We tend to think of the period after Pentecost Sunday as a quiet time in the life of the Church. The use of the term "Ordinary Time" in the new liturgical calendar promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1969 reinforces that sense. Yet over the next few weeks, the calendar features some very important feasts.
This coming Sunday is Trinity Sunday, which celebrates the most fundamental of Christian beliefs. The Thursday after Trinity Sunday is the Feast of Corpus Christi, of the Body and Blood of Christ, which, even though it isn't a Holy Day of Obligation, is such an important feast that the bishops of the United States have transferred the celebration to the following Sunday, to ensure that all American Catholics celebrate it. Then, eight days later, we celebrate the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, to which the Church dedicates the entire month of June.
As we enter this period of celebration, I have chosen a Short Novena for Corpus Christi as our novena of the week. If you begin praying it today, you will finish next Wednesday, on the eve of Corpus Christi. What better way to prepare ourselves for this great feast, which celebrates the institution of the Sacrament of Holy Communion and our belief in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist?
(Pope Benedict XVI celebrates Mass and elevates the Host at Nationals Park April 17, 2008 in Washington, D.C. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
If you have a favorite novena that you'd like me to choose as Novena of the Week, or if you'd like me to suggest a novena for a particular intention, send me an e-mail, and I'll work it into the rotation.
More on Corpus Christi:
The Easter season ends with Pentecost Sunday, 50 days after Easter, but it sends out ripples even further. Trinity Sunday and the Feast of Corpus Christi, which both fall after Pentecost, are moveable feasts, which means that their date in any given year depends on the date of Easter.
But the day after Pentecost--today--also marks the Church's return to something known as "Ordinary Time," which runs until the first Sunday of Advent. Ordinary Time does not mean that this period is not special; far from it! During these months, our readings at Mass feature Christ walking among His disciples and teaching them.
This is the time--after the Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Christ, and the descent of the Holy Spirit--in which we live in the fullness of Christ's revelation and saving grace. As Pope Benedict XVI noted in his Angelus address for Trinity Sunday 2010, Ordinary Time "does not mean that the commitment of Christians must diminish; quite the contrary, having entered divine life through the Sacraments, we are now called to remain open to the action of Grace in order to grow in love towards God and neighbour."
Let's make the most of it!
More on Ordinary Time:
Pentecost Sunday marks the end of the Easter season. On this day, the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles and the Blessed Virgin Mary, as Christ had promised before He ascended into Heaven ten days before, on Ascension Thursday. The sending of His Spirit was the final element of Christ's salvific work on earth, and Pentecost Sunday, therefore, is truly the birthday of the Church.
Between Christ's Ascension and the day that He will come again in glory, the Holy Spirit guides the Church and each of us as Christians. Yet, too often, we seem to forget about the Spirit in our prayer life and our efforts at spiritual growth. The Church, however, strongly encourages prayer to the Holy Spirit, and its no mere coincidence that sanctifying grace--the life of God within us--infuses us with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. And those things that we do that mark us as Christians--those acts that can only be the result of grace--are known as the fruits of the Holy Spirit for a reason.
So Pentecost is a good feast day to become familiar with the Holy Spirit once again, and to ask Him to come into our lives. Come Holy Spirit!
(A dove perched in a hole in the wall outside the Basilica di Sant'Agnese Fuori le Mura (Basilica of St. Agnes Outside the Walls), Rome, Italy. The dove is the traditional Christian symbol for the Holy Spirit. Photo © Scott P. Richert)
More on Pentecost and the Holy Spirit:
On Monday, May 20, 2013, Boston College will hold its commencement exercises, but it will do so without the participation of the archbishop of Boston, Sean Cardinal O'Malley. O'Malley, who normally imparts a final benediction at the commencement ceremonies at the Jesuit school, decided that he could not do so this year after Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenney, who had been invited to speak at the graduation a year ago, endorsed Ireland's "Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013," which was introduced in the Irish parliament in May.
The name of the bill hides its true intent. The National Catholic Reporter, which is all too often latitudinarian in its discussions of abortion legislation, has in this case published a sober and balanced piece on the bill by Phyllis Zagano, who makes it clear that rather than clarifying current Irish law, it opens the door to something closer to abortion on demand.
While the Irish constitution continues to prohibit abortion, current Irish law allows an exception to save the life of the mother. Kenney, a Catholic, insists that his government, in advancing the new legislation, is only complying with a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that ordered Ireland to broaden the circumstances under which that exception would apply. Zagano's excellent summary of the proposed legislation makes it clear that the exception would be broadened to the point where the constitutional prohibition would be all but meaningless, and abortion could be performed throughout all nine months of pregnancy.
Even allowing, however, for differences in interpretation, and assuming that Prime Minister Kenney, who is also scheduled to receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree at the commencement ceremony, is sincere in his contention that he is trying to comply with the ruling in the narrowest possible way, Cardinal O'Malley's action has struck some critics as odd or even hypocritical. O'Malley has been willing to appear with Barack Obama, the most rabidly pro-abortion president in the history of the United States, as recently as April 18, and he presided at the funeral of Sen. Edward Kennedy, who did more, perhaps, than any other American Catholic politician to advance the cause of abortion on demand in the United States. Why the seemingly sudden change of heart?
The answer being offered by Cardinal O'Malley's critics is that he is essentially a cynical and ambitious man, who enjoyed all of the attention he received before the recent papal conclave, and who is using the Boston College situation to bolster his chances of succeeding Pope Francis. Setting aside the fact that such cynicism and ambition have never been obvious traits of Cardinal O'Malley, this narrative ignores some rather important points:
- Cardinal O'Malley joined the protest against the University of Notre Dame's decision to honor President Obama back in 2009.
- President Obama wasn't being honored at the interfaith prayer service for victims of the Boston Marathon booming on April 18.
- O'Malley himself seems to have insisted that the funeral for Senator Kennedy be a low-key affair, to attempt to avoid any impression approval for Kennedy's pro-abortion views.
Still, the critics do have a point: It feels like something is different in this case. And I think it might indeed have something to do with Pope Francis, though not with any desire that O'Malley might have to succeed him on the Throne of Peter.
Throughout these first two months of his pontificate, especially in his homilies at daily Mass, Pope Francis has struck a rather Pauline note regarding the standards to which Christians are to be held. Saint Paul told the young church at Corinth that her members did not strictly have to avoid those outside of the church who violated Christian morality; the brethren, however, needed to be held to a higher standard, and those who acted like their pagan neighbors were to be removed from the Christian community, and shunned.
Pope Francis, while not speaking of shunning, has stressed the need for Catholics to adhere to a higher standard, and, by implication, for their fellow Catholics to expect them to do so.
That is what is at stake in Boston College's decision to proceed in honoring Prime Mister Kenney, despite his support of pro-abortion legislation. If it was wrong for Notre Dame to honor President Obama, a non-Catholic, because of his pro-abortion views, it is even more wrong for Boston College to honor a Catholic who (even if we grant Kenney the best of intentions) is promoting legislation that will lead to the destruction of more unborn babies.
Far from being hypocritical, Cardinal O'Malley is following the teaching of both Pope Francis and Saint Paul, and holding Catholic institutions and Catholics generally to a higher standard. His action in this case is consistent with his action in the case of Notre Dame, and his decision to insist on a low-key funeral (with a private guest list) for Senator Kennedy.
It might be best if Cardinal O'Malley were to explain his decision in this way, though, were he to do so, I wouldn't expect those who are calling him cynical and hypocritical to understand. But if the Church is to be a beacon to the wider world, it is necessary to hold her members to a higher standard—and that is clearly what Cardinal O'Malley is trying to do.
On Tuesday, I had the pleasure of appearing for the first time on EWTN Radio, on "At Home With Jim and Joy." Our topic was how Marian spirituality can make our home life better. I was very happy with the way the show went and with the callers, the last of whom told a very moving story about role of the rosary in her mother's life, especially in her final hours.
If you heard the show, I'd love to hear what you thought. Just leave a note in the comments. If you didn't hear the show (or if you'd like to hear it again), it's not too late. You can listen online, or download the file to listen at your convenience.
I had a great time with Jim and Joy, and I'm happy to announce that we're already planning my next appearance. I'll post more details as the day draws near, and if you want to make sure that you don't miss the announcement of this and other radio appearances, simply sign up for our free newsletter.
At 1 P.M. CDT (2 P.M. EDT; noon MDT; 11 A.M. PDT) today (May 14, 2013), I'll be making my first (and, I hope, not my last!) appearance on EWTN Radio. I'll have the pleasure of being a guest on "At Home with Jim and Joy Pinto," a wonderful pro-family and pro-life show that I cannot recommend highly enough.
During this month of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Jim and Joy and I will be discussing Marian spirituality and how parents should bring devotion to Mary into the heart of the family, so that they can impart that devotion to their children. We'll also talk a bit about the history of Marian spirituality in the Church—you may be surprised to find that it is both older and newer than you might think!
The first half of the show will feature my discussion with Jim and Joy, but in the second half of the show, you'll have a chance to ask questions and offer your comments. I hope to hear from many of the readers of the About Catholicism site!
"At Home with Jim and Joy Pinto" airs on 230 EWTN AM & FM affiliates across the United States (a list of affiliates is available here), as well as Sirius Satellite Radio’s channel 130, and on Sky Radio in Europe. You can also stream the show live through the web and on mobile devices (through the EWTN, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn apps), and pick up the EWTN Shortwave Radio signal around the globe. (Check the EWTN Global Catholic Radio Shortwave Frequency Guide for more details.)
So tune in and join us for a discussion of the Mother of God, and, if you feel so inclined, call in to talk about how your family expresses your devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. And after the show, make sure to come back here and let me know how you think it went.
May 24 is the Feast of Our Lady, Help of Christians, a title first applied to the Blessed Virgin Mary in the 16th century, and often associated with the victory of the Christian naval forces over the Ottoman fleet at the Battle of Lepanto (1571). The date, though, was chosen by Pope Pius VII in 1815 to celebrate the anniversary of his return to Rome in 1814, six years after his arrest and imprisonment by order of Napoleon.
The feast thus has a special connection to the sufferings of the Church and of the Holy Father, which makes it all the more timely today, when the Catholic Church has come under renewed attack by secular forces. And so I've chosen this week a novena to Our Lady, Help of Christians, proposed by St. John Bosco, who had a special devotion to the Blessed Virgin under this title.
The novena, which you should begin on May 15, is a little different from most, because it includes a series of actions, as well as prayers. It is composed of three parts:
- Pray three Our Fathers, three Hail Marys, and three Glory Bes in front of the Blessed Sacrament for nine days, followed by the invocation: "Blessed be and thanks be given to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament." Then, each day, pray three Hail Holy Queens, followed by the invocation, "Our Lady, Help of Christians, pray for us."
- On any day of the novena, go to Confession and receive Holy Communion. St. John Bosco recommended especially performing this step on the final day (May 23) of the novena.
- On any day of the novena, perform an act of charity for those in need.
This is a bit more involved than most novenas that I've chosen for the Novena of the Week, so I'd like to hear your thoughts on it. Are you able to perform this novena? If so, did you find it spiritually fruitful? Leave your thoughts in the comments.
On May 13, 1917, on a hillside outside Fatima, Portugal, three shepherd children saw a lady "brighter than the sun, shedding rays of light clearer and stronger than a crystal glass filled with the most sparkling water and pierced by the burning rays of the sun." For the next six months, on the 13th day of each month, Our Lady of Fatima appeared to Lucia dos Santos and her cousins Francisco and Jacinta Marto.
The final apparition, on October 13, 1917, was accompanied by the "Miracle of the Sun." As many as 70,000 people saw the sun dance in the sky, then plunge toward the earth. The sheer number of witnesses weighed strongly in the decision to proclaim the apparitions at Fatima "worthy of belief" in 1930.
Sixty-four years after the first apparition, on May 13, 1981, Mehmet Ali Agca attempted to assassinate Pope John Paul II in St. Peter's Square. Despite massive blood loss, the Holy Father survived, an event he credited to Our Lady of Fatima: "For in everything that happened to me on that very day, I felt that extraordinary motherly protection and care, which turned out to be stronger than the deadly bullet."
There is no better way to celebrate the anniversary of Fatima than to pray the rosary, which the Blessed Virgin asked the children to recite every day. In fact, most Catholics incorporate into the rosary a prayer known as the Fatima Prayer, which was revealed by Our Lady to the children on July 13, 1917. Recited at the end of each ten Hail Marys, it is also known as the Decade Prayer.
In this month of May, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, may Our Lady of Fatima intercede for us!
More About the Rosary:
Like Easter, Pentecost is a moveable feast. That should come as no surprise, since most people know that the date of Pentecost is determined by the date of Easter. But it does mean that it isn't obvious in any given year when Pentecost Sunday will be.
Calculating the date of Pentecost is simple enough: Take the date of Easter in any given year, and add seven weeks to it. But wait a second—isn't Pentecost 50 days after Easter? And don't seven weeks add up to only 49 days? Yes and yes.
In referring to Pentecost as 50 days after Easter, Christians follow the Jewish custom of including the first day in the count. It's the same principle behind the claim that Christ rose from the dead on the third day—we start the count with Good Friday, so Holy Saturday is the second day, and Easter Sunday is the third.
The Ascension of Our Lord, too, is calculated by counting Easter Sunday as the first day. So while we today would say that Ascension falls 39 days after Easter, the Catholic Church calls it the 40th day. And then there are ten more days from Ascension to Pentecost (the time that we're in right now, when many Catholics pray the Novena to the Holy Ghost).
Luckily, you don't need to keep all of this in mind in order to figure out the date of Pentecost in any given year. In fact, you don't even need to know the date of Easter. All you have to do is bookmark When Is Pentecost? There, you will find the date of Pentecost in 2013 and in future years, as well as links to articles explaining moveable feasts and how the date of Easter is calculated, and everything you need to know about Pentecost in the Catholic Church.
(A stained-glass window of the Descent of the Holy Ghost in Saint Mary's Church, Painesville, OH. Photo © Scott P. Richert)
When we think about the period between Ascension Thursday and Pentecost Sunday that the apostles and the Blessed Virgin Mary spent in prayer, we often have a tendency to regard it as a time of apprehension. Christ had risen on Easter; He had been seen by His apostles and His mother, so they knew the Resurrection to be true; but now He has ascended from their sight. Where do they go from here?
But there's no reason to believe that this period of prayer—the first novena—was filled with anxiety. The two angels—the men in white garments of Acts 1:10—had told the apostles that "This Jesus who is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come, as you have seen him going into heaven" (Act 1:11). They knew now that the testimony of the angels at the tomb had been true: Christ had risen from the dead. They had no reason to doubt this new testimony that Christ would return—and nothing in Acts suggests that they do.
Instead, as Pope Francis pointed out this morning in his homily for the Friday after Ascension (according to the report on Vatican Radio), that time of prayer and preparation, as the apostles and the Blessed Virgin awaited the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, was filled with joy:
Joy is a gift from God. It fills us from within. It is like an anointing of the Spirit. And this joy is the certainty that Jesus is with us and with the Father.
In prayer in the Upper Room, the apostles and the Mother of God knew not only that Christ had risen from the dead and had ascended to Heaven to be with His Father and would one day come again, but that He remained with them even though they no longer saw Him. And He remains with us today, in the same way—through the Church that was being formed in prayer in that Upper Room, the Church which would be confirmed in the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
When we recognize the continued presence of Christ in our lives, we cannot help but be filled with the joy that the apostles felt. But that joy is not something we can keep to ourselves; it needs to be shared in order to renew itself and to grow:
if we keep this joy to ourselves it will make us sick in the end, our hearts will grow old and wrinkled and our faces will no longer transmit that great joy only nostalgia, melancholy which is not healthy. Sometimes these melancholy Christians faces have more in common with pickled peppers than the joy of having a beautiful life. Joy cannot be held at heel: it must be let go. Joy is a pilgrim virtue. It is a gift that walks, walks on the path of life, that walks with Jesus: preaching, proclaiming Jesus, proclaiming joy, lengthens and widens that path. It is a virtue of the Great, of those Great ones who rise above the little things in life, above human pettiness, of those who will not allow themselves to be dragged into those little things within the community, within the Church: they always look to the horizon.
Those nine days of prayer in the Upper Room were the preparation for something greater: for the spreading to the entire world of the joy that the apostles and the Blessed Virgin felt. That joy
is the gift that brings us to the virtue of magnanimity. The Christian is magnanimous, he or she cannot be timorous: the Christian is magnanimous. And magnanimity is the virtue of breath, the virtue of always going forward, but with a spirit full of the Holy Spirit.
As we prepare for the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost by praying the Novena to the Holy Ghost, we should do so with hearts full of joy. Christ is risen from the dead, and He is with His Father; but He remains with us in the Church that He founded. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we do not walk alone; He walks beside us, and fills our hearts with joy, even when we have trouble recognizing Him.