As Catholics, we have a wealth of faith traditions and rituals which help us enter into the life of the Church and the history of salvation. Holy Days, novenas, processions, rosaries, chaplets, prayer cards, these activities and objects serve to deepen our relationship with God and his Son Jesus Christ, and to unify us as a family of believers. Some of these activities are public or official rites of the Church – liturgies – while other are private or unofficial forms of prayer – devotions.
There is a real difference between liturgies and devotions, and between sacraments and sacramentals. By being public rites of the church, liturgies follow careful rules (“rubrics”) and set texts established by Holy Mother Church. Two examples of this are the Liturgy of the Mass, and the Liturgy of the Hours (the official daily prayer of the Church). However, devotions like the Rosary or Stations of the Cross, while having traditional patterns or words known by many, may be prayed with any number of variations according to the needs or preferences of the people praying.
Sacraments are the seven holy acts which Jesus Christ himself established, and gave to His Church to be actual means of grace. Baptism; Reconciliation (Confession); Confirmation; Anointing of the Sick; Matrimony; Holy Orders; and, of course, the primary sacrament of Christian life – the Eucharist. Just as liturgies must be prayed according to the law of the Church, the sacraments also must follow specific form and use specific matter in order to convey the graces which they signify. However, sacramentals used for private devotional purposes – blessed candles, holy water, rosaries, relics – do not themselves convey grace. But they are extremely helpful in our prayer life and devotional practices.
In some ways, the terms “Sacrament/Sacramental/Liturgy/Devotion” are tied together. The liturgy of the Mass is where we receive the sacrament of the Eucharist. Praying the Rosary (a devotion) is aided by the use of the Rosary beads (a sacramental). Sacraments like Baptism and Confirmation use sacramentals like holy water and sacred chrism.
The month of February is a busy time for liturgies and devotions, for sacraments and sacramentals:
February 2 – Feast of the Presentation of the Lord and blessing of Candles (Candlemas): This is the day when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the Temple to offer him to God in honor of Jewish custom. Recognized by Simeon and Anna as the promised Messiah, Jesus is proclaimed the Light of the World. Many cultures have a special blessing of candles on this day (hence the name “Candlemas”). A candle so blessed is set aside for sacred use, a sacramental. Last Friday February 2nd, we blessed candles before the 8:30 am Mass on Tuesday Feb. 2nd, followed by a candlelight procession into the church.
February 3 – Memorial of St. Blaise and blessing of throats. St. Blaise lived in the 4th century where he was a Bishop and medical doctor. It was reported that he cured a young boy who was choking to death on a fish bone, hence his status as the patron saint of diseases of the throat. On the Memorial of St. Blaise, it is customary to receive a “throat blessing” where two blessed candles are crossed over the throat and a prayer of intercession to St. Blaise is said. This year St. Blaise’s day fell on a Saturday, and Fr. Fernando blessed throats in the church between 8:30 and 9:30 am last Saturday Feb. 3rd.
February 14 – Ash Wednesday. For many Catholics (and even non-Catholics), this is one of the most important religious days of the year. It marks the beginning of Lent, and we observe it by receiving a “blessing of ashes” on our forehead. Like blessed candles and holy water, the ashes are a sacramental, a special material set aside for sacred use. Traditionally the ashes are produced by burning the blessed palm fronds used the year before on Palm Sunday. Then, we joyously waved those branches to celebrate the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem. On Ash Wednesday, we are solemnly marked on the forehead with those burned branches as a sign of our sin and mortality, of our failure to follow Him.
We may receive ashes in one of two ways – during Mass with the sacrament of the Eucharist, or in the context of a “service of ashes” with the Liturgy of the Word (readings and psalms plus a homily) without the Eucharist. Our Ash Wednesday schedule at St. Mark is:
7:30 am – Service of Ashes (no Mass)
8:30 am – Mass with Distribution of Ashes
12:15 pm – Service of Ashes (no Mass)
6:00 pm – Mass with Distribution of Ashes (no 5:30 Vespers/Holy Hour)
7:30 pm – Mass with Distribution of Ashes (in Spanish)
Friday, February 16 and 23 – “Stations of the Cross” at 7 pm (English) and 8 pm (Spanish) – As we do each year, we’ll pray the Stations every Friday evening, preceded by a Lenten meatless supper at 6 pm.
Join us this month for these special blessings and devotions!