Catholicism 101: Angels

Angels are pure spiritual creatures of God who have understanding and will. They have no bodies, cannot die, and are usually not visible. They live constantly in God’s presence and convey God’s will and God’s protection to man. (YouCat, question 54)

When you think of angels, what do you usually picture? White robes and large feathery wings, blonde curls and golden harps? Bleh. I never got the stereotypical view of angels. I mean, really, there’s gotta be more to them than laying on fluffy clouds all day. Right?

Right. There’s so much more I’ve learned. Nine choirs, seven archangels, and our very own guardian angel watching over each of us. We’ve left fluffy cloud territory now.

Nine choirs of angels

The first I had ever heard of the nine choirs of angels was in 2011, when the new mass translation was introduced.

And so, with Angels and Archangels,
with Thrones and Dominions,
and with all the hosts and Powers of heaven,
we sing the hymn of your glory,
as without end we acclaim:

(for those who may be lost, this is when we sing the Sanctus: Holy, Holy, Holy…)

Thrones? Dominions? Wait, what? This sent me scrambling for scripture, poring over my catechism, and googling everything I could think of. What I found was interesting and a little heady, so I’m not going to go into super detail on it. Angels are divided into nine different sects, or nine choirs: Seraphim, cherubim, thrones, dominions, virtues, powers, principalities, archangels, and angels. Whoa. I was just getting used to the idea of angels that didn’t play harps all day!

I found a reference to one of the choirs in scripture, one I know I’ve read before but must have not paid much attention to. The seraphim appear once in scripture, in Isaiah 6:1-7. They are described as having 6 wings, 2 each covering their face and feet, and 2 to fly with. When Isaiah felt unworthy to look upon God because of his sin, one of the seraphim touched Isaiah’s lips with a burning coal, cleansing Isaiah of his sin. The seraphim are the attendants around the throne, and are constantly praising God, calling out “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His Glory” (Isaiah 6:3)

Does that sound familar? If you go to mass regularly it should. The Sanctus says pretty much that, just worded differently. Pretty cool yeah? I love that we have the chance to praise God just like the angels do, same words and all.

Archangels

Archangels were something I didn’t hear a lot about growing up in the Baptist church. St. Gabriel was only mentioned around Christmas (although he wasn’t called a saint!), with his role in the Annunciation. As for St. Michael, the only way he ever got mentioned is if we has a preacher who loved preaching about the end times and his fight with Satan before throwing the dragon into hell.

On the flipside, I’ve heard so much about the archangels since becoming Catholic. Officially there are seven archangels, three of which we know by name: St. Michael, St. Gabriel, and St. Raphael. The other four are not officially named, and different sources cite different names for them. I’m still learning more about the archangels and the important role they play in the Church. I do know St. Michael is routinely called upon for protection against danger, especially in cases of spiritual adversity. The cathedral nearby says the St. Michael prayer after every mass, and I believe our CSO does too, but I hardly get to go out there for mass.

Guardian Angels

And through scripture, not only do we hear about all the angels worshiping in heaven, and learn about the mighty archangels, but we also know that each of us has a guardian angel assigned to us.

“For He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ — Psalm 91:10-12 (NIV)

How cool is that? Each of us has an angel watching over us 24/7, to keep us safe and help us to choose good over evil. Yes, we as humans have free will, and yes we will screw up. Quite often, most likely. But the guardian angel is there to be our conscience of sorts. I know I need to listen to the little voice in the back of my head more often.

I have a very small angel medal I wear constantly. As soon as I saw it at my local Catholic bookstore, I felt this intense connection to it and bought it on the spot. I’m not sure if it’s St. Gabriel or a general guardian angel pictured. I’ve shown the medal to both my campus minister and priest, and they have no clue either.

Whether it turns out to be St. Gabriel, or another angel, I truly believe that whoever he is (I’m convinced it’s a he), he’s my guardian angel (can archangels be guardian angels too? Something to ask Fr. B). I refer to him as Blue. Yes I know the whole deal about not giving your guardian angel a name. I consider it a nickname of sorts for him, and it really does help me to have a way to address him or refer to him in my mind.

Catholicism 101: Ash Wednesday

“You’ve got a little smudge on your forehead.”

I have lost track of the times I’ve heard that before on Ash Wednesday, or before I was Catholic, would say that to someone, well-meaning but naively thinking they really weren’t aware.

What is Ash Wednesday?
Ash Wednesday is the first day of the Lenten season in the Catholic church. It kicks off 40 days of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. This prepares us for Easter Sunday and Christ’s Resurrection, through which our redemption comes. It is actually 46 days before Easter, but the six Sundays are not counted in the period of fasting. It is not the same date every year, although I have no idea how it’s calculated. The earliest date for Ash Wednesday is February 4, and the latest is March 10. Ash Wednesday has never occurred on a Leap Year day yet. [1]

Ash Wednesday is NOT a day of obligation, but it’s a very important day to go anyway if you can. I have made it to Ash Wednesday the past couple of years, and I find that it really helps me begin Lent with the right frame of mind.

Why do Catholics put ashes on their forehead?
We wear ashes as a symbol of repentance and humility, and also to remind us of our own mortality. They are not meant as a sign of holiness, but as an acknowledgement that we sin and need God’s forgiveness. For me, they’re a reminder that even though my soul is dirty, God still cleanses me.

Wearing ashes goes back historically to the Old Testament days, where one would wear sackcloth and ashes to express mourning or sorrow for sins committed. Notable examples of this include Job, the prophets Jeremiah and Daniel, and the city of Nineveh after Jonah’s visit.

I have heard people say that the wearing of ashes is in direct opposition to the Gospel reading of today, where Jesus talks about fasting in secret rather than publicly. If we wear the ashes, are we no better than the hypocrites Jesus spoke of? It all depends on our attitude. If one wears the ashes as a way to say “Oh, look how holy I am.”, then they’re doing exactly what Jesus warned about, and they’ve received their reward already: the public attention given to them. If one is penitent and humble about wearing the ashes, whether its just through the rest of mass or the rest of the day. then that’s different. It all depends on your attitude and reason for wearing the ashes.

What happens when you receive ashes?
The ashes used are from the burned palms from the previous Palm Sunday. They are blessed during the Ash Wednesday mass, right after the homily is concluded. People are invited to come forward, like the process of receiving communion, and the priest (or Eucharistic Minister if needed) applies the ashes in the shape of a cross on their foreheads, while saying either “Repent from sin and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15) or “Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). Mass then proceeds with the Liturgy of the Eucharist as normal.

Who can receive ashes?
Anyone can actually receive ashes on Ash Wednesday, Catholic or not, as well as young children who haven’t reached the age of reason yet. The ashes are a sacramental, which is a sacred sign or action in which a blessing is conferred on the recipient. They are not one of the seven sacraments, which are visible signs of divine grace. I received ashes on the Ash Wednesday before I was baptized into the Church actually. Also today at mass, we had a few non Catholics who came with Catholic classmates to the CSO that received ashes as well. And some of my #Cathsorority sisters took their little ones to receive ashes as well.

Ash Wednesday is a day like no other. It provides a great opportunity not only to reflect and repent, but also a chance to rededicate ourselves and our lives back to Christ and to pledge ourselves to follow His teachings passed down by the apostles and governed by the Church today. I hope everyone uses today as a chance to grow in one’s faith more and grow closer to Jesus as well.

Have a blessed Ash Wednesday, everyone.

zanne

I relied heavily on these two sites for a lot of the information, as well as the knowledge I learned during RCIA. If I have made a error, please let me know so I can fix it. ~ Zanne

[1] http://www.catholic.org/clife/lent/ashwed.php
[2] http://thecatholicspirit.com/holy-days/lent/why-do-we-receive-ashes-on-ash-wednesday-2/

Catholicism 101: Adoration

Down in adoration falling
This great sacrament we hail
Over ancient forms departing
Newer rites of grace prevail
Faith for all defects supplying
Where the feeble senses fail
— Adoration by Matt Hammit from Sanctus Real. Based off of Tantum Ergo.

Adoration (ad·o·ra·tion): the act of paying honor, as to a divine being; worship. 2. reverent homage. 3. fervent and devoted love

Adoration was one of the harder parts of the Catholic faith for me to understand when I first converted. To me, it was people gathered around a golden sun-like thing staring at a cracker. Blame the Baptist upbringing. Yes, I believed in the Real Presence, but I didn’t understand it, not yet.

I went anyway, when friends would go and they’d invite me along. Or if we had adoration after mass or at the CSO, I’d go for a little bit. I’d sit there and pray the rosary, fidgeting the whole time. It’s already hard for this ADD child to sit still, but adoration took it to a whole new level. I remember fervently praying at times for God to help me understand adoration better, and to be better able to worship and praise Him like I wanted to yet couldn’t. But nothing changed until last November, on a weekend retreat.

The retreat had already been intense, full of a spiritual awakening for me, but Saturday night adoration completely flipped my world around. I’ll never understand what changed how I viewed it. Maybe it was the music, us singing Tantum Ergo, or the sight of everyone kneeling and praising the Lord. Whatever it was, all of a sudden things just clicked for me. I just knew that even though it may look like a cracker, it wasn’t. That was my Jesus in front of me, having given His life for me, and I could feel the holiness emanating from the monstrance (Yes, I found out what the sun thing is called!).

I sat there in awe, not quite sure I wasn’t dreaming. Adoration had never been this real to me, so I was a little unsure of what to do. I was so afraid that I’d wake up, or that I’d blink and He’d be gone again. Jesus had finally revealed His presence to me in the Sacrament, and I wanted to never leave. I understand better how Mary Magdalene felt when she met Jesus outside of the tomb. It’s almost indescribable. I’ve tried and words just don’t fit.

You
Is it You?
Standing here before my eyes
Every part of my heart cries
Alive.
— “Alive (Mary Magdalene)” by Natalie Grant

I felt the strongest urge to fall down and worship. Y’all, I couldn’t get low enough fast enough. I ended up almost flat on my face (wasn’t quite enough room for me to fully stretch out flat without kicking someone else), with hands raised high in praise and worship. It was the most amazing experience ever.

It was over all too soon for my taste. I felt like I could stay there forever, as long as He was present. I haven’t had the chance to go to Adoration since, but I’m hoping to get to soon. And Jesus will be there, waiting for me, waiting to reveal Himself in all His Glory.

I can’t wait.

What was your best Adoration experience? Have you ever had a personal revelation like this? Share in the comments!

Catholicism 101: Advent

Advent. It’s one of my favorite times of year, if not the absolute favorite. I don’t know if it’s the decorations or the Christmas music piped in from everywhere, but there’s almost this sense of underlying joy and expectation everywhere. Children looking forward to Santa’s visit, adults looking forward to the joy on the kids’ faces, everyone looking forward to seeing family and friends. And of course the Church looking forward to and preparing for the coming of Christ. I love it.

For those of you who might not know this, here’s some fun facts I learned while researching this week. Advent in the Catholic church lasts about 4 weeks. Officially it starts on the Sunday nearest the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle (Nov. 30), so it could fall anywhere from Nov. 27 to Dec. 3. This year it’s on Dec. 2 (aka today). It can be as short as 22 days, and as long as 28 days. The term Advent comes from the Latin word adventus, meaning arrival or coming. Perfect way to describe this season, especially since we focus on both comings of Christ during Advent. The first 2 Sundays, we hear readings about the second coming of Christ, when He will come as King and rule all nations. Midseason, we switch to focus on His first coming, the birth and nativity. All serves to create the feeling of expectation and the joy of anticipation.

Advent is a season rife with traditions and customs, some I had heard of before I converted, and many I had never knew existed at all. My favorites are the Advent wreath, Advent calendar, the nativity scene and the Jesse tree.

Advent Wreath

The Advent Wreath was a new tradition for me that Kort and I started doing during our Catholic-in-training days (the year or so before converting, while we were still researching it). Candles weren’t allowed in our dorm room, so we got crafty and painted battery operated tapers to use instead, and decorated a small wreath to go around them. I like the battery operated ones better, because if I forget to turn them off, it’s not as dangerous as me leaving a lit candle around for Fuzzy to knock over.

There are 4 candles in the Advent Wreath, 3 purple and 1 pink. Often there is a fifth, white candle in the center that is lit during the twelve days of Christmas. The purple candles symbolize the coming of the Prince of Peace. Purple is the color of royalty after all. The one pink candle is lit on the third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, to celebrate having reached the halfway point of Advent. This is the candle that I’ll be lighting during Mass this year for the first time. 🙂

The wreath itself is full of symbolism as well, with the circular shape showing the eternity of God, the immortality of the soul, and the everlasting life found in Christ. Depending on what it’s made of, more meanings are added. Laurel for victory over persecution and suffering; pine, holly, and yew for immortality; and cedar for strength and healing. (Wonder what my fake evergreen wreath represents?)

Advent Calendar

When I was little we had a large Advent Calendar on the wall, shaped like a tree. Every day we took turns opening that day’s drawer and pulling out the tiny ornament to decorate the tree. (And eat the candy tucked inside too). It was an awesome way to count down to Christmas, and seeing the tree fill with ornaments made us more excited with every one we added. Now that I’m older, I want to continue the Advent Calendar, but with activities rather than stuff. My list includes things like Christmas Movie Night, decorating the tree, a home spa day, going to a living nativity nearby, and just other fun things I can do by myself or with friends. I’m hoping to shift my focus this year to making memories rather than acquiring stuff. I’ve got enough stuff anyway.

Nativity Scene

Ever since I can remember, a nativity scene has been a big part of our Christmas celebrations. My sister and I took turns moving the figurines of Mary and Joseph around the living room and closer to the stable every day until Christmas Eve and their arrival at the inn. (The wise men usually ‘flew’ down the next day.) Now that I’m older and have my own place, I’ve inherited the nativity set and take great joy in setting it up each year, retelling the story of the birth of Christ through the figurines.

The nativity scene tradition was actually started by St. Francis of Assisi. He wanted to celebrate the birth of Jesus with the townspeople, and do so with such great respect and devotion. After being granted permission, he prepared a manger with hay and set it up in a cave outside of town, along with bringing an ox and donkey. He had costumed people playing the roles of Mary and Joseph, and local shepherds nearby watching their actual flocks. When everyone came to see what was going on, they found St. Francis full of joy and weeping as he preached the nativity. This first nativity scene was so popular that people everywhere began setting up their own living nativities and eventually that migrated indoors as well, with small statues and mini replicas of the stable recreating the story for people year after year.

Jesse Tree

The Jesse tree is something new I’m starting this year. The idea behind it is basically tracing Jesus’s genealogy, from Adam and Eve down to Mary and Joseph. There’s symbols for each important person in the lineage, such as Jacob, Moses, Jesse, and David. There’s also symbols related to the “O” Antiphons used in the Liturgy of the Hours starting on Dec. 17, one for each title for Jesus, such as Emmanuel, Key of David, and Light of the World. I got all the information and scriptures for making mine @ catholicculture.org (after following a pinterest link!) I’m excited to see how mine turns out and hope to share pics soon.

Happy Advent, everyone!

zanne

Catholicism 101

This year, Pope Benedict XVI declared a Year of Faith in the Catholic church, calling all Catholics to reconnect and delve deeper into our faith. I’ve been a convert for about a year and a half now, so there’s still a lot for me to learn about our faith. I’m also a former education major, and one things I learned that has stuck in my head is that ABC’s are the building blocks of language. If that’s true, then what are the Catholic ABCs? What are the building blocks of our faith?

I made a list of what I think are some of the more important parts of our faith (with help from #Cathsorority!), and plan on posting a blog post about each topic every Sunday for the Year of Faith. I hope that these posts will help you, my readers, if you are Catholic to grow in our Catholic faith, or if you’re not Catholic, to answer some questions you may have about why we do certain things, or what the big deal is about others. Some of my wonderful CS sisters are helping out with this huge project, so be on the lookout for guest posts from them on some topics.

With no further ado, the list of topics!

AAdvent, Adoration, Angels, Anointing of the sick, Ash Wednesday

B — Baptism, Blessings

C — Cross, Confession, Catechism, Confirmation

D — Divine Mercy

E — Eucharist

F — First Fridays/First Saturdays

G — Godparents

H — Holy orders, Holy Spirit

I — Immaculate Conception, Indulgences

J — Jesus

K — Knights of Columbus

L — Latin, Lent, Liturgy of the Hours

M — Mass, Mary, Music

N — Nuns

O — Oils

P — Pope, Priests

Q — Questioning

R — Rosary, RCIA/RCIC

S — Saints, Sign of the Cross

T — Transubstantiation

U — Unction

V — Vatican, Vestments

W — Water

X — eXamination of Conscience

Y — You, YouCat

Z — Zeal