The Significance of Ash Wednesday

For many non-Catholics (and many NEW Catholics) Ash Wednesday can seem weird. Why would anyone want to walk around with ashes on their head all day? And, truth be told, many cradle Catholics have been going to Mass and getting ashes for years without understanding the purpose of Ash Wednesday, as well.

The Significance of Ash Wednesday

Image by Balaska (2009) via Wikipedia, CCO Public Domain

What is the significance of Ash Wednesday?

Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten Season, is a day set aside for prayer and repentance. We fast, we abstain from meat, and we get ashes as a reminder of our human frailty. It is also a day to remember the spiritual reality that surrounds us; our earthly life is only part of the journey. Yes, will die and our bodies will “return to dust.” However, it doesn’t stop there. As our bodies return to dust our souls go to heaven, hell or purgatory. Therese aren’t necessary pleasant things to think about but they are important things, nevertheless.

Therefore, Ash Wednesday is a gift. Yes, a gift. This day of repentance is a gift because it gives us the opportunity to take stock of our lives. Think of it like a “spiritual New Year” where we can access our relationship with the Lord and make steps to strengthen our relationship with HIM.

  • Have I grown in our relationship with the Lord over this past year?
  • Have I grown lax or lukewarm?
  • In what areas of my life do I need to change in order to become the person God wants me to be?

From this reflection, we can make “resolutions” or a plan of action for how we will spend our Lent this year. This is where we can decide if we need to give up coffee,  sweets or something else.Or, we can work to change die-hard habits or sins which are holding us back and keeping us in bondage. Additionally, Lent is a great time to make a plan to learn more about our faith or pray the scriptures more often.

Why Ashes?

The use of ashes have a long history as a sign of repentance. I encourage you to read the History of Ash Wednesday over at American Catholic.

As regards to the rite of ashes, it is very simple. We go up to the priest or whomever is distributing the ashes. He makes the sign of the cross (well, it should be a cross. Sometimes it looks more like a blob!) on our forehead while saying “Man you are dust and to dust your shall return” or a similar phrases. This phrase comes from Genesis 3:19:

By the sweat of your face shall you get bread to eat, Until you return to the ground, from which you were taken; For you are dirt, and to dirt you shall return.”

Our Obligation

Ash Wednesday is NOT a holiday of obligation. We are not required to go to mass, but it is strongly recommended that we go to Mass if we are able to. Going to mass is certainly a wonderful way to start Lent off on the right foot.

However, whether we go to Mass or not, we ARE obligated to abstain from meat and to fast today. The fasting requirement consists of one full meal and two smaller meals that equal one meal. No snacking or eating between meals is allowed. Of course, beverages are allowed at any time.  Everyone over the age of 14 is required to abstain from meat and everyone between the ages of 18-60 are required to fast. (See Canon law 1250-1252) I think pregnant women are exempt, but not sure.

Related Links

Here are a couple of links for further reading.

New Advent

About.com

Fallible Blogma

I pray that your Lenten journey be a blessed and grace-filled time for you and your family!

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PSST: If you are looking for ideas for Lent, read this blog post here. And don’t forget: Today is the last day you can get the printable Lenten Prayer Journal for only 5 bucks.

Tweetable: The Significance of Ash Wednesday

Corpus Christi: The Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist

(repost)

Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist

Image by Icb (2015) via Pixabay, CCO Public Domain

I will never forget watching an episode of Women of Grace  on EWTN a while back where the guest speaker said that only 30% of Catholics believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. This statistic shocked me. Belief in the Real Presence is a central and essential doctrine of our Catholic faith. Truly, the Real Presence is part of the foundation of our Catholic faith. In fact, it is a non-negotiable article of faith; to be Catholic one must believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. However, the doctrine of the Eucharist remains a source of confusion and misunderstanding among Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

There are many passages in the Bible that deal with the Eucharist. Most of us are aware of the words of Jesus at the Last Supper (Matthew 26:26-30 and in all the gospels) and the “Bread of Life” discourse (John 6:22-69). The Catechism of the Catholic Church has whole sections that deal with the Eucharist (See Part 2, Section 2). Additionally, the Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist has been spoken about by many saints. I highly recommend that you take a look at these references for yourself and pray about them. For now, I just want to do is give you, in a nutshell, is what it means to believe in the Real Presence:

Believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist means that at the consecration at Mass the bread and wine is transformed into the very real body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. Although the physical appearance of the bread and wine do not change, they are no longer bread and wine but Jesus Himself.

This is hard for many people to accept. That is why so many walked away from Jesus (see John 6:66-67) when He said those words and why many are still walking away from Him in our own time. How is it possible that Jesus can be contained in the Eucharist? How can this happen? Those are valid questions. However, it is a sublime mystery and we trust Jesus at His word. The mystery of the Eucharist is a miracle. It is a gift from God Himself out of love for us. With God, all things are possible – including Jesus making Himself present in the Eucharist!

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Tweetables:

Corpus Christi: The Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist

What  Catholics believe about the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist

Why do Catholics Celebrate Ash Wednesday?

For many non-Catholics (and many NEW Catholics) Ash Wednesday can seem a little strange. Why would anyone want to walk around with ashes on their head all day? And many cradle Catholics have been going to mass and getting ashes every year without understanding why, as well.

Why Do Catholics Celebrate Ash Wednesday

Image by Balaska (2009) via Wikipedia, CCO Public Domain

What is the significance of Ash Wednesday?

Ash Wednesday is a day of prayer and repentance. We fast, we abstain from meat and we get ashes as a reminder of our human frailty. It is a day to remember the spiritual reality that surrounds us; we remember that our earthly life is only part of the journey. We will die and our bodies will “return to dust.”

Ash Wednesday is a gift. Yes, a gift. This day of repentance is a gift because it gives us the opportunity to take stock of our lives. It is almost like a “spiritual New Year” where we can assess our relationship with the Lord.

  • Have we grown in our relationship with the Lord over this past year?
  • Have I grown lax or lukewarm?
  • In what areas of my life do I need to change in order to become the person God wants me to be?

From this reflection, we can make “resolutions” or a plan of action for how we will spend our Lent this year. Instead of focusing on giving up coffee or sweets or whatever (which are good things in themselves), we can give up those habits or sins which are holding us back. Or we can make a plan to learn more about our faith or pray the scriptures more often.

Why Ashes?

There is a long history of the use of ashes as a sign of repentance. I encourage you to read the History of Ash Wednesday over at American Catholic.

As regards to the rite of ashes, it is very simple. We go up to the priest or whomever is distributing the ashes. He makes the sign of the cross (well, it should be a cross!) on our forehead while saying “Man you are dust and to dust your shall return” or a similar phrases. This phrase comes from Genesis 3:19

“By the sweat of your face shall you get bread to eat,

Until you return to the ground,

from which you were taken;

For you are dirt, and to dirt you shall return.”

Our Obligation

Ash Wednesday is not a holiday of obligation. We are not required to go to mass, but it is strongly recommended. And why wouldn’t we want to go if we are able?

We are obligated to abstain from meat and to fast today. The fasting requirement consists of one full meal and two smaller meals that equal one meal. No snacking or eating between meals. Of course, beverages are allowed.  Everyone over the age of 14 is required to abstain from meat and everyone between the ages of 18-60 are required to fast. (See Canon law 1250-1252) I think pregnant women are exempt, but not sure.

Related Links

Here are a couple of links for further reading.

New Advent

About.com

Fallible Blogma

I pray that today and your whole Lenten journey be a blessed and grace-filled time for you and your family!

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Tweetable: Why do Catholics Celebrate Ash Wednesday?

The Difference Between Partial and Plenary Indulgences

Over the last few blog posts, I have discussed why there is Purgatory, what Indulgences are and I have offered some resources to help you learn more about them. In today’s post, I am going to briefly explain the differences between partial indulgences and plenary indulgences.

Diffrence Between Partial and Plenary Indulgences

The difference is actually very simple.  According to Catholic.com:

“An indulgence is partial or plenary according as it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin” (Indulgentarium Doctrina 2, 3). Only God knows exactly how efficacious any particular partial indulgence is or whether a plenary indulgence was received at all.”

In other words, partial indulgences remit part of the temporal punishment due to sin and plenary indulgences remit all of the temporal punishment due to sin. (Years ago, there used to be a time attached to certain prayers or acts [such as 3 years for saying a certain prayer] but the Church no longer attached a time to partial indulgences.)

How to “gain” a partial or plenary indulgence?

Gaining a partial indulgence is rather easy. The only requirements are to be in the state of grace (which means to be free from mortal sin), to have the intention to gain the indulgence and finally to perform the actual act (say the prayer, make the sign of the cross, etc). A person can receive partial indulgences several times a day.

Gaining a plenary indulgence is a bit more involved. The requirements are five-fold:

  1.  You must receive the Sacrament of Confession a few days before or after the plenary indulgences.
  2.  You must have the intention of gaining the indulgence.
  3.  Say a prayer for the Pope. Any prayer will do but traditionally the Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be is said.
  4.  Do the actual act or prayer of the indulgence.
  5.  Be free from the attachment to sin, mortal or venial.

Only one plenary indulgence can be gained a day. (FYI, if you go to confession once a week then you automatically fulfill the confession requirement.) Also, if the requirements are not met then the indulgence becomes a partial indulgence.

Indulgenced Prayers

Here is a list of links that also explain indulgences and have prayers that impart a partial or plenary indulgences. There are many other prayers that offer at least a partial indulgence, such as making the sign of the cross. If you have a prayer you love you can easily look it up to see if there is an indulgence attached to it. In fact, here is a free online version of the Handbook of Indulgences.*

Fisheaters

Prayers for Reparation

The Raccolata

Keeping it Catholic

Catholic.org

I hope you have a better understanding of indulgences now. Indulgences can be a great help in our spiritual life.

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Tweetable: The Difference Between Partial and Plenary Indulgences

*The older copies of the Handbook do include the time ranges that I wrote about above. The new versions do not include those time ranges.

Resources For Learning More About Catholic Indulgences

Recently,  I answered a reader’s question about indulgences. There are a lot of misconceptions about indulgences, even among faithful Catholics; thus, for those looking to go deeper into their understanding of this tenet of faith,  I thought I would share some further resources that do a good job explaining everything a Catholic should know about indulgences.

Resources for learning more about Cathoic Indulgences

1. Catechism of the Catholic Church (scroll down to article 1471-1479)

2. New Advent (does a good job explaining what indulgences are not)

3. Catholic Answers (debunks the usual myths about indulgences)

4. Catholic Online (introduction to indulgences)

5. Our Catholic Faith (general information)

6. Catholic Answers forum (A good discussion about indulgences)

7. Catholic City (simplified version of the catechism articles on indulgences)

I hope that these resources are helpful and give you a better understanding of the place of indulgences in our Catholic faith. Even more importantly, I pray that these resources will inspire your faith and they encourage you to gain indulgences so that you will grow ever closer to our Lord. (Just remember, indulgences can’t buy you into heaven!)

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Tweetable: Resources for Learning More About Catholic Indulgences

What are Indulgences in the Catholic Faith?

*I recently discussed why there is Purgatory. During my discussion, I mentioned that we can help the Souls in Purgatory by our prayers. Another way we can help us is through indulgences which I discuss in this re-post.

What are Indulgences in the Catholic Faith

One of my readers, Yiessa, asked me to “discuss the meaning of indulgences in the Catholic faith.” This is a good topic and a teaching of the Church that is sorely misunderstood by Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

What is an indulgence?

According to the Catechism of the Catholic church (scroll down to article 1471):

An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporary punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applied with authority the treasury of the satisfaction of Christ and the saints.

What does this mean? Let me see if I can explain it In layman’s terms, in the way it was explained to me by the sisters: When we go to the Sacrament of Confession and receive absolution our sins are forgiven and we are freed from the guilt of said sin; however, the effect of sin still remains on our soul, like a stain on our soul, if you will. This stain must be purified before we can be with God in heaven. When we “gain an indulgence” then that stain on our soul is either partially or completely taken away.

Does that make sense? Let me use an analogy with my son as an example. When my son breaks a house rule, such as have a temper tantrum or disobeys me, when he is remorseful and says sorry I forgive him. However, there is still a consequence for his actions. He goes in timeout or loses a privilege to “make satisfaction” for his bad behavior. As far as sin goes, sins have consequences and even though we are sorry and forgiven for our sin we still have to face the consequences of our actions – which is what “temporal punishment due to sin” means above. We go to purgatory to be purified and “make satisfaction” for the effects or stains of sin on our souls. When we perform the acts of indulgence it is as if we are making satisfaction here on earth as opposed to doing so in purgatory.

You see, God is all perfect and all holy. All that is not perfect and holy cannot enter heaven. When we die in the state of grace but still have the “remains” or “stain” of sin on our souls we go to purgatory to be purified before entering the full glory of heaven. Through the grace of Christ, and through the authority of the church, when we gain indulgences we have the opportunity to have some or all of the stains removed from our souls so that we can either lessen our time in purgatory or bypass purgatory all together.

What indulgences are not…

The New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia gives a good explanation of what an indulgence is not. It says,

To facilitate explanation, it may be well to state what an indulgence is not. It is not a permission to commit sin, nor a pardon of future sin; neither could be granted by any power. It is not the forgiveness of the guilt of sin; it supposes that the sin has already been forgiven. It is not an exemption from any law or duty, and much less from the obligation consequent on certain kinds of sin, e.g., restitution; on the contrary, it means a more complete payment of the debt which the sinner owes to God. It does not confer immunity from temptation or remove the possibility of subsequent lapses into sin. Least of all is an indulgence the purchase of a pardon which secures the buyer’s salvation or releases the soul of another from Purgatory. The absurdity of such notions must be obvious to any one who forms a correct idea of what the Catholic Church really teaches on this subject.”

In other words, a person can’t buy their way out of purgatory through indulgences, a person can’t have his or her sin forgiven with indulgences and a person can’t use indulgences as an excuse for sin: “Oh it doesn’t matter if I do ____. I can just get an indulgence and wipe it away.”

Indulgences are a gift that God has given us, through the authority of the Church, to help us on our road to heaven. It is meant to help us prepare our souls to be in the presence of the eternal and all holy Trinity. We should make use of this gift as often as we can!

I hope this helps. To read more about indulgences and help you deepen your understanding of them, next week I will post several links for further reading. And in another post after that, I will explain the difference between partial and plenary indulgences and the requirements for receiving an indulgence.

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Tweetable: What are Indulgences in the Catholic Faith

Why is There Purgatory?

Why is there purgatory?

Image by Hans (2013) via Pixabay, CCO Public Domain

There are a lot of misconceptions and misunderstandings about the doctrine of Purgatory. Even worse, there are so many people, including Catholics who dismiss Purgatory and don’t even believe it exists. This is unfortunate because the doctrine of Purgatory is an important and even comforting tenet of our faith.

What is Purgatory?

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it states,

“1030 All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.

1031 The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.606 The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire:607

As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.608

1032 This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture: “Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.”609 From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God.610 The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead:

Let us help and commemorate them. If Job’s sons were purified by their father’s sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.611″

As this quote indicates, the doctrine of Purgatory is based on scripture and was officially formulated by two councils, the Council of Florence and the Council of Trent.

Why does Purgatory exist?

The Catechism explains it beautifully. Basically, if a person dies in the state of grace, but is not completely purified, he or she “goes to  Purgatory” to be completely “cleansed” before going to Heaven. Of course, Purgatory, Heaven, and Hell, are not “places” but states of being.

Here is the thing. God is utterly perfect, loving, and beauty itself. Nothing that is impure can be in His presence. Humans, even those of us who live faithful lives dedicated to Christ, have souls that are easily blemished my sin. Purgatory is the state of being that cleanses the soul from those blemishes of sin.

Our Pastor at church explained it this way (paraphrased): “Suppose a person hammers a nail into a piece of wood. Then he regrets that decision and takes the nail out. Well, the nail may be gone but there is still a hole where the nail was. Thus, when a person sins and then goes to confession, the guilt of the sin is taken away; however, the effect of the sin is still there and needs to be cleansed. So, purgatory, in a way, is like sanding down and getting rid of the whole left by the nail.”

And that is why Purgatory exists. It gives us the opportunity to be truly ready to be in the presence of God.

Jesus

Yes, Jesus has suffered, died and rose for our sins. One drop of His blood is enough to save the world. Purgatory does not take away or lessen the value of Jesus’ work of salvation. It is because of Jesus that we have the gift of Purgatory.

Every person on earth whether they call themselves born-again Christians or not must make the daily decision to choose Jesus and to live according to His ways. Sadly, although our hearts may be in the right place, all of us fail. Many times we choose anger, judgement, impurity, and all other sins above God. Through confession we receive forgiveness and absolution. Through penance we make reparation and make the effort to change our hearts and be rid of the effects of our sins. If we do not do so during our life we have the opportunity to do so “in” Purgatory.*

I hope my feeble attempts at explaining Purgatory helps. I also hope it spurs you on to pray for the souls in purgatory and offer sacrifice for them. They cannot help themselves but we can help them! The month of November is a great time to pray for the souls in purgatory because the Church designates November for them. And know, when we help them and they get to heaven, they will pray for us.

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Tweetable: Why is There Purgatory?

*Of course, God prefers we purify our hearts and souls during our life so that we can go straight to heaven and I will write about that in a future post!

Pope Francis’ First Encyclical Letter – Lumen Fidei

Light of faith

 

Have you heard? Pope Francis recently released his first encyclical which is called “Lumen Fidei” or “Light of Faith.” I can’t wait to read it!

If you are interested in reading the encyclical (and I encourage you to do so!) you can download it free here or here from the Vatican website. If you prefer, you can download it on Amazon for only .99 cents (affiliate link).

Theological Thursday: Receiving the Precious Blood

chalice

Reader Dolores contacted me with the following question:

“Is it a sin to NOT [emphasis mine] partake of drinking wine ( blood of Christ) when taking the sacraments?”

In short, the answer is no. Receiving the Precious Blood is optional and many churches do not offer communion under both species.

Longer Answer:

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishop’s directive, Norms for the Distribution and Reception of Holy Communion under Both Kinds in the Dioceses of the United States of America, gives a brief history of why the custom of not partaking of the Precious Blood at Mass feel out of practice. It states,

“The practice of Holy Communion under both kinds at Mass continued until the late eleventh century, when the custom of distributing the Eucharist to the faithful under the form of bread alone began to grow. By the twelfth century theologians such as Peter Cantor speak of Communion under one kind as a “custom” of the Church.28 This practice spread until the Council of Constance in 1415 decreed that Holy Communion under the form of bread alone would be distributed to the faithful.”

After Vatican II, the practice of receiving communion under both species was restored. The Norms explains,

“Holy Communion has a fuller form as a sign when it takes place under both kinds. For in this form the sign of the Eucharistic banquet is more clearly evident and clearer expression is given to the divine will by which the new and eternal Covenant is ratified in the Blood of the Lord, as also the connection between the Eucharistic banquet and the eschatological banquet in the Kingdom of the Father.”

It is always wonderful to receive the Precious Blood but do keep something in mind: whether you receive communion under just one species (“just” the Body of Christ or “just” the Blood of Christ) you are receiving Jesus whole and entire, body, blood soul and divinity. A person isn’t “missing something” if he or she only receives the Eucharist or if he or she only receives the Precious Blood. 🙂

I encourage everyone to read Norms for the Distribution and Reception of Holy Communion under Both Kinds in the Dioceses of the United States of America. It is a beautiful and easy-to-read document that gives a spiritual and practical summary of the mystery of the Eucharist.

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Have a question about the Catholic faith? Are you curious about a particular Catholic practice, such as the rosary or other devotion? If so, I’d love to answer it a future Theological post. Send your questions to carol (at) simplecatholicliving (dot) com or fill out my contact form.

photo credit: Kotomicreations via photopin cc

Fortnight for Religious Freedom Starts Tomorrow!

eagle flag

The bishops of the United States are calling all Catholics to participate in the “Fortnight of Prayer for Religious Freedom.” From their website:

“The fourteen days from June 21—the vigil of the Feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More—to July 4, Independence Day, are dedicated to this “fortnight for freedom”—a great hymn of prayer for our country.”

Let us offer prayers and sacrifices and fight for our freedom of religion. If we don’t we will lose this right and it won’t be pretty!

For a long time I was confused and upset that our country has come to a point where we are in a very real and serious danger of losing our religious (and possibly other) freedom. How can we, in America, lose the very freedom our forefathers fought so hard to win for us? How can the blood of the solders be shed in vain? How can we dishonor the men and women of our military who are fighting and working hard today to keep us safe and free?

Well, I realized and have come to accept that there are, and always be, those people who fear the people. There are those who hate democracy and freedom and God, himself. There always will be haters of freedom and democracy and capitalism. That is why we, as individual Americans (and Catholics), have to work for freedom – through our prayers and sacrifices and through activism – in whatever what God is calling us.

And by the way, this fight for religious freedom isn’t just for Catholics. All Christians will be affected by the HHS mandate and other restrictions of religious freedoms if allowed to pass. If you are reading this, and you aren’t Catholic, I urge you to join us in prayer during this 14 days!

Resources:

Reflections for the Fortnight of Freedom (PDF with a reflection and prayer for each of the 14 days)

USCCB website for more information

Video reflections