Saturday, July 14, 2018

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 15, 2018

The last two weeks I have been using this column to catch up on some of the basics. These are things we see so often in church that we take them for granted or don’t give them much thought. Last week I wrote about the meaning of the priest’s vestments, but I ran short of space to write about the colors of the vestments. So today I will continue with the colors.

Currently we are wearing green. Green is simply the color of “Ordinary Time,” the time when we have no special seasons and no particular feasts. There is a good meaning to green for Ordinary Time, for it is the color of creation in bloom. Trees and grass give us a vibrant green that speaks of life that God gives us in nature. As the color of nature shows God in the world around us, so Ordinary Time speaks of the unfolding of God’s plan in our everyday lives.

All of that talk of nature is very helpful, but it’s probably not the original reason for using green in Ordinary Time. Originally it was a more simple reason. When cloth was colored with natural dyes, green was least expensive. It would therefore be used for the most commonly used clothing. As for liturgical vestments, green would be what was most frequently used. But I prefer the more symbolic version.

In the earliest days, probably all vestments were white. I wrote last week that the vestments are based on the everyday clothes of the first century. A Roman gentleman would wear white for special occasions. As white is the color of holiness, as I explained last week, we use white for the most important times. The great feasts of Easter and Christmas, along with the feasts of the saints, call for white vestments. We do sometimes dress the white up with shades of gold to show the importance of a feast, but even then the basic color is white.

Red is the most obvious color. Most frequently, red is the color of blood. So along with the celebration of Christ’s Passion, we wear red for the feast of any martyr. In addition, red is the color of flame. Thus we wear red for Pentecost and for any celebration of the Holy Spirit, who came to the Apostles at Pentecost as tongues of flame.

That leaves purple (or violet) as the fourth of the common colors. We use that for the penitential season of Lent and for the anticipatory season of Advent. When I show the children the colors, they often ask why purple should represent those seasons. I’m never quite sure how to answer, for I’ve never seen a real explanation. I suspect that purple is simply a darker color, and those are “darker” seasons. That explanation does go along with the two days during the year when we have the option of wearing a fifth color, rose (or pink). On the Third Sunday of Advent or the Fourth Sunday of Lent, we brighten up the season just a bit with the slightly brighter color of rose. Those rose vestments offer a sign of hope that the season will come to an end, that the waiting of Advent or the penance of Lent will soon be complete.

There was one other color that was used in former days. In funeral masses, we used to wear black to show our mourning for the deceased. While that color has never been rescinded, it is common today to wear white at funerals as a sign of our hope in the Resurrection.

On a final note, I am soon beginning my vacation. I will be away from this Wednesday through Friday, August 3.                                                                           

                                                                 Father H  

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 8, 2018

One day I was showing some CCD students around the church. When we got to the sacristy, I showed them the vestments that the priest wears. That led one young girl to ask a question she had apparently been wondering about for some time. She asked, “Why do you wear a dress at Mass?” From that point on, whenever I would visit her CCD class, she would tell me that she like the dress I wore at Mass. So last week I said I may take some time to use this column to write about things that we “cradle Catholics” take for granted. Sometimes it can be good for those of us who know these things to review them, and it can be a good introduction for anyone who may not understand but who found that there were more important things to ask about. So let me start with one important point: I am not wearing a dress.

The first point we need to understand is something I referred to in last week’s column. The vestments we wear take us back 2,000 years, to the time when Jesus walked the earth in His human body. Specifically, whenever we celebrate the Mass, we are taking part in what Christ did at the Last Supper, the night before He offered His life for us on the cross. If you think of the images of Jesus that you have seen, He is generally wearing a long, flowing robe, often of white. So the first vestment that the priest puts on in an alb, a white garment that hangs down to the floor. It is important that this garment be white, and in fact the very name comes from the Latin word alba, which means “white.” White is a color of cleanliness, and so it represents holiness in the sense of being clean from the stain of sin. The alb relates to the white garment that our parents put on us at our baptism. In that sense, it is not only a reminder that the priest is to be holy; it is also a reminder that every other vocation of our lives begins with our baptism. Notice, then, that the priest’s alb is essentially the same thing that our Altar Servers wear at Mass.

On a side note, you may notice that our Servers are no longer wearing crosses with their albs. I had always thought that there would come a time when they would start wearing out, and that I would not replace them. The alb itself is a sign of our baptismal dedication to Christ, and so the cross on top of the alb does not really add to the significance of the Servers’ vesture.

On top of the alb, a priest wears a stole, a piece of cloth that goes around the back of the neck and hangs down the front on two sides. The stole comes from a kind of mantle that people in Christ’s time would wear to show a particular role that they would have. So the stole is the sign of the office of priesthood. A deacon shows his ordination by wearing a stole over his left shoulder, hanging down diagonally in front and back, with the two sides joined together on his right. You will see an example next week when Deacon Tim Killmeyer, who will be part of our grouping in October, comes to visit and assist at all of the Mass.

When talking to the children, I sometimes tell them that the stole is kind of like a necktie that a man might wear to something important. That means that the outer garment is something like the suit coat. The chasuble was the outer coat that someone would wear. It shows that we are celebrating something of great importance when we celebrate Mass. I should also say something about the colors of the chasuble, but I am already at the bottom of the column.                                                                           

                                                                 Father H 

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 1, 2018

As “cradle Catholics,” we who have been part of the Church all our lives sometimes take some things for granted. I know that I sometimes assume that everyone knows what everything is all about. Sometimes the experience of working with the RCIA helps me remember that I have to explain things that the newcomers to the Church are not as familiar with. So as we move into summer and things slow down, I found myself wondering what to write about. I thought it might be helpful to take some time (perhaps a few weeks if I don’t come up with any other important topics) to look at some of the basic things that we see in church.

As Catholics, we are accustomed to seeing candles in church. But do we ever think of why we have candles? There are several types of candles, and the most important are the ones by the altar. Candles in church are there to remind us of Christ, who told us that he is the Light of the World. In a dark place, we cannot see where we are going. We need light to be able to go anywhere. So without Christ and His resurrection, we would be stumbling about in the dark. We could not find our way to heaven without Christ. Thus, the candles represent Christ’s presence upon the altar.

We could then ask why we still use candles in an age of electricity. We could imagine updating the liturgy so that we put an electric lamp by the altar. For one thing, the liturgy takes us back to the days when Jesus was among us in the flesh, 2,000 years ago. As the vestments that the priest wears are designed to remind us of the clothing of the first century, so our candles harken back to the time of the Last Supper. Beyond that, there is more symbolism in the candles. An electric light looks just the same until the bulb burns out. You cannot tell by looking how much life a light bulb has. As a candle burns, on the other hand, we see it getting shorter. While Christ’s resurrection is what gives us the light, leading us to having the special Easter Candle as our most fancy candle, we also remember that He gave Himself for us on the Cross. As a candle gives light, it gives of itself. As we see it grow shorter, we know that it is “sacrificing” itself for our light. That candle is then a visual reminder of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary in order to lead us to new life.

In addition to the candles at the altar, I would like to remember the candles in the back, near the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary or by the statue of St. Anthony. We see these candles as a way of remaining in prayer. If I have some special favor that I want to bring to God, through the intercession of Mary or the saints, then I want the help of all who share our faith. There may be a case where I would want to ask everyone who comes by to pray for my special intention. It would not be practical for me to stay in the back of church throughout the entire day, just so that I could stop anyone and everyone who comes in and ask for their prayers. So I can light a candle, and the candle remains when I depart. We call those “vigil candles” because they remain to keep vigil in our place. Thus, if I can stop and say a prayer at the statue of the Blessed Mother, then I am praying for all those who have lit candles in that area. I include their prayers, and I know that those who come after will include my needs in their prayers.

When we come to church, we see candles. I hope that this reminder of the candles will help us see Christ as the Light of the World and will help us offer our prayers for one another in all our needs.                                                 
                                                         Father H