Seven Classic Songs We Love (Music for Mondays)

No, this isn’t the “royal we” I’m referring to. For today’s edition of MfM, the “we” I’m identifying is all of us. Because the songs that follow soared up the charts and had catholic, that is “universal,” appeal.

Because if somebody didn’t like them, it’s probably because somehow, they never heard them. Now this isn’t an exhaustive list, as that would probably be at least 500 songs long. But I’m willing to wager that these seven tunes resonate with you even to this day.

These are all pretty modern, as they span the years 1967 up through 1974, and yet they seem timeless. Give them a listen, along with the scripture verses they evoke for me and see if you can’t remember an episode in your life that these songs bring into focus for you.

Some are one-hit wonders, and others went triple Platinum. But they all went far because they spoke to us in a catholic (with a small “c”) way. First up, a song that put us on the edge of our seats…

Bobbie Gentry, Ode to Billie Joe. The year is 1967. The war in Vietnam is raging but news of friends and families and neighbors takes precedence. This “story” song comes along and everyone listened, because this is how our lives unfold too. Remember Matthew 24:2?

Then two shall be in the field: one shall be taken, and one shall be left.

Otis Redding, Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay. Is it just me, or do you also get a profound sense of peace when you look upon the ocean? Once again the words of a prophet come to mind (Amos 5:8),

Seek him that maketh Arcturus, and Orion, and that turneth darkness into morning, and that changeth day into night: that calleth the waters of the sea, and poureth them out upon the face of the earth: The LORD is his name.

Creedance Clearwater Revival, Proud Mary. It’s 1969 now and CCR rolls out this tune that becomes a huge hit across the country and world wide. Ike and Tina Turner sent it even further. The lyrics appeal to many and bring these words from the mouth of the LORD to mind (Isaiah 55:1),

All you that thirst, come to the waters: and you that have no money make haste, buy, and eat: come ye, buy wine and milk without money, and without any price.

Blues Image, Ride Captain, Ride.  Pretty much a one hit wonder in 1970, but covered by great bands like the Doobie Brothers too. This is the original though. The appeal? Listen to the lyrics and see if you don’t hear the reason the Christ came and why we spread the Good News (Isaiah 42:7),

To open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.

Neil Diamond, He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother. Live from a BBC concert in the year 1971. This song reminds me of Galatians 6:2,

Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.

Lynn Anderson, Rose Garden. Her monster hit from the year 1973. Bearing crosses and one another’s burdens is tough work. Nonetheless we aren’t called to be “sour-faced saints” either. This song is sort of like the whole book of Ecclesiastes in a song less than 3 minutes long. See Ecclesiastes 9:9,

Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest, all the days of thy unsteady life, which are given to thee under the sun, all the time of thy vanity: for this is thy portion in life, and in thy labor wherewith thou laborest under the sun.

Paul McCartney & Wings, Band on the Run. The Beatles broke up, but all of them went on to solo careers. This song by Paul came out in 1974, and climbed the charts like a rocket. I think it’s still going too, just like the Voyager spacecraft.

Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win. (1 Corinthians 9:24)

What comes to your mind when you hear these songs? Let us know in the commbox, and I’ll see you here next week.

Because of Christian Monasticism

I’ve written here before that one of the many reasons that I became a Catholic was because of the Desert Fathers and Mothers. But the reason goes deeper than just this historical one-off. 

You see, one of the reasons that I became a Catholic was because of monks and nuns who have given up everything to follow Christ and God and still do so to this day. I admit that I used to think folks who did this were nuts. But a close reading of scriptures show that it isn’t. 

Recently, I found a book written by a Paulist Father named Bertrand Louis Conway that helps explain the reasons why this practice isn’t strange, but very Christian.  Fr. Conway called his book Studies in Church History and he wrote it in response to questions from non-Catholics that came up all the time while he was conducting missions in the Paulist’s missionary field. In case you didn’t know, that field is here in the United States only.

The excerpt below is from the first chapter of the book. This will get you started,

from Studies in Church History
Christian Asceticism in the First Three Centuries

It is true that the ascetic teaching of Jesus does not hold the predominant place in the Gospels which our rationalistic critics think necessary for our defense of monasticism. But Our Lord did not come to establish a community of monks pledged to the highest degree of perfection, but to found a Church for all men. Our Lord’s general moral teaching was undoubtedly most sublime. Christians are to be perfect as their Heavenly Father is perfect; they are all called upon to live a life of self-denial, sacrifice, renouncement, and suffering.

His words are: “I came not to send peace but the sword. … He that taketh not up his cross is not worthy of Me.” “He that shall lose his life for My sake shall find it.” “If any man come to Me and hate not his father and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.” Self-denial is an essential characteristic of the true follower of Jesus, and in times of persecution, such as He evidently had in mind in the above texts, this self-denial was to be heroic even unto death.

But there are other teachings of our Savior intended only for an elite few. They are in no sense commandments for the multitude, but counsels left to the free choice of those who were to follow Him more intimately in the way of perfection. Protestantism, cursed with the worldly taint of a merely human gospel, has ever ignored Our Lord’s teaching on the counsels. That is the chief reason of its bitter hatred of monasticism and the religious life. That is why the liberal Protestants of today do their utmost to trace the origin of asceticism to a pagan philosophy or a pagan religion.

Jesus mentioned the counsel of chastity in the nineteenth chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel. He was restoring marriage to its primitive purity, and prohibiting divorce even in the case of adultery. When, in view of this strict teaching, the disciples declared: “It is not expedient to marry,” Jesus took occasion of their remonstrance to set forth clearly the practice of celibacy “for the kingdom of heaven.” The prohibition of divorce is a commandment for all Christians;he practice of celibacy is a counsel for the elite few. “He that can take, let him take it.”

Some nonCatholic scholars arbitrarily try to show that these last words of Our Lord refer to the indissolubility of marriage, while others think it strange that our Lord should recommend celibacy while extolling marriage. The first theory does violence to the context, while the second sees opposition where in reality none exists. It is unquestionably true that Our Lord’s counsel of celibacy marks the beginnings of asceticism, for virginity is its basic and essential element. Asceticism is possible even when the other practices that generally accompany virginity are absent; but without virginity it does not and cannot exist.

Jesus counseled poverty even more explicitly. He said: “Do not possess gold, nor silver, nor money in your purses.” “Take nothing for your journey, neither staff, nor scrip, nor bread, nor money.” “Sell what you possess and give alms.” “Every one that doth not renounce all that he possesseth cannot be My disciple.” “If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast, and give to the poor.”

He did not give a command to the rich young man, but clearly made an appeal to his generosity: “If thou wilt be perfect” are His words. Finally, Jesus asked His chosen ones to renounce their own wills, “to deny themselves and to take up their cross.” Harnack ( a Protestant author) is wrong in declaring that the Catholic Church teaches two different moral codes, one for the multitude, and another for the monk who stands for a higher type of perfection. The difference between them is merely a difference of degree, or rather of means. Both have the same end in view, viz., the love of God and the love of the neighbor for God’s sake.

Read the rest, with all the footnotes, at the YIMCatholic Bookshelf

For Stuff My Abba Macarius Says

I’ve mentioned in the past that my patron is St. Macarius the Great. He was a Desert Father who lived between the years 300 – 390 AD. He went into the desert when he was thirty years old, became a priest when he was 40 years old, was accused of adultery, and when he was proved innocent, he fled and headed to a place in the Egyptian desert called Scetis.

I probably went right by Scetis once or twice and never even knew it when I took a trip up to the battlefield at El Alamein when I was stationed in Cairo.

I also made a trip up to Alexandria too, and may have passed it by again in my ignorance. I was young and more interested in the human history of the battlefields in North Africa at the time. If I only knew then what I know now.

How did I choose Abba Macarius’s name for my confirmation name? I’ve written about that before, but I left out one little thing. It’s silly actually because it makes no sense at all. I confess that selfishness is one of the reasons. I figured that when I needed a little help from my patron, if I chose one of the well known saints, the line for my prayers to wait in would be long and winding. My solution? Choose a saint no one has heard of and the prayer line will be short! See? I’m always thinking.

A more serious reason why I chose Abba Macarius was because of the homilies attributed to him. I found out he wrote twenty-two homilies, but it turns out it’s more like fifty. Did he really write them? Or did someone else write them and use his name (much as the writer of Ecclesiastes leads us to believe he was King Solomon)? I don’t know, and I really don’t care. But having them available accomplished several things for me. First, they give a viewpoint of early Christianity that is very Catholic. Secondly, they help me by giving me access to my patrons’ wise council whenever I need it (which is often!).

The saints point us to Christ and His ways. These homilies do just that. They are powerful and I’d like to share a couple of them with you,

Homily 7: How the soul ought to demean herself in
holiness and purity, towards her Bridegroom Jesus Christ.

If a glorious prince should take a liking to a poor woman that has nothing, and have her brought home to him for his spouse, she ought ever after to show all good will to this husband, and retain a constant love for him. But if she transgresses the bounds of decency and duty, then she is turned out of doors with disgrace and reproach, and is full of sorrow; reflecting from how great wealth she is fallen, and what glory she has lost. Thus also the soul, which Christ, the heavenly Bridegroom, shall espouse to himself, ought to please Christ, her lover; carrying herself in the house of this heavenly Spouse with a fair deportment, and a grateful sense of the grace bestowed upon her. Lo! such a soul is actually invested with the full command of all her Lord’s goods, and her body becomes the glorious tabernacle of his Godhead.

But if she does not the things that are pleasing to him, and is not perfectly observant of his will, then with reproach and disgrace is she disrobed of all her honor, as no way proper for the communion of the heavenly King. And after that, there commences an universal grief and lamentation over that soul among all the saints and intellectual spirits: angels, powers, apostles, prophets,and martyrs, mourn for her. For as “there is joy in heaven,” as the Lord has said, “over one sinner that repenteth,” so is there great grief and mourning in heaven over one soul that falls from eternal life.

We must therefore strive, and with the utmost prudence take care to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling.” Whosoever therefore you are, that have been made partakers of the Spirit of Christ, look upon yourselves in no case whatever, whether small, or great, to be above advice; neither do any despite to the Spirit of grace, that you may be never excluded from the life which you have been made to partake of.

Let us therefore beg of God, that we, as many as have been partakers of his grace, may minister acceptably in the service of the Spirit, according to his will; that thus serving him according to his will with a spiritual service, we may inherit eternal life.

But can a man fall that has the gift of grace? Answer: If he grow careless, he certainly falls. For his enemies are never idle, or backward in the war. How ought you then never to desist from seeking after God? For the damage which you sustain by your neglect is exceedingly great, though you may seem to be even established in the mystery of grace.

Are the perfect liable to affliction or war, or are they entirely free from care? Answer: An enemy never respites any from the war. And Satan is perfectly void of mercy: wherefore neither is he backward to set upon any man whatever, though he does not attack all in the same measure and degree.

But there is need of much pains and labor, that a man may seek and lay the foundations, till such a time as the fire shall come into the hearts of men, and purge away the thorns. And thus do they begin to be sanctified, giving glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, for ever. Amen.

Homily 8: That spiritual men are liable to temptations and fictions.

As the experienced husbandmen, in a year of plenty, expect a time of dearth; and on the other hand, when dearth and difficulties overtake them, they are not dejected; as knowing there will come a change. So in the spiritual state, when the soul falls into divers temptations, it is not surprised as at a strange or unusual thing, neither does it despond, because it knows that they come by permission, that it may be tried and disciplined by the evil that befalls it. Neither again, when it abounds in wealth and ease, is it free from apprehension, but expects a change.

For when a man is rich in grace, there is yet a remnant of corruption with him: he has one however that takes his part, and that comes to his assistance. Whenever therefore any one is in afflictions, and the storm of corrupt affections thickens upon him, yet ought he not to quit his hope. For then sin gains ground. But when a man retains his hope in God, sin crumbles as it were, arid, and dries away.

As a well that runs, and has all about it nothing but moist grounds, when the heat comes on, both itself and its adjacent bogs are dried up; thus it is with the servants of God, in whom grace abounds; that dries up the concupiscence, not only that which is from the wicked one, but that also which is natural; because (of) that, now the men of God are greater than the first Adam.

Christians therefore belong to another world, are the sons of the heavenly Adam, a new generation, the children of the Holy Spirit, the bright and glorious brethren of Christ, perfectly like their Father, the spiritual and glorified Adam, of that very city, of the same kind, and of the self-same power. He himself says, “Ye are not of this world, even as I am not of this world.”

Yet a fear they still have upon them, not indeed that of novices, that live in a dread of wicked spirits; but a fear and concern how they may best employ the spiritual gifts they are entrusted with. And such a one as this looks upon himself to be despicable beyond all sinners. This reflection is as deeply rooted in him, as if it were his very nature. The more he advances in the knowledge of God, so much the less is he in his own eyes. And though he learns never so much; he is still as one that knows nothing. But these things are wrought in the soul by the ministration of grace.

The case is not unlike that of an infant in the arms of a young man; the bearer carries it about whithersoever he pleases: so does grace also carry the mind about, and bear it upwards into the very heavens, to the perfect world, and eternal rest.

As the Holy Spirit says in the Epistle to the Hebrews,

Continue to have confidence, since the reward is so great. You will need endurance to do God’s will and gain what he has promised.—Hebrews 10:35-36

Abba Macarius, pray for us.

Because A Reader Asks A Question I Cannot Answer

Dear Readers: The post “God Takes Care of Little Ones with Guardian Angels” from last spring is the most widely read of all the posts on our site. Yesterday, a reader asked a question I (Allison)  have not been able to answer, despite struggling overnight with it. I’m republishing my post, along with her question in the hopes that someone with more wisdom than I can answer.

Victoria asks: I am of the “Angel of God…” generation. I still pray to my guardian angel but the idea of a guardian angel is probably the one thing in Church teaching that I have a problem with. I can accept that there are angels because they are in the bible but if they are guardians, where are/were they when little children are being sexually abused? I would really like an answer to this one.

The original post is here.

For All the Sacramentals, The Vestments (Part II)

Prior to finding Fr. Sullivan’s book The Visible Church, there is no way that I would have learned about the priestly vestments that will be discussed below. So again, for the clergy in the audience, this is nothing new.

But for the rest of us, unless you are a player of the Facebook game called Priestville (I kid you not!), you’ve probably never heard of most of this stuff. As for me, I don’t have time for fun and games like that.

Some of the articles described below are vestments, and therefore they are sacramentals, and some aren’t. Perhaps the ones that aren’t are optional? I really have no idea. But I do like the symbolism of some of these articles.

There is a lot of gear here, but luckily there is no quiz at the end. So relax and let’s have a look,


A Priest’s Vestments. The vestments worn by a priest at Mass are the amice, the alb, the cincture, the maniple, the stole and the chasuble. At certain other services he uses the cope, the humeral veil and the surplice.

The cassock, or “soutane,” the black gown worn by a priest, is not a vestment. It is the priest’s ordinary garb, and in Catholic countries is worn on the street as well as indoors. The Roman collar worn by the clergy (usually with a “rabbi” or stock attached) is not a vestment. The cap worn by priests, known by the Italian name of biretta, is also not a vestment. Its upper surface is square, with three wings—one at the front, another at the rear, and a third at the right side. This peculiar form comes from the fact that the biretta was originally a soft flatcrowned cap; the removal of this from the head caused it to be compressed into folds, especially on the right side, because the right hand is generally used for that purpose; and after a time these folds were sewn together, forming wings—with none on the left side, except in the case of the cap of a Doctor of Sacred Theology, whose dignity is indicated by a fourth wing.

The Amice. This is an oblong piece of white linen, with strings or ribbons by which it is fastened around the shoulders. The name comes from the Latin “amictus,” a wrapper. This vestment has been in use since about the year 800. Formerly it was worn covering the head, and certain religious orders still use it in this way until the beginning of the Mass. It symbolizes a helmet, protecting the priest against the assaults of Satan.

The Alb. This is a long linen gown, extending from the neck to the feet. The lower part is often made of lace. It is a survival of the old Roman dress called the toga. The name is derived from the Latin “alba,” white, and the color, of course, denotes purity.

The Cincture or Girdle. This is a doubled cord which binds the alb closely to the body.

Alb & Cincture

Its name, in Latin, is “cingulum,” a girdle. It may be of the same color as the vestments, but among us it is usually white. It is made of braided linen or of wool, with tassels, and symbolizes continence.

The following vestments vary in color from day to day, according to the object for which the Mass is offered or the festival on which it is said.

The Maniple. This is a small vestment of peculiar shape, worn on the left forearm.
It was originally a handkerchief. The name comes from the Latin “manipulum,” meaning something carried in the hand, a small bundle, a handkerchief, a sheaf of grain; and therefore this vestment is considered symbolical of good works. It is the special badge of the order of subdeaconship.


The Stole. This is a long narrow vestment worn around the neck, and ends hanging down in front. At Mass, the ends of a priest’s stole are crossed, and fastened thus by the cincture. At other services the ends are not crossed. A “preaching stole” is often ornamented with tasseled cords connecting the ends. A deacon at a Solemn Mass wears a stole diagonally, from his left shoulder to his right side. The stole came into use as a vestment about the fourth century, and was originally a robe or cloak, which is the meaning of its Latin name “stola.” It was probably adapted from the court uniform of Roman, judges, and hence signifies authority. It is also a symbol of immortality and of the yoke of obedience.

The Chasuble. This is a large vestment worn on the shoulders and hanging down in front and behind. The rear portion is often ornamented with a large cross. The name comes from the late Latin “casula,” a little house. It was originally a large mantle or cloak with an opening for the head in the centre, and had to be raised at the sides to allow the hands to be extended beyond it. The assistants at the Mass helped the priest by holding it up, and a trace of this practice still remains at Solemn Masses, where the deacon and subdeacon hold the edges of the priest’s chasuble, and at ordinary Masses, chasuble, where the acolyte raises it slightly at the Elevation. It symbolizes protection, preservation from evil—a spiritual suit of armor.

Next time, the Vestments-Part III

For All the Sacramentals, The Vestments (Part I)

Today, the series on Sacramentals continues with the vestments worn by the clergy. As a rookie Catholic, I understood some of the significance of the vestments, the colors, etc. But if I had to take a quiz and answer the question, “True or False: Are vestments a sacramental?,” my answer would have been a guess, and I would have gotten this one wrong.

Now if the quiz would have been about Marine Corps uniforms, from Dress Blues, to Service (Greens), and Utilities (what you may know as “cammies”) etc., I would have passed with flying colors.

Speaking of colors, that is what Fr. John F. Sullivan’s first lesson on vestments is about. What do they mean? Ponder no more, as Fr. John will make it clear. After this lesson, you will be ready for the quiz.


Vestments are garments worn by the ministers of religion while performing their sacred duties. They are sacramentals, being blessed by the Church to increase devotion in those who see them and those who use them.

The word “vestment” is from the Latin vestimentum, signifying simply clothing. In every religion the priest has had a distinctive dress; just as others who hold positions of dignity or of authority wear a uniform or badge, so does the minister of God.

Among the Jews every detail of the vestments used in the worship of God was provided for by divine command. In the Catholic Church these details have always been prescribed by church law, and many changes have been made at different times in the number and form of the priestly vestments. During the first four centuries there were no special vestments; the clergy wore their ordinary garb, flowing robes and long cloaks, at the Church’s services; but gradually these were altered and ornamented until they became vestments as we have them now.

The Colors of Vestments

The Church ordinarily uses five colors, and each has its meaning. The Mass is offered for many purposes and in honor of many classes of saints; and each of these is symbolized by the color of the vestments worn during the Holy Sacrifice.

White vestments denote purity, innocence and glory. They are worn on the feast of the Holy Trinity and on festivals of our Lord, of the Blessed Virgin, of Angels and of all Saints who were not martyrs.

Red is the color of fire and of blood. Vestments of that color are used in Masses of the Holy Ghost, such as on Pentecost, to remind us of the tongues of fire which descended upon the Apostles; on the feasts of the Holy Cross of our Lord, and on the festivals of all Saints who shed their blood for their faith.

Purple, or violet, is expressive of penance. It is used during Lent and Advent (except on saints’ days), and on the sorrowful feast of the Holy Innocents.

Black is the color of mourning. It is worn at all Masses of Requiem, and on Good Friday.

Green denotes the growth and increase of our holy Church, and is also a symbol of hope.
It is used on all days during the year that are not saints’ days, except in Lent and Advent.

Gold vestments may be used as a substitute for white, red or green—not for purple or black.

Rose-colored vestments, when obtainable, may be used at the Solemn Mass on the third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday), and the fourth Sunday of Lent (Laetare Sunday), because these Sundays are somewhat joyful in the midst of penitential seasons, and the rose-color is less penitential than the purple.

Next time, the “Priestly Vestments.”

For Your Sunday Night at the Movies, “The Scarlet and the Black”

I have my pastor to thank for this post. That’s because during his homily today, he mentioned a movie about an Irish Catholic priest stationed in Rome who, while fulfilling the obligations of his office, also used his office to smuggle Jews, and Allied soldiers, out of harms way after the Nazis occupied Rome. [Read more…]

For All the Sacramentals, Holy Water

Yesterday I shared the Sign of the Cross with you, and today I promised an explanation of Holy Water. I’m glad I found this little book The Visible Church by Fr. John F. Sullivan. And not just for trivial pursuit question ammunition either.

You see, RCIA class is very good, but there is a lot of material to cover in a relatively short period of time. So Fr. John’s book is really helpful to me. Show of hands—who knew there are four distinct kinds of holy water? All you priests put your hands down! For the rest of us, Fr. John explains this sacramental,

Holy Water

Holy Water is “water blessed by a priest with solemn prayer, to beg God’s blessing on those who use it, and protection from the powers of darkness.” It is a very important sacramental of our Church.

Water is the natural element for cleansing, and its symbolical use to denote interior purification was common in many ancient religions—the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians and others; and it is so used by the Brahmins of India, the American Indians and other pagans of the present time. Among the Jews, the laws of Moses (contained in the books of Exodus and Leviticus in the Old Testament), enjoined the sprinkling of the people, the sacrifices, the sacred vessels, etc.; and our Church has imitated many of these Jewish practices.

There is a tradition that holy water was used by the Apostle St. Matthew, but this is uncertain. It is traced by some to the early part of the second century, and its use became common somewhat later.

The Kinds of Holy Water.

There are four kinds, each blessed in a different manner. They are as follows:

1. Baptismal Water, which is blessed on Holy Saturday, and may also be blessed on the eve of Pentecost. The Oil of Catechumens and the Holy Chrism are mingled with it. It is used only in the administration of Baptism.

2. Water of Consecration, or “Gregorian Water”, so called because its use was ordered by Pope Gregory IX. It is used in the consecration of churches, and has wine, ashes and salt mingled with it.

3. Easter Water, so called because it is distributed to the people on Holy Saturday, the eve of Easter. A part of this water is used for the filling of the baptismal font, to be blessed as baptismal water; the remainder is given to the faithful. In some countries this water is used by the clergy for the solemn blessing of houses on Holy Saturday.

4. Ordinary Holy Water, blessed by the priest for the sprinkling of the people before Mass and for use at the door of the church. It may be used also for the blessing of persons and things, in the church and at home. Salt is mingled with it—a custom which goes back probably to the second century.

Therefore the only varieties of holy water that directly concern the faithful are the water blessed on Holy Saturday and that blessed at other times. They are sanctified by different formulas, but their value and uses are much the same.

The Uses of Holy Water.

It is used in nearly all the blessings of the Church’s ritual, in the ceremonies of Matrimony and Extreme Unction, in the giving of Holy Communion to the sick, and in services for the dead. For use in church functions it is generally contained in a bowl-shaped vessel with a swinging handle, provided with a sprinkler.

The “Asperges” (pronounced, “as-per-jays”), This is the sprinkling of the people on Sundays before the principal Mass in a parish church. It takes its name from the first word (in Latin) of Psalm 50, of which the opening verse is recited by the priest and sung by the choir at this ceremony during the greater part of the year: “Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop, and I shall be made clean; Thou shalt wash me, and I shall be made whiter than snow.”

This practice goes back to the ninth century. It is intended to renew in us every Sunday the memory of our Baptism, and to drive away all distractions during the Mass. In this ceremony, the holy water need not actually touch every person in the church. The whole assembly is blessed together, and all receive the blessing, even though the water may not reach each individual.

The custom of placing holy water at the church door in a “holy water font” is very ancient—probably dating back to the second century. Among the Jews a ceremony of purification was required before entering the Temple, and the Catholic practice may have been suggested by this.

In the Middle Ages it was customary to use holy water only when entering the church, and not when leaving it—to denote that purification was necessary before entering, but not after having assisted at Mass. At the present day holy water may be used both on entering and departing, especially as an indulgence is gained every time it is used.

The Blessing of Holy Water

This is usually done just before the principal Mass on Sunday, but may be done at any other time. The priest reads several prayers, which include an exorcism of the salt and the water, after which the salt is put into the water in the form of a threefold cross, in the name of the Persons of the Trinity. An exorcism is a prayer intended to free persons or things from the power of the Evil One.

The Symbolism of Holy Water

Water is used for cleansing and for quenching fire; salt is used to preserve from decay. Therefore the Church combines them in this sacramental, to express the washing away of the stains of sin, the quenching of the fire of our passions, and the preservation of our souls from relapses into sin.

Salt is also a symbol of wisdom. , Our Blessed Lord called His Apostles “the salt of the earth,” because they were to instruct mankind.

The Indulgence

There is an indulgence of one hundred days for using holy water. Pius IX renewed this in 1876, under these conditions:

1. The sign of the cross must be made with the holy water.
2. “We must say: “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.”
3. We must have contrition for our sins.
4. For this, as for any indulgence, we must be in the state of grace.

Next time, the Cross and the Crucifix.

For All the Sacramentals, The Sign of the Cross

As a convert, when I was first considering becoming a Catholic, some of the little physical things Catholics did were of interest to me. I would think, why do they do that? The Sacramentals were mysterious to me.

I found a little book by Fr. John F. Sullivan entitled, The Visible Church. Published in 1920 as a text book for Catholic schools, it’s perfect for a beginner like me. 

In it he explains these sacramentals. Today I present you with the first one in his book and one which I didn’t even consider an official sacramental. As it turns out, it is the most important one. Take it away Fr. John,

The Sign of the Cross

The Sacramentals are objects set apart and blessed by the Church to excite good thoughts and to increase devotion, and through these movements of the heart to remit venial sin.

The Sign of the Cross is the most important of the Sacramentals, being a symbol of our deliverance from the power of Satan, and an emblem of God’s mercy manifested through the crucifixion of our Saviour on the cross of Calvary.

It consists in making a movement, with the hands or with some other object, in the form of a cross. The ordinary method of making the sign of the cross is as follows: Put the right hand to the forehead and to the breast, and to the left and the right shoulder, saying: “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.”

The words and the action form a summary of our faith. We say: “In the name”—not “names”—expressing thus the unity of God. We mention the three Persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, thus showing our faith in the Blessed Trinity. The cross itself, made with the hand, manifests our belief in the incarnation, death and resurrection of our Saviour, and shows that we regard Him not only as God but as man—for unless He possessed a human nature He could not die.

By making the sign of the cross and saying the words twe may gain an indulgence of fifty days—granted by Pope Pius IX in 1863. If we use holy water to make the sign, we may gain an indulgence of one hundred days.

The use of the sign of the cross in Catholic worship probably goes back to the time of the Apostles. In those early days it was usually made very small, by a slight movement of the finger or thumb, so as not to attract the attention of pagan persecutors.

The triple sign of the cross was common in the Middle Ages, but is not now used except at the beginning of the Gospels at Mass. It is made by marking the forehead, the lips and the breast with a small cross, using the thumb; and it reminds us that we should worship God with our minds, our lips and our hearts.

The sign of the cross is used in the administration of all the Sacraments, in all of the Church’s blessings, and at the beginning and end of public and private prayers. In the ceremonies of Baptism it is made fourteen times; in Extreme Unction, seventeen times. In the blessing of holy water it is made twelve times. In the Mass it is used in various ways no less than fifty-one times.

Tomorrow’s topic: Holy Water

Because All of the Big Questions Have Been Answered

As I discover the Psalms anew, I am reminded of St. Augustine’s saying about the Church: “late have I loved thee.” When I was younger, see, and when I thought I knew everything, I used to skip these sacred, inspired, and often times prophetic, poems.

Nowadays, I turn to them and find comfort and instruction.

A few days ago I shared a kind letter that Thomas Merton wrote a 6th grader, and noted that being kind is one of the traits of a Christian. I have written also on being meek, and how John C.H. Wu has helped me see that character trait in a more positive, and more approachable light.

Below is a sample of what I mean. It is Psalm 15 written by David. As psalms go, it is a short one. The kind that readily lends itself to lectio divina, and even simple memorization. Short, and yet full of practical wisdom for walking along the Way. Keep in mind that this is the Holy Spirit speaking to us, in an informal question and answer session,

A psalm of David.

LORD, who may abide in your tent?
Who may dwell on your holy mountain?

Are not these questions key? Because once you come to the realization that you are one of God’s children, you wonder if you are worthy of such a position. What must I do to be a child of the Most High? The Holy Spirit answers,

Whoever walks without blame,
doing what is right,
speaking truth from the heart;
Who does not slander a neighbor,
does no harm to another,
never defames a friend;

So far, so good until I realize that I have slipped in all of these areas. Yes, I can look in the mirror and note that even I have slandered a friend in the past, not to mention those whom I have disagreed with who were not my friends. And often I used the text from the next few lines as my self-righteous reason why,

Who disdains the wicked,
but honors those who fear the LORD;

Of course, to do this honestly, and justly, I find that I must disdain myself before I turn the spotlight on others. I remember a line from Psalm 14, “Not one does what is right, not even one.” Yes, I recall painfully, this “one” is definitely me. And in the next line, as I recoil in horror, the Holy Spirit reminds me not to flee from the responsibility of self-examination. Because I must be one,

Who keeps an oath despite the cost,

and one who

lends no money at interest,

instead of always asking “what’s in it for me?” whenever I am asked to help, or give of my time, talents, and scanty treasure. And all the while, though I like to think that I would never do such a thing, I must remember to be one who

accepts no bribe against the innocent.

By this point, the realization dawns that alone, left to my own self-interest, I will fail in keeping any of these seemingly simple precepts. Instead, I will be doing what Qoheleth observed when he was inspired to write,

Then I saw that all toil and skillful work is the rivalry of one man for another. This also is vanity and a chase after wind.

Despite the best intentions of Adam Smith’s “invisible hand.” Coming back, then, to the conclusion of this psalm, I know that only through God’s grace will I be one who can be counted as one that,

Whoever acts like this
shall never be shaken.

Do you know why I don’t spend much intellectual horsepower in this space writing about the “big questions” of the day? It is because all of the big questions have been answered already. As Christ Himself said, on more than one occasion, “He that has ears, let him hear.” What is left to do, and one which takes a lifetime to perfect, is the implementation of the answers. In simple terms, and on a personal level, stop spinning your wheels and get going.

Thinking through the Psalms allows me to hear the answers to what I so deftly ignored for so long. And that is, the Church has the answers, even as we Church members falter in following Her precepts. The Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, instructs us to pray the Psalms and provides them for us in a format that is suitable for this purpose.

As for me and this blog, with the help of God’s grace, I’ll just continue to stay on this narrow,and winding, pilgrims path. Because though I once worshipped my prideful self, now I remind myself often to pray,

LORD, my heart is not proud;
nor are my eyes haughty.
I do not busy myself with great matters,
with things too sublime for me.
Rather, I have stilled my soul,
hushed it like a weaned child.
Like a weaned child on its mother’s lap,
so is my soul within me.

With an understanding that, “there remain faith, hope, and charity, these three: but the greatest of these is charity.”

Update: Peter Kreeft agrees.