive Mass. The feast is celebrated on the 18th of December, a week before Christmas Day. Our Blessed Lady, well advanced in pregnancy, is portrayed in the highest dignity of her Divine Motherhood. Dressed in royal apparel as daughter of David the King, she awaits with joy the arrival of her divine Son, the Prince of Peace. Her whole posture suggests how she remains wholly consumed in contemplation of her Son under her heart. Her immaculate womb has become a living portable sanctuary of divinity. There are special prayers and novenas to “Our Lady of Expectation” available for women who cannot conceive or bear a child. 

The votive Mass of “Our Lady of Expectation” is theologically enlightening and spiritually enriching for the time of Advent and Christmas. With the entrance antiphon, the Church prays with the prophet for the coming of the Just One from heaven that the earth may be ready to welcome the Savior: “Send victory like a dew, you heavens, and let the clouds rain down the just. Let the earth open for salvation to spring up” (Is 45:8). In the opening prayer, the Church offers the prayer to God through Mary’s intercession: “O God who wished that your Word would take the flesh from the womb of the Virgin as announced by the Angel and whom we confess to be the true Mother of God, may we be helped by her intercession.”

In the Liturgy of the Word, in the first reading, we hear about the “sign” God will give to the chosen people of Israel and to all people about his plan for the Incarnation of his Son. This “sign” is the Holy Virgin Mary herself, who will give birth to the Son, who will be named the “Emmanuel” (God is with us). This “sign” will appear again at the end of time: “Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman adorned with the sun, standing on the moon, and twelve stars on her head for a crown. She was pregnant, and in labor, crying aloud in the pangs of childbirth” (Rv 12:12). Through the miracle of the Incarnation, God’s only begotten Son became a son of our humanity as St. John noted: “Something which has existed since the beginning, that we have heard, and we have seen with our own eyes; that we have watched and touched with our hands: the Word who is life—this is our subject. That life was made visible: we saw it and we are giving our testimony, telling you of the eternal life which was with the Father and has been made visible to us.” (1 J 13).

In the responsorial psalm, King David makes the way for the solemn entry of God, the Great King, into the sanctuary of the Temple: “Gates, raise your arches, rise, you ancient doors, let the king of glory in! Who is this king of glory? He is Yahweh Sabbaoth, King of glory” (Ps 24:910). Now, this new sanctuary the heavenly King of glory will enter into is the purest womb of the Virgin Mary, a bridal chamber of adoration.

The Gospel message on this feast relates the story of the Annunciation.

God asks a woman, his creature for a favor to be Mother of his Son, and at the same time, he respects her freedom. She is free to say “yes” or “no.” There is a moment of waiting in heaven and on earth: God waits for her answer, the heavenly messenger waits for her answer, the first parents Adam and Eve wait for her answer, all confined in hell wait for her answer. With grateful heart, we thank Mary, the Wise and Prudent Virgin, for saying “yes” to God on our behalf. Her simple words: “Let what you have said be done to me” (Lk 1:38) brought down to us the Savior and has changed the world forever. She obeyed the Angel not the Devil and thus she pleased God: “Blessed are you because of your belief that the promise made to you by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Lk 1:45).

At the offertory, the Church blesses “Our Lad of Expectation” with the Angel’s greeting “Rejoice, so highly favored. The Lord is with you” (Lk 1:29); “Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Lk 1:42). Mary is doubly blessed: in her virginity and motherhood and thus stands as an ideal and inspiration for every woman single or married. Her virginal womb is blessed with the Divine Life. She is the Mother of every child ever conceived under the mother’s heart. What an example she offers to all expectant mothers to welcome, to nurture life and to bring it to the full maturity of Christ’s humanity. At the same time, we must pray for the end of abortion, the greatest evil in our days and to promote the civilization of love and family life. The Holy Virgin Mary, “Our Lady of Expectation”, is a great educator of the Christian family. Christmas is a family celebration. We all want to be home for Christmas. She teaches us how to love and enjoy our own humanity and the humanity of her Son, we celebrate on Christmas Day. Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!

by Fr. Marian Zalecki, OSPPE
The National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa

Prayer to Our Lady of Expectation

The Feast of the Expectation of the Blessed Virgin Mary is celebrated on December 18th. A shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Expectation resides on St. Thomas Mount (the place where St. Thomas the Apostle was martyred) in Chennai, India.

Heavenly Mother, dwelling on the blood-drenched Mount of St. Thomas! Mother expecting; and Mother bearing Christ in your holy womb! Shower thy blessings on us who venerate thee. Protect us from the treacherous Satan. Shelter us in the tabernacle of thy womb.
O Holy womb that bore our Lord Jesus Christ! Mold us as expected by your beloved Son. Let our families inculcate good virtues. Let thy peace fill our families. Let faithfulness be strengthened among couples. Let the voice of vocation be heard and answered. Let wisdom, understanding and knowledge be implanted in our children.
Bless us with employment and industrial development. Bless us with good rain, agricultural growth and decent shelter. Bless us with the gift of children. Bless pregnant mothers with safe delivery. Bless our journeys with safety and bless us with a burden-less life.
Bless all those who have lost their spouse. Bless the orphans and the destitute, physically challenged and the socially afflicted; the poor and helpless.
Let the priests and the religious lead a holy life. Let there be peace in the world. Let love for mankind, solidarity among religions and justice be established. Make us depend on Jesus Christ in our day to day life as you expect and may we say ‘Yes’ to God’s Holy Will. Lord! Like the holy seeping blood which gushed out from the cross carved by St. Thomas, Bless and make this Holy Mount the Faith Home of the World. Amen.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Gaudete Sunday

The third Sunday of Advent, so called from the first word of the Introit at Mass (Gaudete, i.e. Rejoice - pronounced Gaw-day-tay). The season of Advent originated as a fast of forty days in preparation for Christmas, commencing on the day after the feast of St. Martin (12 November), whence it was often called "St. Martin's Lent"-- a name by which it was known as early as the fifth century. The introduction of the Advent fast cannot be placed much earlier, because there is no evidence of Christmas being kept on 25 December before the end of the fourth century (Duchesne, "Origines du culte chrétien", Paris, 1889), and the preparation for the feast could not have been of earlier date than the feast itself. In the ninth century, the duration of Advent was reduced to four weeks, the first allusion to the shortened season being in a letter of St. Nicholas I (858-867) to the Bulgarians,and by the twelfth century the fast had been replaced by simple abstinence. 

St. Gregory the Great was the first to draw up an Office for the Advent season, and the Gregorian Sacramentary is the earliest to provide Masses for the Sundays of Advent. In both Office and Mass provision is made for five Sundays, but by the tenth century four was the usual number, though some churches of France observed five as late as the thirteenth century. Notwithstanding all these modifications, however, Advent still preserved most of the characteristics of a penitential season which made it a kind of counterpart to Lent, the middle (or third) Sunday corresponding with Laetare or Mid-Lent Sunday. 

On it, as on Laetare Sunday, the organ and flowers, forbidden during the rest of the season, were, permitted to be used; rose-colored vestments were allowed instead of purple (or black, as formerly); the deacon and subdeacon reassumed the dalmatic and tunicle at the chief Mass, and cardinals wore rose-color instead of purple. All these distinguishing marks have continued in use, and are the present discipline of the Latin Church. Gaudete Sunday, therefore, makes a breaker like Laetare Sunday, about midway through a season which is otherwise of a penitential character, and signifies the nearness of the Lord's coming. Of the "stations" kept in Rome the four Sundays of Advent, that at the Vatican basilica is assigned to Gaudete, as being the most important and imposing of the four. In both Office and Mass throughout Advent continual reference is made to our Lord's second coming, and this is emphasized on the third Sunday by the additional signs of gladness permitted on that day. Gaudete Sunday is further marked by a new Invitatory, the Church no longer inviting the faithful to adore merely "The Lord who is to come", but calling upon them to worship and hail with joy "The Lord who is now nigh and close at hand". The Nocturn lessons from the Prophecy of Isaias describe the Lord's coming and the blessings that will result from it, and the antiphons at Vespers re-echo the prophetic promises. 

The joy of expectation is emphasized by the constant Alleluias, which occur in both Office and Mass throughout the entire season. In the Mass, the Introit "Gaudete in Domino semper" strikes the same note, and gives its name to the day. The Epistle again incites us to rejoicing, and bids us prepare to meet the coming Savior with prayers and supplication and thanksgiving, whilst the Gospel, the words of St. John Baptist, warns us that the Lamb of God is even now in our midst, though we appear to know Him not. The spirit of the Office and Liturgy all through Advent is one of expectation and preparation for the Christmas feast as well as for the second coming of Christ, and the penitential exercises suitable to that spirit are thus on Gaudete Sunday suspended, as were, for a while in order to symbolize that joy and gladness in the Promised Redemption which should never be absent from the heart of the faithful.