Advent is such a beautiful season of anticipation and preparation. There are so many wonderful saints to celebrate and devotions to practice. Over the years we’ve observed the passage of Advent using the Jesse Tree and an Advent Calendar. We’ve joyfully celebrated the feasts of Saint Nicholas, Saint Lucy, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the Immaculate Conception. My family loves the traditions associated with each of these devotions. As I’ve learned more about many of the older, lesser known traditions we’ve added more to our Advent observances. Three absolutely lovely traditional devotions are observing the Advent Ember Days, attending a special advent mass dedicated to Our Lady called a Rorate Mass, and praying the ancient O Antiphons before our evening family rosary.
Basically, Ember Days occur four times a year and roughly coincide with the change of seasons. The Ember Days of Advent fall the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday following Saint Lucy’s feast on December 13th. Ember Days are marked by voluntary, partial fast and abstinence from meat (full abstinence on Friday, of course) as penance, by prayerful gratitude for God’s abundant gifts, and in especial prayer for the priesthood. If you have access to a Traditional Latin Mass parish you can attend mass in which the Ember Days are particularly observed in the readings and propers for the day. For a more in-depth look at the observance of Ember Days, check out the link at the end of this post to an article I wrote for Catholic Sistas a few years ago.
A special mass found only in the Extraordinary Form is the Rorate Caeli Mass or Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary for Advent. It honors the Blessed Mother as the vessel which bore the Light of the World. Celebrated in the early morning before dawn and lit only by candlelight the church progressively grows brighter as the sun begins to rise. The symbolism of awaiting the dawn and arrival of the Light of the World is palpable. What a lovely way to honor Our Lady and what a deeply transcendent way to celebrate Advent meaningfully. I attended my first Rorate Mass last Advent. It was so incredibly peaceful and breathtakingly beautiful. With the times we are living in, if you are blessed enough to have access to a Traditional Latin Mass parish this devotion is definitely one with potential to raise your observance of Advent to a new level.
Praying the O Antiphons on the days leading up to Christmas Eve is probably the easiest and most accessible of the three devotions to implement. Over a thousand years old, the O Antiphons are the seven antiphons recited preceding the Magnificat during Vespers. They are so named because each antiphon begins with “O”—O Sapientia (Wisdom), O Adonai (Lord), O Radix Jesse (Root of Jesse), O Clavis David (Key of David), O Oriens (Rising sun), O Rex Gentium (King of the Nations), and O Emmanuel (God with Us). You may recognize each of the 7 titles of the Messiah from the familiar Advent hymn O Come O Come Emmanuel.
If you end up adopting one of these traditional devotions this Advent, let us know in the comments. May you and your families have a most blessed and fruitful Advent and may you be well prepared to welcome the Christ Child into your hearts and homes this Christmas.
In October the Church celebrates a month dedicated to the Holy Rosary. Many saints have promoted the Rosary as the weapon for these times and as one of the greatest prayers of the Church. For the past 25 years our family has prayed a family Rosary most every night before the children go to bed. That adds up to a lot of “Hail Marys” to be sure and there have certainly been times when I’ve found the prayers to be dry and have allowed my mind to wander unchecked. While a poorly prayed, unfocused Rosary is still better than no Rosary at all; a directed well prayed Rosary is infinitely more effective. If you are like me and often find your mind drifting while trying to pray there several efficacious tools that can bring your meditations back around.
One particularly popular method is praying a Scriptural Rosary in which passages related to a particular mystery can be read before the “Our Father” or even between each “Hail Mary”. Resources for this method can be purchased in booklet form or found online.
“The Rosary is the book of the blind, where souls see and there enact the greatest drama of love the world has ever known; it is the book of the simple, which initiates them into mysteries and knowledge more satisfying than the education of other men; it is the book of the aged, whose eyes close upon the shadow of this world, and open on the substance of the next. The power of the Rosary is beyond description.” – Archbishop Fulton Sheen
Recently, during a podcast by Dan and Stephanie Burke, they promoted the Contemplative Rosary App. Available from the Apple store the app has various helps including lovely pictorial works to meditate upon or clausular aspirations said in the middle of each “Hail Mary” to help one recalibrate the mind to the mystery. For example “Blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus, who suffered agony in the garden of Gethsamane”.
Another way of looking at the mysteries is to consider the virtues one might find at work in a particular scene. This method is one of my favorites allowing one to hone in upon the virtue manifested in the character of Jesus or the Blessed Mother. One can then ask for an increase in that virtue for oneself or for someone else.
Using the Joyful Mysteries as an example, here is how this method plays out:
1st Joyful Mystery—The Annunciation
Virtues which stand out: humility, gentleness, obedience
Picture Mary serenly at work in her family home when the Angel appears and greets her with the Ave and delivers the message to the Handmaid of the Lord. Mary gently and humbly responds in deference and obedience.
2nd Joyful Mystery—The Visitation
Virtues which stand out: kindness, courtesy, loyalty
Having received Gabriel’s message Mary promptly sets out to visit and assist her cousin Elizabeth out of kindness, kinship, and loyalty. Elizabeth joyfully greets Mary and welcomes her with warmth and affection.
3rd Joyful Mystery—The Nativity
Virtues which stand out: humility, meekness, perseverance
After their long and arduous travels, Mary and Joseph seek a place to stay in Bethlehem. Persevering in the trial, they are led to a stable and our Lord is quietly born in the lowliest of conditions.
4th Joyful Mystery—The Presentation
Virtues which stand out: piety, prayerfulness, obedience
Mary and Joseph faithfully present our Lord in the temple in accord with the laws of their Jewish faith.
5th Joyful Mystery—The Finding of Jesus in the Temple
Virtues which stand out: religion, docility, respect
Having found Jesus in the Temple among the teachers after searching for him for three days, Jesus responds to his parents with docility and respect.
Of course, there are many more virtues which can be pulled from each mystery. These are just a few examples and how I’ve used them to contemplate while I pray.
“Say the Holy Rosary. Blessed be that monotony of Hail Mary’s which purifies the monotony of your sins!” -St. Josemaria Escriva
What of those evenings when I know my brain is completely shot and diligent concentration is just not going to happen? In this case I have a very simple technique requiring very little effort or focus. For each bead I think of someone—the Holy Father, cardinals, bishops, priests, secular leaders, family members or friends—to offer that prayer for. Just bringing that person to the forefront of my thoughts is a tremendous help in maintaining a prayerful mindset.
“The Rosary is a powerful weapon to put the demons to flight and to keep oneself from sin…If you desire peace in your hearts, in your homes, and in your country, assemble each evening to recite the Rosary. Let not even one day pass without saying it, no matter how burdened you may be with many cares and labors.” – Pope Pius XI
A Weapon for these Times
Currently we have an important election coming up, a seemingly never-ending virus rampaging, and alarming civil unrest. Let’s spend this upcoming month of the Holy Rosary begging Our Lady’s intercession. She’s given us powerful ammunition for spiritual battle. Let’s use it well!
Being Christian is tough at times. Being Catholic? Even harder most times!
Sometimes, as Catholics, it can be difficult to explain our Faith, let alone convince others about our beliefs. As I have explained to my husband (who is Methodist), as a Catholic, there are more things I am called to pay attention to – not because I think we are better than anybody else, but rather, because I have firm belief that my Catholic Faith and Traditions will open my soul to be truly transformed by Christ!
To use a cooking analogy – I believe the Catholic Faith has the complete recipe, with generations of those who have gone before having filled in the recipe card with handwritten notes of love, encouragement, and tried-‘n-true tweaks.
When we look at the recipe of Catholicism, the (arguably) Six Precepts of the Catholic Church are outlined on the Vatican website, and are the pen on the recipe card:
1.) Participate in the Eucharistic Celebration (a.k.a. the Mass) on Sundays and all other Holy Days of Obligation;
2.) Participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation (a.k.a. Confession) once a year;
3.) At a minimum, receive the Eucharist once a year, during the Easter season, making the second precept annual to ensure reception of Christ’s Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity is received under a state of grace;
4.) Keep holy ALL Holy Days of Obligation by attending Mass;
5.) Fast and abstain on all Church designated days;
6.) According to ability, contribute to the support of the Church.
The other penned ingredients include the belief found in the words of the Apostles’ Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Bible.
Further down on the recipe card are instructions, in which we find the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy, the Theological and Cardinal Virtues, and the Fruits and Gifts of the Holy Spirit.
But, written in the margins?
The writing left from those who have come before us, and traveled the rocky, hilly terrain to God?
In the margins, tucked between the ingredients and steps of the recipe, we are given the devotions promoted by the Catholic Church!
Just like our generational recipes for cooking and baking, things will still turn out okay if we just stick to the black and white print… if we just stick to the basics. However, without the devotions, we may miss out on that extra sweetness, fuller depth, richer relationship with God!
Nowhere is the uniqueness of the Catholic Faith more acutely felt, than when one considers the vast devotions applicable to living and being transformed by one’s Catholic Faith.
Whether it is a special devotion to the Rosary, to the First Fridays or First Saturdays, Divine Mercy, or Brown Scapular, there is no right or wrong! Sometimes, devotions can begin to weigh you down, literally, as you add the Miraculous Medal to the one worn by the Angelic Warfare Confraternity, to the St. Christopher Medal, or medals for other special causes or saints.
Each of us have our own call to particular devotions – one person may feel drawn to the Immaculate Heart devotion, while another may feel drawn toward the Divine Mercy devotion. The beauty is that we don’t have to adhere to every special devotion, but we can learn from each other, and share those treasures – those notes in the margins – with each other!
The point of this is to not discount the handwriting in the margins.
Instead, keeping the ingredients written in pen, read the extra handwriting, take note of added ingredients, and tinker with your own recipe!
Devotions serve to enhance our transformation into followers of Christ. They are present to allow us into a deeper relationship with Him!
Through our Catholic Faith, we see a transformation in our lives as we seek, find, and get to know God. Through that transformation that occurs, we are challenged to be Christ’s hands and feet, bringing Him to others through our thoughts, our words, and our actions.
Devotions serve as a (mostly) daily reminder of the added benefit of knowing Christ, and being Christ-like to others. They serve as a way to recognize Christ in our neighbors, and become a representation for us, of the reward of knowing and keeping Christ close.
When was the last time you researched a new devotion?
When was the last time you considered adding a new devotion to your faith life?
Do you have a special devotion?
I’d love to hear your devotions in the comments below!
Fridays are full of feelings- anticipation, accomplishment, exhaustion, and, yes, sorrow. For me, it is the end of a packed week of getting kids out the door to school each morning, helping them with homework, packing lunches, doing laundry, going to work, keeping up the house, and making sure meals are made and eaten before kids head out to their activities. There is barely enough time to exhale; then, comes Friday. Often, I feel spent. Sometimes, I even need a good cry, like I need a glass of water on a hot August afternoon. I need it that much. It’s not that I am sad or disappointed, it is just a release. And, as I often discover, my Catholic faith has an app for that: The Sorrowful Mysteries. Each Friday, when I have a moment to pray the rosary, I meditate on the sorrowful mysteries of Christ’s life. These sorrows have an even deeper meaning during this season of Lent. Over the years, I have had insights into those sorrowful events from so long ago that speak to who I am as a mother today.
1. The Agony in the Garden
Sometimes, my insights come from unpleasant exchanges that I witness at home. Usually it is a quarrel between two or more of my children over some trivial material object like a toy or an article of clothing. Seeing them value an object over the feelings and well-being of another breaks my heart. On one particular day, I was so upset; I left the house and walked the dog to calm down. It occurred to me on our walk that when Jesus was in agony in the garden, it was not only because he dreaded the physical pain of death on the cross. Rather, he was in agony because he was about to witness his children sin in awful ways, ultimately condemning him to death.
2. The Scourging of Jesus at the Pillar
Jesus’ suffering is twofold; knowing that these are His children who are torturing Him, He now also has to witness the grief in the eyes of those who love Him as He is publicly scourged. He could tolerate the physical pain of the blows knowing the value of redemptive suffering. But, knowing that because of the gift of free will, some will choose to sin and, because of this, others will grieve, Jesus’ scourging was even more painful. As a mother, I have seen my children experience name calling and I am filled with sorrow because I know that it will leave scars on them. But, through compassion and good counsel, they will learn that they are not what they have been called, but rather they are what they do. Much worse is to see them call another person a name or spread gossip about another person. That alters their character and cannot be healed with good counsel, but rather, good confession.
3. The Crowning with Thorns
Jesus is stripped of all human dignity and there is no suggestion of royalty or divinity. He is given a crown to be mocked and ridiculed. As moms, we often have a crown of thorns that we wear. It presents in the form of humiliations we have, just by being moms. I have crowns aplenty some days. I recall pulling up to the school drop-off in my old van one morning. As we approach, you can hear a rhythmic whistle of a car singing…”I am old, I am old.” As the slightly dented van door opens, there is an ugly scuffle in the back seat and I have to smile and correct my children to exit one at a time, as teachers and other parents look on. The last child drags a grocery bag full of the week’s car trash that has hooked onto her shoe and it spills onto the side of the road. Any hint of dignity is gone. I adjust my crown and pick up the trash and drive off.
4. The Carrying of the Cross
Here, Jesus carries the weight of our sins up the hill to Calvary where he will be crucified. His human body is weak but His divine spirit moves him to complete the journey. Mom’s have crosses, too. They are burdens that we know are necessary so that we can reach our ultimate destination. Moms sacrifice so much for the family. Yet, these trials of motherhood are wrought with great, worthy purpose. We cannot carry these burdens alone. We need divine assistance.
5. The Crucifixion and Death of Jesus
My Friday meditations of these sorrowful mysteries end with the death of Jesus. And this mystery fills me with such hope that I cannot explain in human terms. I suppose that is why they are referred to as mysteries. He loved us that much. It really is the greatest love story ever told. And, with that, I exhale and I am ready to enjoy a weekend with my family.
I was blessed to come into the Catholic faith with no preconceived notions about Mary. I hadn’t grown up as a staunch Protestant who believed Catholics worshiped her. Or equally damaging—a staunch Catholic who’d witnessed some well-intentioned relatives skirting the line between veneration and worship (perhaps by dressing up their statues of Mary?). So I had none of the usual obstacles to embracing the Mother of God. If anything, I was predisposed to love her, as I had no earthly mother.
Except…I had no idea who Mary was. And outside of my desire for a mom, I didn’t really know WHY I should cultivate a loving relationship with her, other than the fact that she was the mother of the person I loved most. As it was, that’s all it really took to start my relationship with the Mother of God: the knowledge that if Jesus loves her, then I should, too. It was similar to how I felt when I got married and desired to get close to my mother-in-law for the sake of my husband.
Over the years, however, I’ve moved beyond loving Mary through Jesus and loving her as a person in her own right, for her own intrinsic value. For her beauty, compassion, and humility. For her loving and unrelenting solicitation of her children, no matter how errant or stubborn we are. In no time at all, I discovered that I loved her for her, as I’m sure Jesus intended all along.
A turning point for me came a few years ago, when I was reading Scripture and realized that Mary wasn’t there at one of the most pivotal times and places in salvation history: at the tomb on Easter morning. In Jewish tradition, preparing the body of your deceased loved one was a sacred ritual and one Mary would never have forgone for Jesus. So why wasn’t she with the women at dawn as they went to anoint his body? Was she just sleeping in? Most probable is that Mary declined to go with the women because she knew Jesus was not going to be in the tomb.
It’s hard to believe that if Jesus told his followers he was going to rise from the dead, that he didn’t also tell his own mother, whom he knew his torture and death would devastate most of all. The difference is, Mary listened to Jesus—and believed him. She wasn’t at the tomb on Easter morning because she was the first to fully believe Our Lord when he said he would be raised from the dead. Unlike the other followers of Jesus, she didn’t need proof or someone else to tell her what Jesus himself had said would happen. Jesus said to Thomas, “’Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.’” Jesus was not only talking about those of us who live today, but first and foremost about his own faith-filled Mother.
I don’t think people realize how Mary anchors us to Jesus, especially in times of crisis and doubt. When my son died and I couldn’t talk to Jesus without anger, it was Mary who held my hand through the pain, who generously allowed me to rail at her own precious Son for taking mine. When my doubts creep in during suffering, that whisper into my heart that God can’t be trusted, it’s Mary who stands beside me and helps me fight off the demons that would snatch me from the hand of Jesus forever. She’s the one who gently reminds me to “Do whatever He tells you” when I struggle to do my own will instead of God’s. And perhaps most importantly, she is my clearest example of what it means to be a fully human, fully faithful woman who follows Jesus in this life without ever once counting the cost.
St. Louis de Montfort, known for his profound devotion to Mary, said, “[The faithful] will see clearly that Mary is the safest, easiest, shortest and most perfect way of approaching Jesus and will surrender themselves to her, body and soul, without reserve in order to belong entirely to Jesus.” And he’s right. To that end, I’d like to offer a few suggestions for those seeking to get closer to the Virgin Mary, whether you’re a cradle Catholic, a new convert, or anyone who loves Jesus and who wants to better love his mother–and yours.
1. Get to know Mary. Meditate on the events of Jesus’ life from the Blessed Mother’s perspective. Imagine being 14 and telling your parents that you’re pregnant out of wedlock, knowing you also live in a society that could stone you for it. Imagine not knowing where your child is for five days, as Mary and Joseph did before they found Jesus in the temple. (One day of traveling from Jerusalem, one day back to Jerusalem, and three days searching; we forget it was really almost a week that they were looking for Jesus.) Imagine hearing people malign your son, calling him names and saying he’s in league with Satan, just for being loving to them.
Especially if you already have children, you’ll quickly realize that Mary suffered intensely long before Jesus was ever arrested. Just as Mary leads us to Jesus, Jesus can also lead us to Mary, if we realize that much of his suffering caused his mother to suffer, too.
2. Talk to Mary. Our first priest used to say you’d never walk up to a stranger and ask her for something, which is why we ought to have a relationship with a saint long before we ever ask that saint to intercede for us. Just like Jesus, Mary cares about you. She cares not just about your salvation, but about all the little details of your life that comprise your attempts to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”
Tired of doing laundry? Tell Mary. Struggling in your marriage? Tell Mary. Excited that your son made the honor roll for the first time? Tell Mary. Talk to the Blessed Mother as a friend, a real friend, who loves you and wants to know about all the big and little things that bother you or even make you happy. I go to Mary before I even go to my female friends, because as my Mother, she shares my struggles and joys as all good mothers do with their children. I find that when I do, my joy is multiplied and my sadness divided.
3. Go to Mary for help. As a new Catholic, I once had a faithful Catholic woman tell me to take all my “womanly” problems to Mary. I started doing just that, which is when my relationship with the Blessed Mother really deepened.
I’m convinced the Church’s veneration of Mary has made her intimidating to most Catholics, who see her as this distant, holier-than-thou (even if she actually is!) figure that we should admire from afar. But Mary was a real, flesh-and-blood woman just like you and me, sisters. She went through puberty, pregnancy, childbirth, and probably even menopause. She was married, raised a child to adulthood, and lost her husband when Joseph died. She was poor and probably struggled financially, especially when she and Joseph fled to Egypt. She likely had unkind relatives who were less than charitable about her pregnancy outside of marriage. She spent the early part of Jesus’s childhood—you know, those hard, sleep-deprived years–with little support from her family, because she was in Egypt and they were in Nazareth.
As a mother, Mary wanted all the things for her child that we all do: safety, love, and a happy future. She may not have had to deal with a sinful child, but how could she not worry about Jesus once his public ministry began and her beautiful little boy was treated like a pariah out of jealousy? She also endured a mother’s worst nightmare: seeing her child not only killed, but tortured before her very eyes. This is a woman who has suffered in every way a woman can suffer, ladies.
There really is no struggle you can bring to Mary that she doesn’t know intimately through her own life. If you had an earthly mentor next door with this kind of life experience, you’d be a fool not to take advantage of her counsel and comfort. So why are we so reluctant to seek both from the Mother of God?
4. Pray the rosary…or the Hail Mary; the Hail, Holy Queen; or the Memorare. Or don’t pray any specific prayers at all–just talk to the Blessed Mother. Don’t believe those who claim the rosary is the ONLY way to get close to Mary, because it’s not. It may be an especially efficacious way, and for those who feel drawn to it, more power to them. But don’t give up on Mary if your ADD or spiritual sloth keep you from praying the rosary meditatively every day. St. Therese struggled to stay awake when she prayed the rosary and so do I. Instead, I have a Hail Mary at the ready 20 times a day; it’s so reflexive during times of anxiety that I often don’t even realize I’m praying it until I get to the second half. I don’t stress over whether my Blessed Mom prefers formal prayer, because I know that what is really important to her is that I’m PRAYING–that is, talking–to her.
Use what draws your heart to Mary, whatever that is. If it’s simply talking to her about your life, like she’s a friend in the room, do that. If it’s praying the rosary or other Marian prayers, do that. Keep a journal and write your entries to Mary. Put a letter to her in the mail, stamp and all, and mail it to one of the shrines around the world! Make Marian feast days serious celebrations in your home—a big dinner, balloons, dessert, a skit about the Blessed Mother’s life. Buy yourself a blue coat as a symbol of putting yourself under Mary’s mantle (which is usually blue in art, to represent the sky, which covers all believers). Leave a card for her on the altar or beneath your church’s artwork of her from time to time. Frame a picture of her and put it beside your bed or on your desk.
There are a thousand ways to show your love for Mary and invite her into your soul more fully. The old ways are good and they’ve worked for millions of people throughout history. But don’t be afraid to embrace less traditional devotions as a way to develop your own unique relationship with this amazing woman!