Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Palm Sunday Graces in the Urgent Care


A few days before Palm Sunday, I injured my left shoulder while exercising. By Saturday night, the pain was so bad that I could barely sleep, so on Sunday morning I called the consulting nurse, who recommended urgent care. Julie, my wife, took me in, early in the morning. This was not how I had hoped to start Holy Week. "Lord," I thought, "what more will you take away from me?" For over 20 years, the liturgies of Holy Week had been the focal point of the year for me. But this time, thanks to the virus, they were taken away. The liturgies, the celebrations, the family gatherings - all taken away. "And now, Lord," I thought, "will you take away the use and comfort of my body too?"

But then I thought, during Holy Week, we especially reflect on the suffering of Christ - his suffering for us. The best way to enter into Holy Week is to unite our suffering with his. Suffering has tremendous spiritual value. It is through suffering that we die to self and learn to love with a pure heart. We can also offer the spiritual value of our suffering up for others, as Christ offered up his suffering for us. Feeling completely miserable at the start of my Holy Week, I decided to offer up my suffering for healing in our families, for healing in the world. I added, "Lord, thank you for deeming me worthy to suffer for you."

Urgent care felt like a ghost town. I was told that there were other patients there, but I could see only medical staff. Julie had to stay in the waiting room, while I was escorted in. I was examined and X-rayed in a relatively short amount of time. As I waited for the doctor's diagnosis alone in an urgent care room, wearing a gown I could not tie in the back because of my bad arm, and an N95 mask that made breathing really hard, I continued to feel thoroughly miserable, but I kept offering up my suffering, and I focused on praying the Rosary.

When the doctor came, he ruled out major injuries, diagnosed the problem as an inflamed muscle, and prescribed some medications, as well as an at-home care routine. I was soon able to rejoin my wife in the waiting room. She was watching a livestream on her phone - the Palm Sunday Mass from St. Stephen the Martyr in Renton, the parish she attends. (I work at a different parish and I usually go to Mass there.)

We went over to the pharmacy, where, as we waited, I joined her in watching the Mass. The few others also waiting at the pharmacy, appropriately distanced from each other, didn't seem to mind that we had the volume on. I was able to see the Eucharistic Prayer. I prayed the Our Father with Julie. We exchanged the sign of peace through our obtrusive masks. We made Spiritual Communion together. In between these moments, I also picked up my medication. No one seemed to mind that even after picking up the prescription, we just stayed sitting there, watching the Mass.

Again, back on Ash Wednesday, this was not how I would have envisioned the start of my Holy Week. But the grace of God could still come to us through that small iPhone screen, and through the prayers the two of us made, gathered in our Lord's name in that pharmacy waiting room. Christ still found us. The Holy Spirit still entered our hearts. And as I made my Spiritual Communion, while holding in my hands a small bag containing medicine for my body, I knew I was receiving much more important medicine - medicine for the soul.



Photo Credit: Top photo: At the urgent care with Julie. Bottom photo: Our Palm Sunday display in quarantine. By Zoltan Abraham (c) 2020.

How to Lead a Prayer Meeting over Zoom



With most of our parishioners in quarantine, it is crucial that we reach out digitally to connect our community. In my role as Pastoral Assistant for Adult Faith Formation at a Catholic parish, I have used the Zoom app to facilitate RCIA, Bible Study, Book Club, Small Church Community meetings, and lots of prayer sessions. We have prayed together the Rosary, the Seven Sorrows Rosary, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, the Angelus, and the Regina Caeli. In this post, I would like to offer some suggestions for leading prayer over Zoom, on the basis of my experience.


Prepare using the following steps:

● To begin, familiarize yourself with the software. Do a practice session or two with a friend or colleague to get the hang of using the app, including the security features and the various ways that people can log in.

● Send out an invitation with detailed instructions for how to access the Zoom session. Let them know of the different ways they can participate, but emphasize that logging in through a laptop or tablet provides the best experience. Remind them that Zoom is a video conferencing software, so they and their immediate surroundings will be seen. (However, there is a way to add a digital background, for those who do not want to use their own home as a backdrop.) Also advise them that the Zoom application picks up ambient sounds, so any side conversations or background noises are likely to be heard.

● In your invitation, send out any prayer materials that you would want the participants to use during the session. Do not wait to give these out over the chat feature once the meeting has started, because some of the participants will not be able to access chat messages easily or at all given their device and their mode of logging in.

● Offer technical support. Many of your prospective participants will not be very tech-savvy. The idea of Zoom might be intimidating for them. However, luckily, Zoom is very easy to learn, even for those with very little mastery of technology. One way you can help is offer to walk people through setting up Zoom on their device. You could schedule individual practice sessions, where you guide them through the set-up over the phone, until they are able to log in to the session.

● You might run into a situation where someone has a video connection through a computer and can hear everything on their end, but might have no built in or external microphone through which they can speak to the group. In a case like this, the workaround is for them to establish the video connection, mute the audio on their computer, and then call in through one of the phone numbers associated with the session for the audio participation. In this situation, it is essential that they turn off the sound on their computer, otherwise you will get an echoing effect.

● If you are planning on repeated meetings, set up a distribution list through which you can send out the login information for your session. Even if the login information is the same as before, some participants will not be able to find your prior email and will need a new invite every time.

● Before the meeting, set up a nice, prayerful background for yourself or select an appropriate digital background. Make sure others who might be living in the same space know of your session, so they will not interrupt. Have everything near that you might need within easy reach, so you don't have to get up during the session, including, depending on the session you are leading, your Rosary, prayer guides, Bible, water, coffee, etc. I know from personal experience that it is easy to forget even the most basic and most frequently repeated prayers while leading a group, so I make sure that I have the text of all the prayers in front of me, including basic ones such as the Our Father and the Hail Mary.

● As far as possible, use a laptop to facilitate the meeting in order to have more options and control as you facilitate. Open any websites you might need, either on your laptop or on your phone. Open the various platforms through which people communicate with you, and have your phone in front of you. People might send you last minute messages asking for help to log in.


Start:

● Say a brief prayer before you start the session.

● Start the meeting on time.

● Welcome people by name as they log in.

● If some participants do not have video capability, read off the names of all the participants.

● Set the Zoom app to gallery view, which provides the best way to oversee the meeting. Encourage others to select gallery view as well.

● Click on the icon for managing participants, which will bring up a list of all those in the session as a sidebar on the right hand side. Having the list of participants displayed will help you later in managing the session.

● If someone has video capability but doesn't know how to turn on their video feed, you can manually send that person a video request, which can help them turn it on more easily.

● Some participants will require a certain amount of technical support as they are logging in, in order to fix some glitches or errors. Use your best judgment as to how much technical support you want to provide in the moment. On the one hand, you want to be inclusive. On the other hand, you don't want to hold the meeting up for too long to solve one person's problems. You might need to suggest politely that you can help the person in question troubleshoot the problem at a later time, after the session.


Check-in:

● Start your meeting with a check-in. I ask the participants the following questions: How are you doing spiritually, psychologically, and physically? What would you like us to pray for? Depending on the situation, I will add other questions, like: What did you do to celebrate Easter in your home? Many people are very lonely during this time of quarantine, and they need a forum to talk about themselves, especially their spiritual life. Do not begrudge participants the time it takes for everyone to check in. For many of them these few minutes might be the highlight of their whole day.

● I find it best for me to call on each participant according to the the order in which everyone appears on my screen. However, sometimes the order can shift a little, because Zoom puts people with a video feed first, then those with audio but no video turned on, and last those who are calling in through a phone connection, so if someone turns off their video even for a brief time, their position in the order of participants will change. To make sure that I didn't miss anyone, I ask at the end of the sharing if everyone has had a chance to share. I always share last myself.


Divide Up the Prayer:

● Zoom does not lend itself to the traditional call and response style of prayer used in the Catholic Church and many other communities. For example, when praying the Rosary, we are accustomed to one person saying the first half of each prayer, and the others responding together. This will simply not work in Zoom, because the app cuts back and forth among the speakers, and if several people are speaking at once, we end up with a jumble of voices.

● The best is to divide up the prayer into sections and have each person say the words for that entire section. For example, when we pray the Rosary, I pray the introductory prayers and the closing prayers, and I read the reflection before each mystery. Then others take turns praying an entire decade, saying all of the prayers of the decade, all the way through. The rest of us either pray in silence or we mute ourselves so that we can say the response out loud, without creating a jumble of sounds.

● At this point, you can also put some prayer materials in the chat, but remember the caveat mentioned above, that not all participants will be able to access chat messages.


Monitor:

● As the prayer leader, it is very important for you to stay focused on everything happening in the session. Also, since most, if not all, of the participants can see your face, you should appear attentive.

● One way to manage audio as the prayer starts is to mute the whole group, and then unmute those who are about to pray. This approach is especially helpful if you have a lot of participants, with a lot of background noise. However, some people dislike being muted, but they are very good about remaining silent, so it's not an issue if they are not muted. Use your best judgment for each meeting as to whether or not you need to mute the whole group, except for the speaker.

● In any case, if not everyone is muted, be ready to mute people individually if their background suddenly becomes noisy, or they start having a side conversation with someone off screen at their location, or they start saying the prayers out loud when someone else is leading. You can always unmute them later.

● Some people might keep unmuting themselves, but you can block this by using the setting that prevents participants from unmuting, leaving that to the host.

● Make sure people are unmuted when they start their section, either by unmuting them yourself or gently reminding them to unmute.

● When the prayer time is over, unmute everyone so there can be some less structured conversation before people log off.

● During the session, keep an eye on the channels of communication through which people usually get in touch with you. Someone who has not yet logged in might send you a message five minutes in, asking for the link to the session. Or someone might text you to say they cannot participate but would like the group to pray for a specific intention.

● As mentioned above, sometimes people forget even the most basic prayers when praying in front of others. As people are praying, be prepared to help someone out if they forget how to say a given prayer. Don't embarrass them. Let them know that it has happened to you too.

● Sometimes the person leading at the moment develops technical difficulties or has to leave because of a problem they need to deal with on their end. Be prepared to jump in to finish off the section.

● If someone has to leave before the session is over, thank them for participating for as long as they could. If they just disappear suddenly, try to message them later to check in with them, just to see if everything is okay.

● If an emergency happens on your end, and you need to step away for a moment, ask someone familiar with the group process to take over for you for a minute. Just remember that they won't have the same controls over the Zoom application as you in your role as the host.


Announcements:

Before you end the meeting, take a moment to make announcements about upcoming opportunities that might be relevant to your group. Invite others to make similar announcements too.


Farewell:

Thank everyone for participating and say good-bye. I usually say something along the lines of: "Thank you all for coming. God bless you. See you next time!" I give people some time to say good-bye. In these last moments, everyone is talking at the same time, with the inevitable jumble of sounds, but it is okay. After waiting a few moments, I click the option for ending the meeting, and we are done.


Follow-up:

After the meeting, follow-up with any participants you offered to help with technical difficulties. If you promised to send out some information or certain resources, make sure you do so. If someone had to leave abruptly, reach out to them. If someone seemed especially distressed, get in touch to see if they need any help. Continue your prayer by praying for all the participants in your session.


Photo Credit: Our Lady over the Earth. Source unknown. This image has circulated widely on the Internet.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Holy Week in Quarantine: How to Celebrate the Holiest Season of the Church in Our Homes



The world is about to enter the most surreal Holy Week in living memory. Public Masses are cancelled. Catholic Churches are closed, some entirely, some open only for private prayer for a few hours. But being in quarantine does not mean that we cannot enter into the spirit of Holy Week. Below are some practical suggestions for observing Holy Week in the home.

Livestream: As far as possible, livestream the liturgies of Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. So many churches are livestreaming now, that you will have many to pick from, but preferably watch the broadcast offered by your home parish or diocese or the one from the Vatican. Keep all of these days holy. Don't do any menial work. Don't engage in any form of entertainment that would contradict the spirit of these days. Make sure to observe the fast and abstinence on Good Friday. Traditional, Holy Saturday was also kept as a day of fasting until the Easter Vigil, so you should consider making this a day of self-denial too. Dress up for watching the livestreams as if you were attending the liturgies in person. Participate as fully as you can by singing, saying the responses, and doing the physical gestures.

At Communion time, make an act of Spiritual Communion using the beloved prayer by St. Alphonsus Liguori:

My Jesus, I believe that you are present in the most holy Eucharist. I love you above all things, and I desire to receive you into my soul. Since I cannot at this moment receive you sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace you as if you were already there and unite myself wholly to you. Never permit me to be separated from you. Amen

If for some reason you are not able to livestream the liturgies, I would still encourage you to set aside a special time each day for Spiritual Communion. You may wish to follow my Guide to Spiritual Communion in the Home as you do so.

Pray: As we celebrate the holiest time of the year quarantined in our homes, set extra time aside for prayer. Pray the Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet every day. Read the Scriptures. Pray especially for the Church to emerge stronger from this time of trial, pray for clergy who are shepherding us through this crisis, for the faithful longing for the sacraments, for the elect and candidates who have been preparing to join the Church at Easter but who will have to wait until a future time.

Making Each Day Special: Unfortunately most of the liturgies that will be livestreamed will not be showing some of the special aspects of the Holy Week liturgies. So perhaps we can recreate some of these special liturgical elements in our homes as best we can. Below are some suggestions for how we can do so, as well as some other ways we can enter into the spirit of Holy Week. Please remember that these suggestion are not meant to be in place of watching the livestreamed liturgies and making a Spiritual Communion, but in addition to them.

Palm Sunday: Place a branch over your door or somewhere prominent on the front of your house. If you don't have palm branches at home, use any branch you can find. Since you can't participate in a procession with palm branches, read the first Gospel of Palm Sunday out loud, then have a small procession with branches of any kind inside your home, while listening to Hosanna songs from YouTube (see suggestions below).

Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of Holy Week: If you are able to make a grocery run on one of these days, use it to pick up food and drink for your Easter celebration too. If you don't have any Easter decorations, you could most likely pick some up during the grocery run. Or you could use the first days of holy week to make Easter decorations to be displayed on Easter Sunday. Especially if you have kids, quarantine can be a good opportunity for crafts.

The beginning of Holy Week is also a great time to dye Easter eggs. Easter eggs may seem like a secular accretion, but they have Catholic roots. The early Church saw hardboiled eggs as a symbol of the Resurrection, in that the egg coming out of the shell can metaphorically point toward Christ coming out of the tomb. The custom of dying Easter eggs goes back to the Middle Ages, when our Catholic forebearers maintained an extremely strict diet, in which they gave up all animal products, including eggs. For most of Lent, they didn't process the eggs their chickens laid, but as they got closer to Easter, they could hard boil the eggs and set them aside for eating after the Lenten fast was over. During this time of anticipation, they started decorating the eggs, eventually giving rise of a whole new artform.

Holy Thursday: Since the foot washing ceremony is likely to be omitted from the livestreamed liturgies, we can do our own foot washing at home. Married couples could wash each other's feet. Parents could wash their children's feet and vice versa. Not everyone feels comfortable washing someone else's feet, and that is fine. Only those who want to should take part. Also, this foot washing doesn't have to be with soap and abundant water. It can be done symbolically, like at church, by pouring a little bit of water and then toweling it off.

Holy Thursday Mass is also traditionally followed by Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Though the Holy Thursday Adoration will not be available, many churches may still be open for private prayer. If possible, try to make it to a Catholic Church for private prayer in front of the Tabernacle (while observing the social distancing requirements of the area where you live). If you cannot go to a church, look for livestreamed Adoration on the Internet, which is available on various websites (see some suggestions below). Alternatively, spend some time in quiet meditation uniting yourself with our Lord in the Eucharist. Pray the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary by yourself or with your family.

Good Friday: Since we cannot participate in the Adoration of the Holy Cross at church, we can do so in our home. Create a beautiful prayer table in your home, and place the most prominent crucifix you have in the middle. Pray the Stations of the Cross, and then take turns making acts of reverence toward the crucifix.

Holy Saturday: We will not be able to experience the Easter fire and praying in a sea of lit tapers at church this year. But we can try to approximate the experience at home. Gather all the candles you have, whether real or electrical, and spread them out in your living-room in places where you can safely light them. Prepare a home altar in this room. A table, a stand, the top of a dresser, or some other suitable surface works well. Use a nice tablecloth and incorporate some or all of the following: Your Bible, a crucifix, a rosary, sacred pictures and statues, holy water, blessed salt, candles, incense burner, flowers or potted plants, and other appropriate natural objects that can serve as decoration.

Pick one candle that could serve as your Easter candle. If you have a safe place for a fire (in your yard or in your fireplace) light a fire and gather around it. Say some prayers, either from the text of the Mass, or some other prayers, like the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary. Light your Easter candle from this fire. Then move to your living-room (make sure any outdoor fires are safely extinguished first), and light all the candles you have placed there. Turn off any other lights. Listen to a recording of the Exultet, the Easter Proclamation, from YouTube (see some suggestions below).

Easter Sunday: Put out all your Easter decorations. Display the Easter Eggs you dyed too. Make a festive meal and bring out your best china. Dress in your finest clothes, as if you were going to Easter Mass. During the day listen to alleluia songs (see some suggestions below).

Easter Week: The week of Easter, known in the Church as the Octave of Easter, has traditionally been a time of ongoing celebration. Unfortunately, secular culture has crowded out the sense of the sacred from Easter week. But being in quarantine is a great time to reclaim the holiness of this season. During Easter week, continue to livestream Mass each day. Continue to set aside extra time for prayer, especially the Rosary. Keep using your best china and make your meals as festive as possible.

In fact, the Easter Season continues for seven weeks. Please see my article Seven Weeks of Easter: Suggestions for a Catholic Celebration of Eastertide for how you can continue the festivities until Pentecost.

Post Pictures on Social Media: Take pictures of your celebrations, your decorations, your festive meals, and of your family in your Easter best and post the pictures on social media. Let the world know that you are still celebrating, despite everything. If your parish has social media accounts, try tagging them. You could also ask the people maintaining the parish social media profiles to post pictures sent in by parishioners of their celebrations or to create a hashtag to use for tagging.

Support Your Parish Financially: You might say that this particular suggestion is self-serving because I work for a parish. But the reality is that many churches rely heavily on the Easter donations to meet their financial obligations. During this time of quarantine, many parishes are doing all they can to reach out to their parishioners through digital media, such as livestreamed Masses and Zoom meetings. Priests are also making themselves available for Confession and anointing of the sick to the extent they are allowed by the local quarantine laws in effect. Consider donating to your parish electronically or by mailing in your Easter donation. Consider continuing regular donations, since your parish still has bills to pay.

As this unprecedented time of Easter unfolds, let us pray for one another, and let us entrust ourselves to our Holy Mother, the Queen of Peace.


Sources:

The following article and podcast served as the inspiration for this post:

A beautiful idea for Palm Sunday

How to Do Digital Easter by Divine Renovation


Resources:

Some Hosanna Music from YouTube (there is much more!):

Hosanna in the Highest

Sing Hosanna - Give Me Oil In My Lamp

Hosanna - A Palm Sunday Song


Online Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration


The Exultet in Latin

The Exultet in English


Alleluia Music from YouTube (there is much more!):

Sing Hallelujah

Händel Messiah - Hallelujah Chorus

Alleluia - Mormon Tabernacle Choir


Photo Credit: Christ the Redeemer Statue in Brazil lit up with the flags of the nations as a part of prayers for deliverance from the coronavirus. Photographer unknown. Images such as this are circulating on the Interent.


Friday, November 29, 2019

Otherwordly Peace and Vibrant Faith Characterize Medjugorje

I recently led a pilgrimage to Medjugorje with 30 participants. In Medjugorje, the Virgin Mary is known as the Kraljica Mira - or the Queen of Peace. "Peace" is the word I would most use to characterize Medjugorje. However, the word falls short, because human language cannot express the deep, all-pervading sense of peace that reigns in that town.

The life of Medjugorje revolves entirely around Catholic sacraments and devotions. Daily Mass is held in multiple languages, including English, Polish, Italian, French, and German. At the evening international Mass, simultaneous translation is provided in various languages via radio. The multitudes of pilgrim groups also say Mass in their own languages. The two main venues for the liturgies are St. James Church in the center of town and the open air chapel behind the church. The church building is not adequate to hold the crush of people seeking to participate, so most Masses are packed beyond capacity, with not even standing room left. The open air seating can hold about 5,000 people, and the seats are often filled.

5,000 people for just one of the many daily Masses... 5,000 people praying the Rosary together on a weeknight... 5,000 people worshipping together in a guided Holy Hour for Adoration... 5,000 pilgrims venerating the Holy Cross in unison on a Friday... Multitudes of priests sit for hours to hear the confessions for pilgrims in various languages. In fact, Medjugorje is know as the Confession capital of the world. What is more, many of the pilgrims here are very young, in contrast to other pilgrimages sites I have visited, like Lourdes and Fatima, where the pilgrims tend to be much older.

At the edge of town stands what the locals call Apparition Hill. According to the visionaries, it was on this hill that the Blessed Virgin Mary started appearing in 1981. Today, a statue of the Queen of Peace, erected by the Korean Catholic community, marks the spot where the first seven apparitions are said to have occurred. The Vatican Commission tasked with examining the Medjugorje phenomenon has recently recommended that the Church approve the first seven apparitions as authentic, while continuing to study the claims of the ongoing apparitions.

Pilgrims ascend Apparition Hill day and night, in groups or alone, to pray. The hill is covered with jagged rocks and prickly bushes, but no path has been made, except by the feet of the 40 million or so pilgrims who have climbed to the spot where the statue of the Queen of Peace stands today. The locals have erected panels depicting the mysteries of the Rosary to aid the pilgrims in their prayers. Some lights have also been added to help pilgrims with their nighttime prayer walks. Day and night, the Rosary, along with many other prayers, is being said on this hill - and elsewhere too in Medjugorje. In fact, the only challenge in praying the Rosary in public in this town is that your prayer is likely to get mixed up with the prayers of two or three other groups who might also be praying out loud near you.

Multitudes of pilgrims also ascend Cross Mountain, where, on a much higher spot, stands a concrete cross that the locals built back in the 1930's. Today, the cross is illuminated at night, and it is the most prominent landmark in the area. As many have remarked, the arrangement of the cross versus the statue on Apparition Hill is very much consistent with Marian theology. Mary is prominent, but she is not the most prominent - she points to the Holy Cross, which is the source of our salvation.

As on Apparition Hill, no path has been made on Cross Mountain, except by the feet of the pilgrims. Multitudes climb the steep mountain, ascending up the harsh rocks amid the prickly bushes. Many do so barefoot as an extra penance. Panels depicting the Stations of the Cross have been placed along the way to aid the pilgrims in their prayer. Thousands upon thousands pray the Stations as they make their way up toward the great cross above.

We do not know what the ultimate decision of the Catholic Church will be with regard to Medjugorje. We certainly cannot expect the Church to give full approval to the phenomenon while there are still claims of ongoing visions by the visionaries. Three of the six claim to see the Virgin Mary daily. The other three claim to see her on some specific dates designated by her. If the Church were to issue a fully positive ruling on Medjugorje, she could only do so after the claims of the visions have stopped and everything can be investigated as a historical event, rather than as an ongoing phenomenon. However, I think it is significant that after 38 years, the Vatican has not issued a negative ruling regarding the site. By contrast, Rome has not hesitated to condemn some other claims of ongoing apparitions in other parts of the world.

Recently, the Vatican has also authorized official parish and diocesan pilgrimages to the site. An annual youth festival is held every year at the end of July in Medjugorje, attracting about 70,000 youths from around the world. This past summer, senior Vatican officials attended the festival and participated in the prayers. Under the guidance of Archbishop Henryk Hoser, who serves as the Apostolic Visitor to Medjugorje, the Vatican is also making plans to expand the religious infrastructure of the town to accommodate pilgrims better. Medjugorje badly needs a covered church space that can accommodate well over 5,000 people at a time.

Whatever, the final decision of the Church will be with regard to the claims of apparitions in Medjugorje, one thing seems clear. The Catholic faith is truly alive here. Millions have had their hearts set on fire for Christ through the experience of Medjugorje. Multitudes have been converted to the Catholic faith here - including my wife, Julie. Many Catholics have felt their first call to religious life or the priesthood in Medjugorje. A number of well-documented physical healings have also taken place.

According to the visionaries of Medjugorje, the Virgin Mary has asked us to commit to five spiritual practices. These are usually called the Five Stones, after the five stones that David had in order to fight Goliath. The Five Stones are: 1) Prayer: Pray from the heart, especially the daily recitation of the Rosary. 2) Eucharist: Attend Mass frequently, preferably daily. Spend time with our Lord in Adoration as often as possible. 3) Fasting: Fast on Wednesdays and Fridays, preferably on bread and water only. 4) Confession: Go to Confession once a month. 5) The Holy Bible: Read the Scriptures daily.

Regardless of the authenticity of the apparitions of Medjugorje, the Five Stones constitute sound advice. These practices are at the very heart of Catholic spiritual life. Having spent a week in Medjugorje, I feel a renewed desire to commit to these practices, and I will encourage my fellow pilgrims to do the same.

Mary, Queen of Peace, pray for us!

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Help Change the Internet with the Sacred Heart Social Media Challenge


June is the month of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, since the Feast of the Sacred Heart, held 19 days after Pentecost on a Friday, almost always falls in the month of June. Additionally, in the post-Vatican II calendar, the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is observed the next day, on a Saturday.

In order to celebrate June as the month the Sacred Heart, I would recommend the following:

1) Prominently display images of the Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart in your home. Highlight them with flowers and candles. You can use plastic flowers and electric votive lights, if real flowers and live candles are not practical.

2) Consecrate yourself to the Sacred Heart and to the Immaculate Heart every day during June. Alternatively, you could consecrate yourself to the Sacred Heart on odd days of the month and to the Immaculate Heart on even days.

Prayer of Consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Prayer of Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Blessed Virgin Mary.

3) Formally enthrone the Sacred Heart in your home. Enthronement to the Sacred Heart brings your home and family under the authority of Christ and brings with it an outpouring of graces for your family.

Learn more about Enthronement to the Sacred Heart.

4) Spread awareness about the Sacred Heart by taking part in the Sacred Heart Social Media Challenge. Every day of June, post a different picture of the Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart on your various social media platforms. Alternatively, you could post a picture of the Sacred Heart on odd days of the month and a picture of the Immaculate Heart of Mary on even days.

5) For a bit of fun, eat heart-shaped sweets during the month of June. If you followed my suggestion from my Valentine's Day post, you froze heart-shaped candies in February, which you can unfreeze now. Or you can just bake heart-shaped cookies or other pastries. Have some creative fun and celebrate.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

What Catholics Can Learn from the Game of Thrones


Game of Thrones has been the biggest pop culture phenomenon in recent memory. The HBO TV series, based on the bestselling novels A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin, captivated the imagination of audiences throughout the world for the better part of a decade. Regrettably, however, Game of Thrones is also a profoundly un-Christian story. Beyond the pervasive vulgarity, the gratuitous and often deeply disturbing sex, and the recurring shock value horror violence, the story presents a relentlessly pessimistic, cynical, even nihilistic view of life, of human nature, and of the world we inhabit. The supernatural world, moreover, as envisioned by the show, is at best amoral, but, one might say, is perhaps even more cruel than the world of humans and certainly offers no hope after the harsh vicissitudes of earthly existence. In fact, in the final episode, the show point blank denies the existence of an afterlife and suggests that the best humans can hope for beyond death is oblivion.

And yet, I must confess that I have spent many hours reading the books, watching the TV show, following online commentaries, and discussing the story with friends. Why? Because the story, for the most part, has been a well-told tale, narrated with great skill and compelling strength. Stories draw people in. The Game of Thrones phenomenon illustrates the immense power of a well-crafted narrative. Tyrion, one of the main characters of the story, puts it well in the grand finale of the show: "What unites people? Armies? Gold? Flags?... Stories. There is nothing in the world more powerful than a good story. Nothing can stop it. No enemy can defeat it." At the heart of the worldwide popularity of Game of Thrones was the strength of the initial narrative structure. As fans felt that the quality of the storytelling declined over time, they complained bitterly. In fact, over one million fans signed a petition for HBO to remake the final season of the show, because they felt dissatisfied with the conclusion. Such is the power of narratives.

As a Catholic observer of the Game of Thrones phenomenon, I have always had a love-hate relationship with the story. I have loved the often masterful telling of the tale – but I have hated the forceful presentation of values and ideas so deeply contrary to my own. How, one might ask, can the Catholic Church counter such a popular cultural phenomenon? The answer, I think, is articulated in another movie, the classic film Ben-Hur, where Messala states: "You ask how to fight an idea. Well, I'll tell you how: with another idea."

The Catholic Church possesses the greatest story ever told, the story of Christ. For centuries, we have proclaimed this story boldly, persuading much of the world of its truth. Over the centuries, our story has inspired some of the greatest creative talents of humanity – composers, artists, architects, poets, and writers. Western Civilization was built upon the Catholic narrative and the Catholic culture that arose from that powerful story.

But in recent decades, our narrative fervor has abated. We seem little interested today in suffusing the broader culture with our story. Many of our own theologians have made a career out of doubting and deconstructing our own narrative. Our church art, moreover, has, all too often, become abstract and grotesque, possessing none of the beauty through which the sacred art of past generations could lift the faithful's soul up to God. Likewise, our church buildings, whose beauty once reflected the splendor of God's glory, now often feel more like meeting halls or parking garages than sacred spaces where we can encounter the Divine. Our once ethereal church music has, very often, been replaced with bland melodies, with even more bland lyrics, that tell very little of our magnificent story.

We no longer have a Catholic culture built upon our narrative. Instead, our lives are suffused by the culture of the world. The fact that a post-Christian story written by the ex-Catholic George R.R. Martin has resonated so powerfully with our increasingly post-Christian society is an apt metaphor for how far our culture has fallen from its foundations and for how far we as Catholics have strayed from the proclamation of our own story.

But it need not be so. We Catholics need only to remember our history – we need only to recall that we do indeed possess the greatest story ever told. We need to keep telling that story to ourselves, to each other, to new generations, and to the whole world. Let us reclaim our zeal for proclaiming the story of Christ. Let us create new art, architecture, music, poetry, and books that express the pathos, beauty, magnificence, and profound hope of our story.

Let us also foster the crafting of fictional narratives rooted in the power of our Catholic story. The immense popularity of The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien shows the impact that Catholic fiction can have upon the world. Let us foster the Catholic novel, supporting and encouraging Catholic writers, young and old. Let us invest in Catholic filmmaking. The great success of recent Christian films shows the hunger our culture has for wholesome storytelling. Let us respond by creating Catholic movies to engage our society.

The story that can change hearts, that can save souls, that can transform the world has been entrusted to us. We must, therefore, proclaim it with fidelity, courage, enthusiasm, and love.


Photo Credit: Promotional photo for the Game of Thrones series.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Seven Weeks of Easter: Suggestions for a Catholic Celebration of Eastertide


The Catholic Church celebrates Easter for seven weeks, all the way from Holy Saturday to Pentecost. Long after the discounted chocolate eggs and bunnies have disappeared from the store shelves, Catholics still sing Easter songs and reflect on Easter-themed readings at Mass. But as the popular culture quickly moves on from Easter, it's tempting for Catholics to do the same in their everyday lives, doing nothing in particular to mark the season. So let us look at how we can make Eastertide a period of special celebration, not just for one day, but for seven full weeks.

Decorations: Enrich your home with Easter decorations, but wait until Easter Sunday, or at the earliest Holy Saturday to display them, so as to preserve the Lenten atmosphere up to that point. Make sure that you include explicitly Catholic symbols in your decorations, such crosses, images of Christ, and Eucharistic symbols. Spring-themed decorations are fine in and of themselves, as a symbol of the new life we receive through the death and resurrection of Christ, but we shouldn't let spring imagery take the place of the explicitly Catholic imagery in our Catholic homes.

At the same time, some images that seem like purely natural spring motifs have deep Catholic significance. Lamb imagery symbolizes Christ as the lamb of God, who offered himself as the Paschal sacrifice. Lambs also signify the faithful, whom Christ the Good Shepherd gathers in his flock.

But what about the Easter bunny and Easter eggs? Some would argue that both of these are pagan symbols, and therefore should be shunned, but they both actually have Catholic roots. The ancients believed that bunnies could multiply through parthenogenesis, that is to say, through virgin birth, and therefore, the rabbit became a sign of virginal purity, symbolizing especially the purest woman, the Blessed Virgin Mary. Given Our Lady's special connection to the Lord, the symbol of the bunny became associated with Easter.

Easter eggs have even more ancient roots, going back to the earliest days of the Church. The hard shell of the eggs symbolized the tomb of Christ, and the egg emerging out of the shell signified the resurrection of Christ. Later, as Lenten practices became quite strict, Catholics gave up eating all animal products, including eggs from Ash Wednesday until Easter Sunday. Since at Easter they could eat eggs again, eggs became an important part of Easter celebrations, both in terms of food, but eventually also for decorations. The exquisite painting of eggs became a special form of folk art associated with Easter. Images of newly hatched chicks also tie into this symbolism of the resurrection.

Among the decorations, you could also include a Resurrection Set, an Easter equivalent of the Manger Scene. You can find some pre-made ones online, but you can build your own too. You could use rocks to represent the hill of Golgotha. Here you could place a cross or three crosses. Next to it, you could use rocks to make an empty tomb. Small statues of Christ, the Virgin Mary, angels, and some other sacred figures can depict the Resurrection narratives from the Gospels.

Make sure you leave your Easter decorations up all the way through Pentecost. Visitors might wonder why you have not yet gotten around to taking your Easter things down, but that could be a good conversation starter about the length and nature of Eastertide in the Catholic Church.

The Truth About the Easter Bunny

The Story of Mary Magdalene and the First Easter Egg

Easter Candy Centerpiece- The Empty Tomb!

Decorate Your Own Eggs: Dyeing Easter eggs is fun, especially if you have kids at home. Take some time before Easter to dye hardboiled eggs to be served up on Easter Sunday and in the following days. Add meaningful Christian symbols using paint or stickers. If you are more artistic, trying painting more elaborate designs on the eggs yourself. You can also get some beautiful painted wooden Easter eggs online or from some ethnic stores.

New Clothes: Many people indulge in new clothes and shoes before Easter. If you can, continue this tradition to get a new outfit to wear for the first time on Easter Sunday. Show your love and respect for the day by wearing something special.

Volunteer: Easter is not only the holiest time of the Church calendar, but it is also the busiest, busier than even Christmas. Every parish needs lots of volunteers for a variety of tasks: administrative and liturgical preparations, various ministers for the many different liturgies, clean-up after the crowds have gone home, etc. Contact your local parish and ask how you can help. Many hands make light work – and you are sure to have some skills that would be very useful amid all the work that needs to get done.

Triduum: The best way to enter into the liturgical celebration of Easter is to attend the Triduum liturgies of the Church. The Triduum, literally meaning three days, goes from the evening of Holy Thursday through the evening of Easter Sunday. On Holy Thursday, we commemorate the Last Supper, in the course of which Christ instituted the Eucharist. On Good Friday, we reflect on the crucifixion of Christ, through which he offered the sacrifice that reconciled humanity with God. As we pray together on Good Friday, we also remember that every Mass is a mystical participation in the sacrifice offered by Christ on the Cross. The next day, on Holy Saturday, the Easter Vigil begins our celebration of the resurrection. At the Easter Vigil, we also celebrate the full initiation of the elect through baptism, Confirmation, and First Holy Communion. Validly baptized converts from other Christian denominations are also given Confirmation and the Eucharist at this Mass.

The Triduum liturgies, when done well, are beautiful, powerful, and deeply moving. They help us enter more deeply into the mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ, the central tenets of our faith. If you have not yet been to the Triduum liturgies before, find out when they are at your local parish and make sure to attend.

Easter Sunday Mass: The Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday counts as your Easter Mass, but continue your celebration by returning on Easter Sunday too. Join the multitudes to pray together and to share the Easter joy.

There will be many newcomers, or those who only attend on Christmas and Easter. Make sure to show them hospitality and kindness. Be patient with them if they take your favorite spot or disturb you somehow with their behavior. Help them feel welcome enough to want to come back the next Sunday too. If they are acting very inappropriately, commit to praying for them daily throughout the rest of the Easter season.

Easter Food Blessing: In some parts of the Church, Catholics observe the custom of the blessing of the Easter foods. The faithful bring to church some of the food they are planning to serve at their festive Easter meal. The priest prays over all the food and blesses it. If your parish observes this custom, take advantage of it, and bring some Easter dishes to be blessed. If the food blessing is not a custom at your church, ask the priest if he would be willing to offer this blessing either on Holy Saturday or perhaps after one of the Easter Masses.

Easter Dinner: Make your Easter meal a time of special celebration. Bring out your finest china. Prepare your best dishes. Gather with family and friends if you can. If you don't have loved ones in the area or friends who could celebrate with you, look to see if perhaps there is a community brunch in the area that you could attend.

If you are able to cook, try some traditional Easter foods. If you haven't already done so, look into the culinary traditions of your cultural background and try your hand at traditional Easter foods. If your research leads you to some other attractive Easter dishes too, feel free to experiment with these as well.

Easter Candle: During the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday, the priest lights the Easter fire. From the Easter fire, he then lights the Easter candle (also known as the Paschal or Christ candle), usually a candle of massive proportions, which then is lit at different moments during the year, until a new candle is blessed at the following Easter Vigil.

To connect your personal prayer life with the liturgical life of the Church, get a white pillar candle for your home and set it up in your prayer area. If you are good with crafts, you can decorate it with symbols relating to Easter. Light this candle during your prayer time every day in the Easter season. Also, set it on your dining table and light it for dinners until Pentecost.

Octave of Easter: Easter is one of the two feasts of the Catholic liturgical year (the other one being Christmas) that transpire over eight days, hence the designation "octave," meaning eight. While the Easter season goes on for seven weeks, the feast of Easter goes on for eight days. If you can, go to Mass every day during the Octave. Go to Adoration. Have a longer prayer time at home.

Also, keep all of these days festive in your home. Continue using your best china. Make special dishes. Dress up the dining table with flowers. Or eat at out at nice places to celebrate.

Divine Mercy Sunday: St. John Paul II designated the Second Sunday of Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday, in accordance with the request of Christ given to the Church through the visions of a Polish nun, St. Faustina. On this day especially, Catholics are encouraged to reflect on God's infinite mercy for the world. Despite the increasing decay of our society, God's desire is that we experience not destruction or punishment, but his mercy. He demonstrated his mercy for us through his suffering on Good Friday. Now he wants us to be cleanses and find true union with him.

During her visions of Jesus, St. Faustina was instructed to have an image of the Divine Mercy painted. The image depicts Christ with rays of white and red light coming from his heart. Underneath is an inscription that says: "Jesus, I trust in you." If you do not already have this image displayed in your home, do so on Divine Mercy Sunday.

As you prepare for this feast day, pray the Novena to the Divine Mercy starting on Good Friday. (A novena is a set of nine prayers, prayed over nine consecutive days leading up to a feast.) On Divine Mercy Sunday, or the Saturday before, go to Confession. Through the visions of St. Faustina, Christ promised a great outpouring of graces on those who go to Confession in connection with the Divine Mercy Sunday.

The primary prayer associated with the Divine Mercy devotion is the Divine Mercy Chaplet, prayed using a regular rosary. Pray this chaplet on Divine Mercy Sunday, and consider praying it throughout the rest of Eastertide.

The Divine Mercy

Divine Mercy Novena

Divine Mercy Chaplet

Learn from Your Lent: How did you manage with your Lenten commitments? If you gave something up, were you able to stick with your plan? If you failed, use that as a learning experience. Failures in our attempts to gain a greater sense of discipline over ourselves can highlight areas in which we need to grow. If I tried to give something up and was not able to, then perhaps whatever that is has too much control over me, and I need to invest more time and energy into breaking its hold over me. Perhaps I am dealing with stress and anxiety in the wrong way, and I need a course correction. I need to reach out more for God's grace.

If you managed to break a bad habit during Lent, make sure you continue with your new sense of freedom from it during Easter. Eastertide is not a time to fall back into a bad habit you were able to give up. Likewise, if you were able to establish a new good habit during Lent, for example, praying more daily, then don't give it up now. Make it an integral part of your life and enjoy the sense of growth.

Special Meals on the Sundays of Easter: As Eastertide unfolds, make every Sunday a special day of celebration. As during the Octave of Easter, make dinner a special occasion, either by putting on a fancy meal at home or by going out to eat. On these days, gather with family and friends if you can.

Express Your Gratitude: During Eastertide, thank your priest and the many others who worked so hard to make everything happen at your parish. Priests and others involved in church work usually only hear from people when they are displeased. So be the one to give them a note of thanks. Send your pastor and his staff a card. Or send some emails of gratitude to the key people involved. Give a box of chocolates to the choir director to share with singers. Be creative.

Special Prayers: Some special prayers are associated with Eastertide. I have already talked about the Divine Mercy Chaplet. The Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary, which reflect on the glory of the resurrection, are especially meaningful to pray during the Easter season.

Also, by custom, the Regina Coeli is prayed in place of the Angelus during Easterside. Traditionally, the Angelus is prayed at 6:00am, noon and 6:00pm every day. I myself pray it when I wake up, then at noon and 6:00pm, as far as I can remember, and also right before I go to sleep. I always follow it up with the Memorare prayer. If you do not yet pray the Angelus, incorporate the Regina Coeli into your life during Eastertide, then switch to the Angelus prayer after Pentecost.

Regina Coeli Prayer

Angelus Prayer

Alleluia: During Lent, Catholics don't use the word "alleluia" at Mass or in other prayers. In fact, in some places, people actually write the word "alleluia" on a scroll, which they then bury until Easter, when the alleluia returns to our prayers. If you followed my Lenten suggestions, you may have done something to this effect yourself. If so, dig up the alleluia on Easter Sunday. But if you didn't, you can still celebrate the return of alleluia. In your daily prayers, sing some alleluia songs during Eastertide. If you are not much for singing, you can find many such songs on YouTube, which you can play during your prayer time or at other times of the day.

Connect with the Sacraments: As discussed above, the Church celebrates the three Sacraments of Initiation – Baptism, Confirmation, and First Holy Communion, during the Easter Vigil. Over the course of the Easter season, reflect on how these sacraments have shaped your life.

In baptism, we are called to be priest, prophet, and king. An entire book could be written on this sense of vocation. I offer here an article from Word on Fire:

Priests, Prophets, Kings by Bishop Robert Baron

In Confirmation, we receive the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit, which produce within us twelve fruits. During Eastertide, contemplate how these gifts and fruits are manifested in your life now, and pray for those you would like to see more clearly manifested in how you live your life.

Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit

7 Gifts and 12 Fruits Of The Holy Spirit That Sanctify Us And Make Us Into Other Christs

Attend Mass as often as you can during Eastertide. Make a habit of going to Adoration. If your local church does not have Adoration, respectfully inquire if that might be a possibility. If you have no access to formal Adoration, try to find a church where you can pray before the tabernacle. During your quiet reflection time, consider reading old spiritual book The Imitation of Christ, especially the meditations on the Eucharist.

Hopefully, as suggested, you had the chance to go to Confession at least once during the Lenten season. Build on that by going to Confession again during Eastertide, preferably during each month spanned by the season. Work on getting into the habit of going at least once a month.

As during Eastertide, pray for all those who are sick and are in need of healing. Pray also for the priesthood, especially in this time of crisis, when the healing and restoration of the priesthood is so badly needed. Pray for a priest or several priests by name. Pray also for all married couples to be able to live out their vocation to marriage, especially as our culture places more and more obstacles in the way of married life.

If you are married, focus on ways that you can enrich your marriage during Eastertide. Here some suggestions, based on ones I gave for Lent:

● Pray together every night. It is very important for married couples to spend at least a few minutes in prayer together every day. If you are not already praying together daily, make this a part of your Eastertide focus.

● Consecrate your marriage to our Blessed Mother every Saturday during Eastertide. Traditionally, Saturdays are dedicated to our Blessed Mother, because, unlike the other disciples, who despaired, she believe in the resurrection and remained filled with faith.

● Say a blessing over each other every day during Eastertide, preferably in person, but if that is not possible, from a distance. Pray to each other's guardian angel for blessings.

● If you have kids, pray a blessing over your children every day during Eastertide, preferably while they are present, but you can do so in their absence too. Consecrate your children to the protection of our Holy Mother every Saturday during Eastertide. Pray to the guardian angels of your children to help them be fully open to the love of God in their lives.

Below are some sample prayers you can use:

Prayer of Consecration to Our Lady for Couples

Most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God,
Queen of Angels, Queen of Peace,
Queen of Martyrs and of All the Saints,
Today we consecrate our marriage to you.
Guide us, guard us, help us, and protect us.
Keep us safe from all attacks of the enemy,
All evil spirits seeking to destroy us.

Dear Mother,
Guide all our thoughts, words, and actions,
So that in all things we may live out God's will in our lives,
And that at all times we may draw closer to your Divine Son,
Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Help us help each other grow in holiness, advancing each day
On the way of salvation and sanctification
So that we may join you and all the holy angels and saints
In giving glory, honor, and praise to our God
With our whole being, with all that we are.
Amen

Prayer of Consecrating Our Children to Our Lady
(Adapt as needed)

Most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God,
Queen of Angels, Queen of Peace,
Queen of Martyrs and of All the Saints,
Today I consecrate my children to you.
Guide them, guard them, help them, and protect them.
Keep them safe from all attacks of the enemy,
All evil spirits seeking to destroy them.

Dear Mother,
Guide all their thoughts, words, and actions,
So that in all things they may live out God's will in their lives,
And that at all times they may draw closer to your Divine Son,
Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Help me help them grow in holiness, advancing each day
On the way of salvation and sanctification
So that they may join you and all the holy angels and saints
In giving glory, honor, and praise to our God
With their whole being, with all that they are.
Amen

Prayer of Blessing (Female Version)

Lord Jesus Christ, glorious King of Kings,
I pray that you bless [name] my [wife or daughter].
Send your Holy Spirit upon her, and anoint her.
Cleanse her spiritually,
Keep her safe from all evil, all attacks of the enemy.
Heal her and keep her whole in body, mind, and spirit,
Help her love you with her whole heart, soul, strength, and mind.
Let her experience your infinite love for her,
Let her always say yes to the promptings of your Holy Spirit,
And let her be a shining beacon of your love in the world.

I pray also for the protection of our Holy Mother,
The Blessed Virgin Mary over [name],
And of all the holy angels, martyrs, and saints.
I ask all the holy souls in Purgatory to pray for her.

I also ask you, holy guardian angel of [name]
To watch over her, help her, guide her, and protect her,
And help to lead her to full union with our Lord Jesus Christ.
Amen

Prayer of Blessing (Male Version)

Lord Jesus Christ, glorious King of Kings,
I pray that you bless [name] my [husband or son].
Send your Holy Spirit upon him, and anoint him.
Cleanse him spiritually,
Keep him safe from all evil, all attacks of the enemy.
Heal him and keep him whole in body, mind, and spirit,
Help him love you with his whole heart, soul, strength, and mind.
Let him experience your infinite love for him,
Let him always say yes to the promptings of your Holy Spirit,
And let him be a shining beacon of your love in the world.

I pray also for the protection of our Holy Mother,
The Blessed Virgin Mary over [name],
And of all the holy angels, martyrs, and saints.
I ask all the holy souls in Purgatory to pray for him.

I also ask you, holy guardian angel of [name]
To watch over him, help him, guide him, and protect him,
And help to lead him to full union with our Lord Jesus Christ.
Amen

Contemplate the Resurrection:
At the core of our Catholic faith is our belief that Christ rose from the dead. We too will share in the resurrection of Christ. We too will rise from the dead. First, when we die, our soul will live on without our body until the Second Coming of Christ. At the Second Coming, our bodies will be raised from the dead and will be reunited with our souls. Our new body will be a perfected body, no longer subject to the limitations of physical life. Our new body will not age, will not suffer, and will never die.

As we deal with the vicissitudes of daily life, let us remember, during the Easter season, that our ultimate hope is the resurrection. Everything in this life will pass away. But we will be raised to a new life in Christ that will last forever.

Reach Out to Newly Baptized:
As discussed above, the Catholic Church administers the Sacraments of Initiation at the Easter Vigil. The people who are received into the Church at this time go through a lengthy initiation process. In the Easter season, they are starting their lives as new Catholics, or neophytes. Help them feel more at home by reaching out to them. Say hi and introduce yourself. Invite them to the different areas of church life you are involved in.

Wear an Easter Pin:
Various websites like Etsy sell pins with an Easter message, like "Happy Easter" or "He lives!" Consider wearing a pin like this throughout the Easter season, until Pentecost. People might ask why you are still clinging to Easter so long after the fact, but, as with the Easter decorations, such questions can be a great conversation starter to talk about the length and nature of Easter from a Catholic perspective.

Celebrate the Feasts: During Eastertide, the Church celebrates the feasts of a number of saints. Which saints exactly, will depend on the date of Easter. Look at a liturgical calendar for the season and take note of the feasts of saints that will be celebrated, especially of saints that you more particularly feel connected to. Make a point of doing something special for these days, such as going to Mass, spending time in Adoration, saying prayers to the saint, or having a special meal.

Focus on Mary in May: In addition to celebrating individual feast days of saints, we should focus on honoring the Queen of Saints, the Blessed Virgin Mary, during the whole of May, a month dedicated to her. Depending on where Easter falls all of May might be within Eastertide, but at least a portion of of it will be.

Make a crown of flowers, using either real or realistic looking plastic flowers. On May first, place the crown on a statue of Our Lady in your home, either inside or in your garden, depending on your situation. If you don't have a statue yet, this would be a great time to install one. Keep the crown on the statue until the last day of the month. (If you used real flowers, you will have to replace it probably more than once.) During your daily prayers, make sure you include Marian prayers, especially the Rosary. Consider making a commitment to make at least one post per day relating to the Virgin Mary on one of your social media accounts in order to bring the joy of Our Lady to others as well.

The Ascension: Traditionally, the feast of the Ascension has been celebrated on a Thursday, but in some parts of the Church, the feast has been transferred to Sunday. After the resurrection, Christ spent 40 days with the disciples, appearing at different times to different people. The Ascension marks the time when Christ completed this last phase of his earthly ministry and was taken up to Haven.

In addition to the celebration at Mass, you can celebrate the feast of the Ascension by driving or hiking to an elevated site, or going up to a very tall building, like a skyscraper, to remember Christ ascending from our realm to Heaven.

Novena to the Holy Spirit: The feast of the Ascension also signals that we are drawing near to the end of the Easter season, which is Pentecost. At Pentecost, we celebrate the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples, which marks the beginning of the Catholic Church. Prepare for this celebration of the profound outpouring of the Holy Spirit by praying a Novena to the Holy Spirit, prayed each night from Ascension Thursday to Pentecost.

Novena To the Holy Spirit

Wear Red on Pentecost: At Pentecost the Easter season comes to an end, but we are not done celebrating yet. On this day, we celebrate the birthday of the Church, as the power of the Holy Spirit is poured out upon the disciples. Since red is the color associated with the anointing of the Holy Spirit, wear red on this day both to church and throughout the day. If anyone asks why, you will have a great conversation started. As you take down the Easter decorations on this day, you can now decorate your home with images of flames and doves – both of which represent the Holy Spirit.

The Feasts Go On: Immediately after Pentecost we have two more significant feast days. The first is Holy Trinity Sunday, which is followed by Corpus Christi, also known as the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. On Holy Trinity Sunday, we should reflect on all that God has accomplished in the world, marked by our liturgical feasts from the incarnation of Christ at Christmas, to reflections on the earthy ministry of Christ in ordinary time, to the institution of the Eucharist on Holy Thursday, to the redemption of the world on Good Friday, to Christ's triumph over death and all evil through his resurrection on Easter Sunday.

On Corpus Christi, we should reflect on what is yet to come – the Second Coming of Christ. As we await his coming and go about our daily lives seeking to live out his Gospel, we should remember that he is already with us body, blood, soul, and divinity in the Eucharistic bread and wine. Through our weekly, if not more frequent, reception of the Eucharist, we have the strength to carry our cross and to grow to love God with our whole being and our neighbor as ourselves.


Printable Format: This article is available for download as a PDF. Please feel free to share the PDF with others either electronically or in printed format.

Seven Weeks of Easter: Suggestions for a Catholic Celebration of Eastertide PDF

Photo Credit: The Virgin and Child with Saint Catherine and a Shepherd, popularly known The Madonna of the Rabbit by Titian from the Louvre.