Christmas, Holy week, Holy Days of Obligation

     Holy Week starts with Palm Sunday (when Israelites welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem with shouts of “Hosanna” and waving of palm branches) and concludes with Easter Sunday (when the Resurrection occurred, the raising of Jesus from the dead).  In between are Holy Thursday, when Jesus instituted the Last Supper;  and Good Friday, when Jesus died on the Cross.  The Easter Vigil is a particularly moving liturgy, beginning with darkness and the presentation of the Easter candle (representing the true Light that shines in the darkness), continuing with several readings from the Hebrew Bible which anticipate the coming of the Savior, the gradual transition to full light, the Gospel reading of the finding of the empty tomb, and the Baptism and Confirmation of adults who now enter the Catholic Christian community.

     Lent is the 40-day period of preparation before Easter.  It begins on Ash Wednesday and is characterized by the disciplined practice of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

 Holy Days of Obligation are days which commemorate important events in the life of Jesus or in the lives of persons associated with him.  On these days, Catholics are bound to participate in theMass.  In addition to Sundays (or Saturday nights), these days are:

January 1—Celebration of Mary, Mother of God.  The title “Mother of God” goes back to the Council of Ephesus (431) which settled a dispute about Jesus.  One side of the dispute argued that in Jesus were two persons, one divine and one human.  The other side, the side which won approval, argued that in Jesus was only one person, and this person had two natures, divine and human.  A consequence was that Mary could be acknowledged not only as mother of Jesus, but as Mother of God.  Mary is credited as being chosen from all eternity to be Jesus’ mother.

        August 15—Celebration of the Assumption of Mary.  Pope Pius XII promulgated in 1950 that Mary, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into the glory of heaven.  There is no clear evidence in sacred scripture for Mary’s assumption.  Rather it is a belief which grew in God’s people, led by the Holy Spirit, over the centuries.

       November 1—Celebration of All Saints.  Commemorating the life of a holy Christian person on the anniversary of his or her death is an ancient practice.  Sometime before the ninth century November 1 was established as the day to remember all of them.  Catholics believe that, by a grace of God, we have communion with the saints.  They help us with their prayers and inspire us by their examples.

       December 8—Celebration of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.  Pope Pius IX promulgated in 1854 that Mary was, from the moment of her conception, preserved free from all stain of original sin.  Scriptural support is found in the first chapter of Luke (“Hail, full of grace!”  “Blessed are you among women,” and Mary’s humble acceptance of God’s will that she become mother of the messiah).  Like belief in the Assumption, this belief grew over the centuries, guided by the Holy Spirit.

       December 25—Celebration of Christmas, the Nativity of the Lord.  Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.  It commemorates the incarnation (becoming flesh) of the pre-existent second person of the Trinity.  Christmas is preceded by a four-week season of preparation called Advent.

While we don’t guarantee that the patterns for these schedules will be repeated every year, there are usually similarities from year to year.  See the current bulletin for the schedules of upcoming liturgies.