Bible History for the Use of Catholic Schools - R. Gilmour

The Feasts of the Church

1. The better to teach her children the great truths of Religion and the more strongly to impress upon their minds the mysteries of Redemption, the Church has appointed certain religious feasts to be kept. That these may never be forgotten, and may follow each other in due order, the Ecclesiastical Year is divided into three parts, namely: 1st, From Advent to Lent; 2nd, From Lent to Pentecost; and 3rd, From Pentecost to Advent again.

2. Advent means coming, and immediately precedes Christmas, the feast in which the Church celebrates the first coming of Christ upon earth. The four Sundays of Advent represent the four thousand years before the earning of Christ upon the earth, when the world lay buried in the darkness of infidelity, and the knowledge of the true God was mostly confined to the Patriarchs, and, after them, to the Jewish nation.

3. During Advent the priest wears purple vestments, as a sign of sorrow and penance. There is no "Gloria in Excelsis" said at Mass, and all worldly amusements are set aside, that thus, in penance, the world may prepare for Christmas, the most beautiful of all the festivals of the year, when young and old, great and small, become children with Christ, their new-born King. Christmas is peculiarly the feast of childhood, because on that day Christ was born—a child—to the world.

4. The birth of Christ is threefold. 1st, His eternal generation in the bosom of His Father; 2nd, His birth of the Blessed Virgin, at Bethlehem; and 3rd, His birth in the soul, by grace. These three births are symbolized by the three Masses that every priest is permitted to say on Christmas day. Then the joy of the Christian world bursts forth in the glad song of "Glory to God in the Highest," sung for the first time by the angels, when on the first Christmas morn, they announced that a Savior was born.

5. After Christmas comes the feast of Saint Stephen, the first martyr, who was stoned to death, and, like his Master upon the cross, died praying for his enemies. Then follow in quick succession the feasts of the Circumcision and Epiphany, the former reminding us that, on the eighth day after His birth, Christ first shed His blood; the latter telling of the visit of the Wise Men, who came from the far-off East to adore Him.

6. On the second of February is commemorated the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. This feast is also known as Candlemas, because on that day are blessed the candles to be used in the church during the year. On this day candles are also blessed to be used by the faithful in their homes, either at their private devotions or when the sacraments are to be administered to the sick.

7. Lent, the second part of the Ecclesiastical Year, begins with Ash-Wednesday, a day deriving its name from the custom of blessing ashes and sprinkling them on the heads of the faithful, to remind them that dust they are, and unto dust they shall return.

8. During the forty days of Lent there is no "Gloria" sung at Mass; and again, as in Advent, the priest is clad in purple; amusements are laid aside, and in imitation of Christ's fast of forty days, the faithful are commanded to fast and do penance for their sins.

9. On Passion-Sunday, to remind us of the sorrow and suffering of Christ, the crucifixes and pictures in the church are covered, and remain so till Holy Saturday. On Palm-Sunday palms are blessed, distributed among the people, and carried in procession round the church, to commemorate the triumphal entry of Christ into Jerusalem.

10. The institution of the Blessed Sacrament is commemorated on Holy Thursday. On this day the consecrated Host, which is to be consumed at the office of the next day, is kept on a side-altar, decorated with flowers and lights, and called the Repository. From the Mass of this day to the Mass of Holy Saturday no church-bells are rung,—a sign of the deep sorrow of the Church.

11. On Good Friday all is hushed: the altars are bare, the priest is clad in deepest black, and the plaintive song of the Church tells the agony of her heart. The great sacrifice on Calvary, on which Christ Our Savior died for the world, is in the thoughts of the faithful; while sorrow for sin and love for God fill their hearts.

12. Holy Saturday, the day on which Christ's body lay in the tomb, is spent in prayer and meditation. At the Mass of this day is blessed the new fire, struck from a rock, a fit emblem of Christ, who is both light to the world and a rock to His Church.

13. The Baptismal Water and the Paschal Candle are blessed after the reading of the prophecies that foretold the coming of Our Savior. Then, in the calm repose of expectation, the world awaits the glorious dawn of Easter-day, to burst forth in a grand Alleluia of praise to Christ risen from the dead.

14. As Christ rose at early morn, so at dawn of day the bells ring out their merry peal to tell us of Easter and of Christ risen from the dead. By His death Christ showed Himself man; but by His Resurrection He proved Himself God.

15. The season of the year when Easter comes also con-tributes much to the general joy. Winter is past, and spring is come; the merry song of the birds tells of their return to cheer us with their presence; the trees are clothing themselves in softest green, and the fields are decked in fairest flowers. All nature is waking from its wintry sleep, as if to join the Church in joyful praise, for Christ has risen triumphant over sin and hell.

16. The first Sunday after Easter is called Low Sunday; in ancient times the Catechumens, that were baptized on Holy Saturday, were wont to wear up to this day the white robes that were put on them at their baptism.

After Easter come the Rogation-days, or days of prayer, when the Church calls upon her children to pray for preservation from evil, for the attainment of all things necessary for their spiritual and temporal welfare, but especially for the blessing of God on the fruits of the earth.

17. Forty days after Easter the Ascension of Christ into heaven is celebrated, and another interval of ten days ushers in the feast of Pentecost. It commemorates the day on which, in accordance with the promise of Christ, the Holy Ghost came in the form of fiery tongues and sat upon His apostles, filling them with courage and wisdom, and power and strength, to go forth to teach and convert the world. With this first Pentecost began the abiding presence of the Holy Ghost in the Church, a presence that has never ceased, and never will cease till time shall be no more, because Christ promised that the Holy Ghost should forever abide with His Church and teach her all truth.

18. The Sunday following Pentecost is Trinity Sunday, and with it begins the third part of the Ecclesiastical Year. On this day the Church honors, in an especial manner, the mystery of the Most Blessed Trinity, three Divine Persons in one God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

19. Thursday in the first week after Trinity Sunday is that great feast of love, Corpus Christi, on which we celebrate the bodily presence of Christ in His Church. It was not enough for Christ to die for the world, but, as a new and wonderful proof of His love, He yet remains on earth, even after His ascension into heaven. On Holy Thursday the Church celebrated the institution of the Blessed Sacrament, but that was a joy mingled with the sorrows of Holy Week.

20. Another and more fitting time was needed, when the Christian heart could give itself to holiest joy and bound-less praise of Him who, through love for man, lives upon our altars. Hence the feast of Corpus Christi, or "the body of Christ," was instituted.

21. Besides these greater feasts that speak to us of God, His nature, and His works, there are others that tell us of His mother. Such are: the Immaculate Conception, to remind us that the Blessed Virgin Mary, through the merits of her divine Son, was preserved free from guilt of original sin; the Annunciation, to remind us how, more than eighteen hundred years ago, the angel Gabriel was sent by God to Mary, the humble virgin of Nazareth, to announce to her that she had been chosen of all the daughters of Eve, as alone worthy to be the mother of the long-looked-for Redeemer; and the Assumption, to recall to our minds that when, in obedience to the decree of God, the Blessed Virgin died, she was immediately raised to life again, and in triumph carried up by the angels into heaven, where, body and soul united, she is and will be for eternity.

22. There are also the lesser feats of the Saints, as those of Peter and Paul, and John, and other apostles, together with those of that heroic band of martyrs and confessors who have adorned the history of the Church from the beginning even to our own times. All these minor festivals end and are included in the glorious feast of All Saints, on which are gathered together all Christian heroes, the known and the unknown, that none may pass without their due share of praise. But as the Church forgets none of her children, she adds the feast of All Souls, on which we pray for the dead detained in Purgatory, that they may soon be free from their sufferings.

23. All Souls' Day closes the Ecclesiastical Year, but it begins again with Advent, followed by that round of feasts and joys that tell us of another year of hopes and sorrows. Besides these feasts there are the Sunday obligations of rest and worship, when the Holy Sacrifice is offered, the Scriptures are read, and the people instructed.

24. The Ember-days, which are the Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays immediately after the first Sunday of Lent, Pentecost, September 14th, and the third Sunday of Advent, are days of fasting and of abstinence. According to Pope St. Leo, the object of this fast is that we may purify our souls and do penance as we begin each quarter of the year.

25. It is not enough for us to know these feasts and fasts, but we must keep them, as the Church commands; for when we obey her we obey the voice of God, and may then hope to share with Him the never-ending joys of heaven.

Review Questions

Why has the Church appointed certain religious feasts which must be kept?
Into how many parts is the Ecclesiastical year divided?
Explain the meaning of Advent.
Why is the priest permitted to say three masses on Christmas?
When is the feast of the first martyr celebrated?
What reminders do the feasts of the Circumcision and Epiphany carry with them?
When does the feast of Candlemas occur?
What are fast days? Days of abstinence?
When does Lent begin and what significance does it hold?
Why are crucifixes and pictures covered on Passion Sunday?
Explain briefly the significance of those days which collectively comprise Holy Week.
What important event is commemorated on Holy Thursday?
Why is the Easter season a joyful one?
What is the first Sunday after Easter called?
What are Rogation days?
What feast is celebrated 40 days after Easter?
What does the Church honor on Trinity Sunday?
What do we celebrate on the feast of Corpus Christi?
What two important feasts are dedicated to the Blessed Virgin?
On what feast does the Church remember all her Christian heroes?
What day does she set aside for souls detained in Purgatory?
What day closes the Ecclesiastical year? What are Ember days?

Holy Days of Obligation in the United States.

Date  Holy Days
    All the Sundays of the Year.
Aug. 15.   The Assumption.
Jan. 1.   The Circumcision.
Nov. 1.   All Saints.
Easter+40   Ascension Day.
Dec. 8.   The Immaculate Conception.
Dec. 25.   Christmas Day.