Where does the word "Lent" come from? In my native Spanish we just call the season "cuaresma" which seems more descriptive.
You are right. The Latin title for this period is Quadragesima and is best translated, “fortieth day (before Easter)” or more loosely “the forty days.” Most of the Romance Languages keep this root in their words for the season (e.g. cuaresma, quaresma, carême, quaresima) and these are as you say, more descriptive and less abstract.
The word “Lent” seems to come from Germanic roots wherein the words lenz and lente refer to the spring season when the days “lengthen.” Thus, the word “Lent” describes less the liturgical time frame and more the seasonal one. So, as the days lengthen our thoughts move to Easter and, beginning forty days before, we spend time spiritually preparing for that greatest feast of the Church’s Year.
The notion of forty days of course reminds us of the forty days Christ spent in the desert fasting and praying in preparation for his public ministry. We are encouraged to go into the desert with him spiritually and thus also be strengthened through the spiritual exercises of resisting temptation, praying and fasting.
“Giving up something” for Lent is not merely for its own sake, but rather to make room for other things. Thus, if we forgo some lawful pleasure, we can perhaps be freer to pray; and whatever money we may save by simplifying, can be given to the poor.
Some people believe that it is a sin to miss receiving ashes on this day. Some even believe that one would not go to heaven if he or she were not marked with blessed ashes. Neither is true. (Ash Wednesday is not even a holy day of obligation!) This of course does not mean that we shouldn’t participate in this liturgy, nor does it mean that the symbol isn’t important. Wearing ashes must reflect our desire to act from our baptismal promises. Saying “we believe” requires us to live dead to sin. Wearing ashes demands that we live alive for Christ.
The ashes remind us of our mortality and dependence on God. It’s humbling to see so many different people, with different stories and backgrounds, all coming to church to get smudged with dirt for different reasons. In their faces you see glimpses of piety and holiness, fear and trepidation, giggly discomfort in some of the adolescents and stoic disinterest in some of the teens. Some people aren’t sure if they’re supposed to say anything in response to receiving ashes (you’re not), and some don’t quite know if they’re allowed to wipe off any ash that falls on their nose (you can).
But in every case, they come, young and old, those barely able to walk and babies in mothers’ arms. And God, in whatever way is needed, touches each of them through this simple act of penance. We may not understand the ritual, we might do it just out of habit. But it’s our doing of the ritual, our turning back to God, even for just a moment, that gives God the perfect opportunity to quietly, even unknowingly, draw us ever closer to him.
Don’t miss the opportunity.
It seems logical that many others than Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote the life of Jesus. Why then were these four Gospels chosen to be the accepted ones, especially since Mark and Luke where not Apostles? When and how was this determination made?
While there certainly are other reputed accounts of Jesus’ life, and some of these have the names of apostles attached to them, (for example, Thomas, and James), the evidence seems pretty clear that these Gospels were written long after the death of these apostles.
As for Mark and Luke not being apostles, yet having Gospels, St. Mark was likely the assistant to St. Peter, and so his gospel is largely held to be St. Peter's account. As for Saint Luke, he is very clear to state that he carefully analyzed eyewitness accounts in preparing his Gospel.
Which books ended up in the canon (a word which means "list") of Sacred Scripture was a complex process that developed in the early years of the Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Even through the late Fourth Century there were some disagreements among believers as to which books belonged to the Canon. The Book of Revelation and some of the epistles were disputed. Likewise, some for inclusion in the canon proposed some other edifying writings from the early years, such as the Epistle of Pope St. Clement and the Didache.
The resolution of the final list or canon of Sacred Scripture was largely resolved in a series of Councils in the late fourth century: The Synod of Rome in 382, The Council of Hippo in 393, and the Council of Carthage in 397. These Councils, in consultation with Popes Damasus and Pope Innocent gave us the list of books in the canon of Sacred Scripture that we have today in the Catholic Church. This canon, was largely undisputed until the 16th Century when Martin Luther, removed a number of Old Testament Books and certain other Protestant denominations followed his unfortunate and unauthorized move.
The primary standards used by the Council Fathers and Popes was liturgy and doctrine. Did a particular book have widespread use and acceptance in the liturgy of the Church? Did a particular book comport well with the faith and received doctrine of the Church? These standards, along with some particulars too numerous to mention here, produced the list that we have today of Sacred Scripture. Surely, by faith, we know the Holy Spirit inspired this process as well.
One Sunday our priest had us sing a Protestant version of the Our Father. The congregation really enjoyed it but I wonder if it is approved for use in the Catholic Mass.
Presumably, you refer to the well‐known musical version of the Our Father by Albert Hay Malotte, which has the soaring doxology at the end: “For thine is the Kingdom and the power and glory for ever and ever. Amen”
Liturgically, this presents two problems. One is the translation of the doxology, which though the difference is minor, is at variance with the approved Catholic translation.
The second problem is that the musical arrangement does not reasonably allow the celebrant to proclaim or sing what is known as the “embolism,” the prayer that begins “Deliver us, Lord, we pray, from every evil, graciously grant peace in our days….” This is because the musical arrangement of the Malotte Our Father is reaching a climax and moves right into the doxology. To stop the song at that moment and have the celebrant recite the embolism is clumsy at best, and does dishonor to the musical setting as well. It is almost like stopping the National Anthem at its musical climax “For the land of the free…!” and inserting a verbal interjection. It just doesn’t work well.
Hence, when the Malott Our Father is proposed for use in the Catholic Mass it is usually sung straight through. But this is improper liturgically. Thus, beautiful though it is, the Malotte Our Father cannot reasonably be used during the Mass. It would seem that it can, however, be used in other liturgical settings with minor adaptions, since in those liturgies the embolism is not required.
I recently heard an author interviewed who denies that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and even seems to wonder if he existed at all. I forget all the details, but what are we to make of this?
A lot of modern skepticism regarding Jesus, and details of the Scripture, center around a rather stubborn refusal to regard the Gospels as an historical source. This a‐priori assumption about the historical reliability of the Scriptures is a kind of skepticism that surrounds almost no other historical documents.
More has been recorded about Jesus than almost any other person in history. There are four rich essays depicting his life, which we call Gospels, and over a dozen epistles. These combine both eyewitness accounts, and credibly collected accounts by others who lived at or very near the time of Jesus.
Some modern scholars like to dismiss these accounts because they are written from the perspective of faith. But all history is written from some perspective. Simply excluding Scripture as an historical source, is neither reasonable, nor does it comport with approaches we use in studying other historical figures and events.
The tradition of the Oplatki originated in Poland during Early Christian times. This Christmas custom began with a simple thin white wafer, similar to Communion hosts, baked from flour and water. The wafers are designed to display Christmas images, such as the Nativity, Star of Bethlehem, or the Holy Family.
The Oplatki (authentic Polish pronunciation is O-pwaht-kee, which is the plural form of the word) are enjoyed by families, typically right before the Christmas Eve meal. The entire family will gather around the table with the Oplatek (pronounced O-pwah-tek, which is the singular form of the word). Generally, the eldest member of the family will begin the ritual by breaking off a piece of the wafer and passing it to another family member with a blessing. This blessing can simply consist of what you desire for your loved one in the upcoming year – whether it be good health, success, or happiness. The wafer is passed from person to person until all have had a piece and all have been given blessings. The purpose of this act is primarily to express one’s unconditional love and forgiveness for each member of his or her family.
This tradition is also common to other nationalities. In Lithuania, the wafers are part of the Kucios meal and can be called by many names, including: plotkele, paplotelis, or plokstainelis. Depending on where the family is from, they may even say kaledaitis. Slovaks call the wafers oblatky. In America the tradition is often called Christmas Wafers.
The significance of the Oplatki Christmas wafer is that it shadows the Eucharistic meal that Catholics participate in at each Mass. Just as we share in the Eucharist as one family in Christ and receive Christ’s love through the Eucharist, the Oplatki allows for one’s immediate family to come together and share the love they have for one another. This symbolism is deepened by the fact that the name of the town where Jesus Christ was born, Bethlehem, means "House of Bread," which makes the Oplatki tradition an especially beautiful way to celebrate the charity and unity so characteristic of the Christmas season.
I don't like the advent wreath because it is a modern innovation, not proper to the Roman Rite, and because it had its origins in the Lutheran Church. Are not Advent Wreaths really an illicit intrusion into the Roman Catholic liturgy?
I don't suppose it's an unwarranted intrusion, any more than poinsettias are during Christmas, or any other extraneous decoration. Things like decorations, are not intrinsic to the liturgy, and are not really referenced in liturgical books.
Perhaps there is some violation of liturgical norms in some parishes where a kind of para‐liturgical Mass service is conducted for the lighting of the advent candle. I have observed where the families are invited to come up to light the candle while some verse of Scripture is read etc. These sorts of things might be considered an intrusion. But if the advent wreath is simply there, and the candles lit before Mass, there seems to be little harm in it.
As for Lutheran roots, most historical researchers would probably confirm this. Catholic parishes have adapted the advent wreath by the use of purple, rather than red candles.
You are certainly free to like or dislike the tradition of the advent wreath. Most Catholics I speak with find it meaningful. But some caution is in order regarding your rejection of something simply because it is either modern, or comes from outside Catholic sources.
In the first place, your concern is somewhat at odds with the Catholic instinct, which down to the centuries has often taken up things from the secular world, or other religious traditions, even non‐Christian ones. It is part of the genius of Catholicism to take up whatever is good, true or beautiful in the cultures where she interacts, and give them a distinctively Catholic meaning and flavor.
I would also caution you based on the words of Jesus, who counsels a kind of prudential wisdom about things like these when he says: Every scribe, trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old. (Matt 13:52)
Therefore, categorically excluding something because it is modern, or outside explicit Catholic origins is not the instinct either of the Church or the Scriptures.
Since the settlement of the colonies, Americans were familiar with setting aside days of thanksgiving, prayer, and fasting in response to significant events. In 1789, President George Washington issued a proclamation designating November 26 of that year as a national day of thanksgiving to recognize the role of providence in creating the new United States and the new federal Constitution. Later, President Abraham Lincoln took steps towards designating it a permanent federal holiday.
Americans traditionally recognize the "first" Thanksgiving as having taken place at Plymouth colony in the autumn of 1621. The Separatist Puritan settlers of Plymouth, known as Pilgrims, held a feast after their first harvest as a way of thanking God for their blessings. The 1621 thanksgiving celebration, however, did not become an annual event; rather, residents of Plymouth and the other colonies held days of thanksgiving and fasting over the years, at different times of year for a variety of reasons.
President George Washington issued a proclamation on October 3, 1789, designating Thursday, November 26 as a national day of thanks. In his proclamation, Washington declared that the necessity for such a day sprung from the Almighty’s care of Americans prior to the Revolution, assistance to them in achieving independence, and help in establishing the constitutional government. Not ignoring the authority of state governments, Washington distributed his proclamation to the governors, requesting that they announce and observe the day within their states. Newspapers throughout the country subsequently published the proclamation and public celebrations were held. Washington himself marked the day by attending services at St. Paul's Chapel in New York City, and by donating beer and food to imprisoned debtors in the city.
The 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation, however, did not establish a permanent federal holiday. Washington issued another proclamation in February 1795 to recognize the defeat of a taxation rebellion in Pennsylvania. Later presidents, including John Adams and James Madison, declared days of thanksgiving. But it was not until the Civil War of the 1860s that President Lincoln initiated a regular observance of Thanksgiving in the United States.
Why does Matthew in his gospel list the ancestors of Jesus, when they are really those of his stepfather Joseph, with whom he shares no genes?
The purpose of a genealogy for ancient Jews was more complex and rich than to simply demonstrate physical descent. The modern science of genetics, chromosomes and the genetic code were unknown in the ancient world.
But even among us moderns, relationships are set up both by blood, and by marriage. That is to say, two people can be related either by direct physical descent, or “legally” through the marriage of themselves or others in their family. And thus, while Joseph and Jesus shared no physical genes, Joseph's family and Jesus are one through Joseph's marriage to Mary. So, Joseph’s family tree “matters” to us and to those in ancient Israel because, through Joseph and his marriage to Mary, Jesus relates to many others in Israel.
In ancient Israel, genealogies existed to show that one was in fact a member of the nation of Israel. They located them in a particular tribe, and also to show their relationships with others.
These are Matthew’s main purposes; namely, that Jesus belongs to the family of Israel both as a son of Mary, and through his relationship to Joseph, the husband of the Virgin Mary.
Matthew also has other complex purposes in mind in the names he highlights and the way he groups them in patterns of 14, all laid out according to different periods of salvation history. There are also other numerological details too complex to lay out here.
So, as you can see, there is more than a question of physical descent involved in the recitation of ancient genealogies. Human beings relate in more than physical ways, but also through a complex network of relationships we call families, tribes, and nations.
I am told that on All Souls day if we make six visits to six churches and say designated prayers, the souls in purgatory for who we pray go straight to heaven. What do you think of this?
There are many danger signs in the practices you describe. We ought to be cautious about various spiritual practices or exercises that have many different moving parts, or complex requirements. We ought to be even more suspicious of unqualified and overly certain promises of success.
At the heart of indulgence practices is a very proper notion that prayer has salutary effects. However, prayer should not be reduced to superstitious practices. We cannot force God’s hand; neither should prayer be likened to magic which seeks to manipulate reality.
Every pious practice and prayer is always submitted to God's will; and through these things we commend ourselves to God's good graces, knowing that he will answer in ways that are ultimately best for all involved.
"Building our Catholic faith one question at a time."