The word tradition (Greek paradosis) in
ecclesiastical sense, refers sometimes to the thing (doctrine, account,
or custom) transmitted from one generation to another. Here are a few
to think about - do you follow any - perhaps you might remember some as a
child but forgot as an adult - do you think passing on these and other
traditions to the younger generation might help them understand their
Catholic faith better? Look for more information on these traditions
and others and help make sure another generation learns that being Catholic
is more than attending Mass on Sunday.
Sign of the Cross
Catholic Sign of the Cross is absolutely ancient, rooted not only in the Old
Testament but the New (Apocalypse speaks of those who have the sign of God
in their foreheads -- and those who have the sign of the Beast in their
foreheads). When Catholics undergo the Sacrament of Confirmation, the Bishop
(sometimes a priest) seals the sign on our foreheads with holy chrism.
Crossing one's self recalls this
seal, and the invocation that is said while making this holy sign calls on
our God -- the Father, His Son, and the Holy Ghost -- and is a sign of our
of belief; it is both a "mini-creed" that asserts our belief in the Triune
God, and a prayer that invokes Him. The use of
holy water when making this
sign, such as we do when we enter a church, also recalls our
Baptism and should bring
to mind that we are born again of water and Spirit, thanks be to God.
Because of what the Sign indicates -- the very Cross of our salvation --
Satan hates it, and our using it makes demons flee. Make the Sign in times
of temptation and confusion for great spiritual benefit!
Catholics should begin and end
their prayers with the Sign of the Cross and should cross themselves when
passing a church to honor Jesus in the Tabernacle, upon entering a church,
and after receving Communion. The sign is made, too, in times of trouble or
fear (e.g., when receiving bad news, in times of temptation, when hearing an
ambulance or fire truck go by), when passing a cemetery or otherwise
recalling the dead, when seeing a Crucifix -- any time one wishes to
honor and invoke God, or ward away evil, fear, and temptation.
Advent Wreath and
On the first day of Advent,
Catholic families will set up Advent wreath -- a wreath of greenery adorned
by a set of four candles -- typically, three violet-colored, and one
rose-colored to match the priest's vestments on each of the days the candles
are lit. The wreath is either set upon a table (especially the dining room
table), on the family altar, on pedestals, an end table, etc., or it can by
suspended by ribbons from the ceiling, such as from a light fixture. The
candles can be long, slim tapers, small votives, or fat pillars. There can
be pinecones and such adorning the greenery, but because Advent is a
penitential season, it shouldn't be highly decorated with colorful
The circular shape of the wreath is a symbol of eternity, and the greenery
symbolizes hope and renewal. The colors of the typically-used violet and
rose candles symbolize penance and joy, respectively.
Each candle also represents one of the four weeks of Advent, and one
thousand years of the four thousand years that (at least metaphorically)
passed between Adam and Eve to Christ's coming.
The first candle also recalls the Patriarchs; the second candle recalls the
Prophets; the third candle recalls St. John the Baptist; and the final
candle recalls Our Lady.
If colored candles are used, the violet candles are lit on the first,
second, and fourth Sundays of Advent, and the rose candle is lit on the
third Sunday ("Gaudete Sunday," when the priest also wears rose vestments at
Mass), a day of rejoicing because the faithful have arrived at the midpoint
of Advent and anticipate Christmas. In any case, whether colored or white
candles are used, one more candle is lit each week at dinnertime, the
progressive lighting of the candles symbolizing the expectation and hope
surrounding our Lord’s first coming into the world and the anticipation of
His second coming to judge the living and the dead. The candles are kept
burning throughout the Sunday supper, and then are immediately blown out
afterward (candles can be replaced and greenery freshened as needed).
At midnight on Christmas Eve, the Advent wreath is replaced by a white
"Christ candle" that is suitably adorned with holly, or by being carved with
symbols of Christ, etc. This Christ Candle is used until the Ephiphany or
Candlemas, depending on the family's particular Christmas customs. The
greenery of the Advent wreath can now be decorated and turned into a
Christmas wreath for use throughout the Christmas season.
Feast of Saint Nicholas
St. Nicholas is the Saint better
known as "Santa Claus" (Sinterklaas in the Dutch whence "Santa Claus"
comes). His image in America has been mixed up with a lot of traits and
imagery from sources as disparate as the poetry of Clement Moore, pagan
Norse mythology, and American advertising. In real life, though, St.
Nicholas was a beloved and wonderful Bishop of Myra (in modern-day Turkey).
He was born in Asia Minor in A.D. 260 and orphaned at an early age.
When the great Saint died, he was
buried in Myra, but the town was later taken by the Saracens in A.D. 1034.
The Italians rallied to gather and preserve his relics from desecration, and
in 1097, sailors brought them to Bari, Italy. A lovely church -- the Church
of San Niccolo -- was built to house them, and tere they can be found today.
Oil of Saints -- "Manna di San Niccolo" --
is said to exude from them to this day.
St. Nicholas is the patron of children, sailors, and bakers, and is
represented in art as a bearded, older man -- usually mitred -- holding 3
gold coins or a bag of coins, or three orbs. He is also often shown with
children, and/or a ship.
On St. Nicholas's Feast Day,
December 6th, it is customary to in some places, especially in the
Eastern Catholic churches, "St. Nicholas," dressed as a Bishop, will show up
and hand out presents to the little ones, and children put their shoes in
front of the fireplace (or outside) to be filled with candy and presents by
morning. Because coins are one of the many symbols of St. Nicholas,
chocolate coins are a perfect thing to put in the childrens' shoes. In some
areas of the world if the child has been bad he will worry that he will be
given a piece of coal in place of candy or presents.
In any case, an icon -- even a nice
Holy Card -- of St. Nicholas should be
visible today if at all possible. Surround it with greenery and candles, and
tell your children the story of the Saint Nicholas behind the "Santa Claus."
What Do the Seasonal Colors Mean?
Green vestments are
worn during Ordinary Time, which is the largest segment of the liturgical
calendar including most of the summer. Green signifies new growth, the
flourishing of the "vineyard".
White is a symbol
of purity, light, rejoicing, and of the Resurrection, and is used on all
special feasts of Our Lord, Christmas and Easter season, Corpus Christi,
and at festive occasions such as weddings and baptisms.
Since Vatican II,
white vestments are also usually used at funerals, suggestive of the
Resurrection; however black vestments may still be used. Interestingly,
white signifies mourning in the religions of the Far East, but not in the
For Marian feasts
and solemnities, some parishes have special white vestments ornamented with
blue, symbolizing Mary's fidelity. Blue is not a liturgical color, however,
and is not to be used as the main vestment color.
often richly embroidered, may sometimes replace white, especially for very
festive feasts, such as Christmas and Easter, or for weddings.
Red vestments are
worn on the feasts of martyrs and on Pentecost, Passion Sunday, and feasts
of the apostles. The color symbolizes martyr's blood -- also fire, for
Pentecost. Usually red is used now on Good Friday, instead of the
a somber, dark shade, is worn during the penitential seasons of Advent and
Lent. Purple signifies great solemnity, with connotations of both penance
and royal dignity. Decoration of the vestments for these penitential season
is appropriately simple.
absence of light and mourning, is properly used on All Souls Day and is
still appropriate and permissible for Good Friday and for funerals, although
seldom used now.
vestments may be worn on the third Sundays of Advent and Lent, to suggest a
pause or lift in the penitential focus of these seasons, appropriate because
of the initial Latin words of the collects for these Sundays, which mention
This same symbolism
in seen in the Advent wreath: three purple candles and one rose. The rose
candle is lit on Gaudete Sunday, the third Sunday in Advent, when the
rose-colored vestments are used.
vestments, including the chasuble and stole worn by the priest, altar
cloths, or other fabric appointments used for Mass (e.g. chalice veils,
pulpit falls or banners) should ordinarily match in order to reinforce the
When Do We Genuflect?
(literally, knee-bending) is a gesture of honor to Jesus and to His Real
Presence in the Blessed Sacrament reserved within the tabernacle in all
Catholic Churches. A candle lamp hangs near this tabernacle to signify
One does not
genuflect, therefore, at Good Friday services, when the tabernacle is empty.
The door stands open, the candle lamp is extinguished. The reason for this
is obvious, when you think about it. When the reserved Sacrament is removed
from the tabernacle, Christ is no longer present within it. (One does not
genuflect when re-entering the pew immediately after receiving Holy
Communion, either, because the Body of Christ is now actually contained
within the person who has just received Him.)
There are many
biblical references, both Old and New Testament, to the traditional gestures
of honor and worship of bending the knee and bowing the head.
Psalm 95 says "Let
us kneel before the Lord, Our Maker". Jesus knelt to pray. Saint Paul's
Letter to the Philippians (2:10, 11) says "...at the name of Jesus, every
knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every
tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
Catholics bowed their heads whenever the name of Jesus was spoken, and
genuflected at the Incarnatus ("... and was made man") during the
Creed. Some still do. It is still appropriate. Current missalettes contain
the rubric (instruction) that people are to bow at this moment during the
recitation of the Creed.
These are only a
few of the symbols that give many layers of richness and meaning to the
Catholic worship ceremonial. Maybe we should not take for granted that all
Catholics know these things as if by osmosis, and be sure to pass them along
to our children and godchildren -- and to new Catholics.
Returning to this tradition will serve to further
reinforce the message that the Catholic Church is the same today as it was
yesterday, and the time honored customs of the Church have not died out, but
on the contrary, live and breath through a new generation of Catholic women.
Sacred Scripture presents several reasons for wearing the chapel veil. St.
Paul tells us in Corinthians (11:1-16) that Christian women must cover their
heads because it is a Sacred Tradition commanded by our Lord Himself and
entrusted to Paul:
"The things I am
writing to you are the Lord's commandments" (1 Cor. 14:37).
"That is why a
woman ought to have a veil on her head, because of the angels" wrote
St. Paul (1 Cor. 11:10). The invisible hierarchy should be respected because
the angels are present at all Christian assemblies during worship, offering
the Holy Sacrifice with us according to the honor due to God. St. John the
"And another angel came and stood before the altar, having a golden censer;
and there was given to him much incense that he might offer it with the
prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which is before the throne."
(Rev. 8:3, see also Matt. 18:10). They are offended by a lack of reverence
at mass. The women of Corinth, beset by modern sensibilities, started coming
to church without their heads covered. When St. Paul heard of their neglect,
he wrote and urged them to keep the veil. According to St. Jerome's
commentary Bible, he finally settled the matter by saying the head covering
was a custom of the primitive communities of Judea,
"the Churches of
God" (1 Thess. 2-14, 2 Thess. 1-4) which had received this Tradition
from early times (2 Thess., 2:15, 3:6). The “veil” represented modesty in
many religions and cultures, especially in Judaism which was the cradle of
the early Christian Church. A veil or head covering, is both a symbol and a
mystical sacrifice that invites the woman wearing it to ascend the ladder of
sanctity. When a woman covers her head in the Catholic Church it symbolizes
her dignity and humility before God. It should not surprise us why so many
modern women have so easily abandoned the tradition of the chapel veil (head
covering) when the greatest meaning of the veil is modesty. It is purely an
anti-Catholic culture that frowns on modesty. Do not be deceived, it was
Secular feminism (a militantly anti-Catholic movement), that shunned
Catholic women for wearing the chapel veil, telling them that a male
dominated Church seeks to repress them. Such lunacy was nothing more than a
lie straight from hell. If it were true, women would have been instructed to
veil in the presence of men, but that is not the case at all. Both Sacred
Scripture and previous canon law instructed women to veil in the presence of
the Blessed Sacrament (not men), and particularly during the public prayer
of the holy mass. The veil is a sign of modesty before our Eucharistic Lord.
It is NOT a sign of male dominance.