How to Make the Church Year a Living Reality
It is Easter Thursday. Today's eucharistic Sacrifice commences with these significant words: "They praised with one accord Thy victorious Hand, O Lord, alleluia, for wisdom openeth the mouth of the dumb and made the tongues of infants eloquent, alleluia". These words, of course, refer to that victorious hand of the Risen Lord who, a week ago on Holy Thursday, gave us the a) eucharistic Sacrifice, b) the eucharistic Priesthood, c) the eucharistic commandment of love, and d) planted the seedling of the eucharistic year, "do this in remembrance of Me". But we may be permitted to apply this text also to our devoted teachers, who in the strength of the Lord's victorious hand, day in and day out, "open the mouth of the dumb and make the tongues of infants eloquent".
Head, Body and Members
I am to speak to you on "How to make the Church Year, especially in the elementary school, a Living Reality". Our Lord Jesus Christ is Savior and Head of the Church. The Church is His extension, His Bride, His Body. From Him, who is Fountain-Head, divine life flows into this Body, quickening and sanctifying it and its members. He accomplishes this primarily through the eucharistic Sacrifice but also through the transfiguring sacraments, through the ennobling sacramentals and the hymn of praise, the divine office, celebrated in the course of the sacred year of the Church.
The Liturgical Year
The Church Year is the annual re-enactment, that is, the rendering present, of the work of Redemption which the eternal God wrought through Christ His beloved Son, into which saving work we are ,drawn and by which we are equipped a to render perfect worship to God and b) to obtain salvation, life and resurrection. The Church Year is the sacred Dynamo that generates saints, true worshippers of God, replenishing them with the very life of the Son of God. That being the case, it is hardly necessary to point out that the foremost duty of the Catholic School must be to lead its students to the life-imparting transforming sacramental currents of the Church's Year if they are to fulfill the purpose of their existence.
Now, instead of giving you an array of principles, you will allow me to tell you how I am trying to lead, especially my young flock, to the "Fountains of the Savior" which flow so copiously in the course of the Church's Year:
Daily Holy Mass
1) First of all, I consider it a matter of supreme importance to lead my children daily to God's altar for joyous (!) participation in the holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the re-enactment of the world-redeeming Sacrifice on Calvary. Our school day commences with Holy Mass at 8 o'clock A.M. The Mass is either a high Mass or a dialogue Mass in accordance with the character of the feast. What a pity to see people, children particularly, condemned to silence. Sometime ago, I had the opportunity to preach at the six Sunday Masses in a large city parish. The only sounds I heard during these Masses were the occasional coughings by some of the people! Everyday, after the gospel, summertime included, I give a homily of about eight minutes on the mystery of the season or the feast of the day.
You will agree with me that a Catholic School without daily Holy Mass is limping, to say the least. The eucharistic Sacrifice must become for our youngsters a daily, joyful experience, and will be so, when they understand what is going on, and when they are given the opportunity to participate intelligently in the prayers and songs of the sacramental Oblation of the divine Head with His redeemed members. For example, our "Holy Cross" children are able to sing 10 of the chant Masses, about 200 hymns, and 18 different Alleluias. Every child from the third grade up has a daily missal. We prefer the St. Andrew's Missal.
2 ) Such fundamental truths as a ) the Mystical Body of Christ, b) our incorporation into Christ our Divine Head, c) our sharing in the very life of God through His beloved Son -all these fundamental truths must be treated in season and out of season, from the first grade up. -Concerning the Mystical Body: The Sacred Scriptures give us three beautiful similes:
- Vine and Branches
- Head and Body
- Christ the Cornerstone, we the living stones.
The first of these similes comes from the Lord Himself, who spent the greater part of His life in the country and who, fittingly, expresses this great truth by a striking "country" example: "I am the Vine, you the branches", showing thereby the marvelous organic unity existing between Himself and His redeemed branches (John 15,1-7).
St. Paul who lived the greater part of his life in the city, and was perhaps(?) not too familiar with the country, but knowing the city and its men, couches this truth in the simile of a man, –head and body. Christ the Head, she the Church, His Body, we members one of another (Eph. 4, 7-13).
St. Peter, the "Rock", prefers the example of a rock or stone. Christ the Cornerstone, rejected by the builders, made honorable by God, on whom we are built as living stones, He and we forming a spirit-filled house (1 Peter 2, 1-10).
My middle initial is B. Someone asked me sometime ago, "What does that B. stand for?" I said, "Blackboard". When teaching these and other sublime truths of our faith we should have a piece of chalk in our hand and –artist or no artist– draw simple diagrams on the blackboard, e.gr.; 1 )a vine and branch, 2)head and body, 3) cornerstone and living stones built upon it. Pedagogically speaking, the more senses in operation, the deeper are the impressions.
One day, while speaking to the children about grafting a branch on the vine, a second-grader got up and said: "You know, before baptism, I was just a dry stick, but in holy baptism I became a living branch of Jesus". "Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings .............................. !" Let children copy these sketches. Repeat them from time to time, because "repetition is the mother of studies". Concerning our:
Incorporation and Sharing In the Life of Christ
Occasionally I take the children to the baptismal Font and speak to them of their holy birth at this blessed font. "Here, dear children, you received the light and life of Jesus, sanctifying grace. Here you were born to God, here you were given the holy garment of life. "Receive this white garment, carry it without stain to the judgment seat of Our Lord Jesus Christ that you may have life everlasting".
I am afraid that at times most of us are too abstract in presenting the truths of our Faith. During paschal time, for example, I take my little ones to the Easter candle, and tell them: "Children, this is a very holy Candle, the Christ Candle. In it Christ the Lord stands in our midst. We keep it here till Ascension Thursday. You know why? Look at the five holy wounds." Then I light it (we keep the paschal flame alive all year around) and speak to them of Christ the Light. Of His Light we have received. All of us are children of the Light. Then again I bring a magnet and a piece of steel to the classroom and say: "Look children, what will happen when I bring this piece of steel in contact with the magnet? The magnet, without losing any of its magnetism, will put some of its power into the steel making it magnetic, in fact so magnetic that the steel – as long as it clings to the magnet – can even pick up another piece of steel. Our Holy Lord, children, is the divine Magnet whom the Father in heaven let down on this world, so that He might lift us up to Himself, give us a portion of His Life, making us sharers in His divine nature and enabling us to be His instruments in lifting others up to His great Heart".
May I suggest that we now follow the Church's Year from the opening of School in September until Graduation day in June.
A New Year Begins
What would ye think of the celebration of a Requiem Mass (not a funeral Mass) on the opening day of school, as I witnessed some years ago? What a "black-out" on a day which calls for festive vestments, a decorated altar, a high Mass to the Holy Spirit, and a joyous homily by the shepherd to his young flock on the first day of a new school year.After our high Mass to the Holy Ghost we form a procession, headed by cross, candles and "school banner", and followed by children, adults, teachers and clergy, over to the school, singing a hymn to the "Holy Cross" ( the title of our parish) in order to bestow the Church's blessing upon school, teachers and pupils. This blessing being part of the "Collectio Rituum" (No. 12) can be given in English. Listen to this: "Pour into it ( the school) the richness of thy blessing and of thy peace. May salvation come to those who live here as it came to the house of Zachaeus when Thou didst enter it. Command Thy holy angels to guard it and drive away from it all the power of the enemy. Fill the teachers with the spirit of knowledge, wisdom and fear of Thee. Strengthen the students with heavenly grace so that they may grasp with their mind, treasure in their heart, and carry out in their deeds all the teachings that lead to salvation. And may all here please Thee by practicing every virtue so that they may one day be welcomed into Thy eternal home in heaven". Then the pastor, going from room to room, sprinkles all nine of them with holy water. Now the children move in, take their places and the big job begins.
The Namesday of the Parish
A week later, on September 14th, we celebrate our parish feast "The Exaltation of the Holy Cross", the namesday of the parish. At 8:00 a.m. we offer a solemn high Mass, at the end of which all are blessed with, and venerate, the particle of the Sacred Cross. During the days preceding and following we review briefly the history of the parish, the laying of the cornerstone, the dedication of the church, and the blessing of the school. We mention the names of the pastors (since 1864) , and pray for the departed and living. We speak to the children of their teachers, their Motherhouse ( Oldenburg, Indiana) and the year of their arrival at Holy Cross. Also of the staunch pioneers and the sacrifices they made, which must never be forgotten. We learn about the meaning and purpose of the four consecrated bells, St. Peter, St. Ann, St. Mary and St. Joseph. All of which will awaken in children greater love for their parish which, after all, is a family and not merely an assembly of so many individuals. In fact, there are two indispensable societies, namely the home and the parish. And, surely, one of the main purposes of the school ( elementary, high school and college) is to lead students to a greater love for their home and parish.
Now let us go a little farther: October approaches. Around September 21st we begin to review in all rooms the "Mysteries of the holy Rosary". The Rosary must be our daily companion, but, from time to time, needs a refreshing of its spirit so as to be kept free from the danger of deadening formalism. For that reason we read from the Bible History the story of the respective mystery. Would to God that some firm would reprint Dr. ECKERT'S Bible History, translated from the German by two monks of the Conception Abbey. Eckert's is one of the very best. By the way, we positively need more Bible History reading in our schools.
At Holy Cross, we have the October Rosary devotion daily, in the evening at 7:30, before the Blessed Sacrament exposed and, I can assure you, people and children look forward to this beautiful evening service. The celebrant begins the Rosary; announces each mystery, adding the special intention for which it is to be said. The two sides of the congregation alternate, kneeling for one decade, standing for the other. After the third we sing a hymn, thus preserving spiritual freshness so necessary for all, for children particularly.
Angel of God, My Guardian Dear
There are four feasts in October on which we lay particular emphasis. The first, on October 2nd, that of the holy Guardian Angels. We know that every baptized Christian has a Guardian Angel who is commissioned to protect and defend him against temptations of men and demons. I wonder sometimes how much people of today are concerned about the existence and presence of their protecting angel "who is mighty in strength, 'executes Gad's word, and hearkens to the voice of all His orders" (cf. introit of feast).
How often do we hear sermons on the Guardian Angel and the protection he bestows on us "from the Font to the Judgment seat of God"? How many parents speak to their children of "God who has given His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways" (Ps. 90,11 )? Then comes along a so-called "art" which turns God's mighty spirits into a "celestial kindergarten" whose "angelic play-babies" are positively harmful to the faith of old and young.We can readily see what responsibility the school has in restoring in the minds of children the Church's teaching concerning the Guardian Angels, "who are given to us by God's ineffable providence to watch over us, so that we may always be defended by their protection and in the end rejoice in their fellowship for ever" (cf. collect).
- On the feast, our school bulletin-board carries an appropriate text taken from the Mass of the feast, e. gr. "Take notice of thy angel, and hear his voice" (epistle)
- In church, a large picture of the Guardian Angel is set up, decorated with flowers and candles.
- After holy Mass we bestow –on the children attending school– and again in the afternoon –on the little ones of the parish–the Church's "Blessing of Children" (Ritual).
- Repeatedly during the year I ask the children to pray to all the Guardian Angels of our 2000 parishioners that each member may enjoy the help of his Angel during life and especially in the hour of death.
Remember your Guardian Angel!
The Church's Mother's Day
On the 11th day, as you know, we celebrate the feast of the "Maternity of the Blessed Mother". What a beautiful occasion to put again into proper perspective the unique position of the Holy Mother of God.
In His Mediator Dei the Holy Father says:
"Her life is most closely linked with the Mysteries of Jesus Christ and there is no one who has followed in the footsteps of the Incarnate Word more closely and with more merit than she and no one has more grace and power over the Most Sacred Heart of the Son of God and through Him with the Heavenly Father".
The feast of her Maternity is really the Church's Mother's Day and we use this solemnity to dedicate our parish and especially the children to the "Mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope".
Holy Things in a Holy Way
On October 18th occurs the feast of St. Luke the Evangelist. On the feasts of the four Evangelists you will find in our sanctuary a lectern covered with a rich hanging, with two lighted candles and the book of the Holy Gospel placed thereon. We wish to emphasize the holiness and dignity of the Gospel, the respect we owe it, but also our gratitude to the holy Evangelists.
You know how sometimes sacred books are being handled. In our sacristy, we have a small altar, covered with a white cloth, upon which rests the altar missal. Holy things must always be treated in a holy way. Even the smallest children must be taught the ''Sancta, sancte"! The handling of holy things in a holy manner.
On the last Sunday of October the Church celebrates the feast of Christ our King. We endeavor to make this feast a great spiritual experience for old and young. Christ our King! During the week preceding the feast we explain the acclamations "Christus Vincit, Christus Regnat, Christus Imperat!" These majestic acclamations, twelve hundred years old, are a grand symposium on the Kingship of Christ, and you should hear with what joy the children sing them –and not only the children but the adults as well– after the solemn high Mass on the Feast of "Christ our Victor, our King and our Commander-in-Chief."
Annually, around the middle of October, the eighth grade boys get busy to make stands for "Advent wreaths". Last October they made seventy-five of them. The more we keep children busy, the more we teach them the Christian art of "Ora et Labora", and, the more we develop their various talents, the better men and women our Church and Country will have. Not the soft way, but the "way to Calvary" will lead to victory. On the last Sunday of the Church year and on Thanksgiving day the boys offer their stands for sale. From the proceeds they prepare baskets for Christmas. Last year they were able to bring Christmas joy to fifteen struggling families. Such and similar undertakings awaken greater love for the Church and her feasts; create a corporate spirit among the children; teach them to utilize their spare time; and encourage them to practice the virtue of unselfishness, so necessary in this selfish age.
I venture to say that the majority of people when hearing the word "Halloween" will immediately think of ''pranks" rather than of "Hallows eve", the "eve of all Hallows, All Saints". Needless to say, the vigil of All faints should be kept with great reverence and holy expectation. In pre-reformation days, particularly in England, it was customary on the eve of All Saints to carry, amid evergreens and lamps, the relics of Saints, which at the end of the procession, were placed on the altar and about the sanctuary. Or, when they had no relics, the faithful would impersonate the saints, some vested as apostles, others as martyrs, confessors and virgins. The unfortunate reformation or deformation turned these beautiful Catholic customs into mockery and buffoonery, whence the silly and stupid things of today have originated. We are fortunate at Holy Cross to possess some 100 holy relics which, on the afternoon of the vigil, are exposed in the parish hall. The girls of the eighth grade have the privilege to assist the Sisters in erecting a large shrine decorated with hangings, flowers and lights. At 7:30 P.M. we assemble in the hall, greet the earthly remains of our triumphant brothers and sisters, pray for the "other sheep" who, because of the bad deed of a "hireling" on "All Hallows eve 1517, were torn away from "Peter, the shepherd of the flock". Then in procession we move to Church, singing on the way the litany of the Saints and hymns to the glorious members of Christ. At the end of this candle-light procession the relics are set on the altars and around the sanctuary, where they remain until the evening of the feast:
Some years ago when visiting a school a few days before All Saints I found (and took the trouble to count them) 97 "homespun" black cats and yellow pumpkins over the blackboards in one of the rooms. Why waste precious time on such rubbish, why waste efforts on things that can be gotten – if they "must" be gotten – in the nearby drugstore, cheap stuff that means nothing in the light of our Catholic faith? Why not return to the ennobling Catholic practices of yore? Do not only take away what is un-Catholic but put in its stead what is Catholic! Thereby we will "form" our people, lift up their minds and dispose them for a fuller "living with the Church". Some time ago one of the men of the Parish told me: "I want to thank you for that beautiful Halloween celebration, it's a real Halloween party. All of us look forward to it, enjoy it, and feel that we are well prepared for the next day. And my children have no desire to attend any other kind of Halloween party."
November, being the last month of the Church Year, is appropriate for an earnest study of the "Last Things", the "things" on which we should meditate more frequently in the "better" days of life. During November we give particular attention to Extreme Unction, ,the consecration of the Oil of the sick, how to prepare the table for the sick room. We speak on the holy Viaticum, on the meaning of the Apostolic Blessing, we read with the children the Commendation prayers, tell them the meaning of Christian dying and burial—our sharing in the most sacred death and burial of the Lord. One of the windows in our Church depicts St. Joseph dying in the arms of Jesus and Mary. During this month I take some of the grades to that window and in a simple way meditate with them on a holy death, a grace for which the Church prays daily in the hymn at the hour of None. We speak also of the 'wake', which is becoming so worldly. If "parlor" comes from the French word "parler" –meaning talking, even gossiping– then it may be true that many a funeral parlor is indeed a funeral "gossiping place". If at all possible, let the body be laid out in the home where it lived and died, so that the majesty of death may be protected by the sanctity of the home. We speak to the children of the 'Requiem' and its paschal character. May I add here that we should also tell them that it is not always necessary to have "black" Masses offered for our departed. The Kyriale contains eighteen Masses for the various mysteries and feasts of the year, but only one Mass for the Requiem, which, I think, reveals the mind of the Church. Pedagoically, it is certainly not good to expose our children almost daily to a so-called "black" Mass. Est Modus in rebus!
We make special efforts to celebrate the yearly Thanksgiving day, which ordinarily, falls on the last Thursday of the Church's Year, as a real eucharistic day. The fact that the Puritans instituted this fine American celebration should not disturb us Catholics. "To give thanks" is certainly very Catholic and, I believe, that we should strive to make this last Thursday of the Church's Year a "Second Holy Thursday" for old and young. There are no weddings at Holy Cross on Thanksgiving Day because a wedding would weaken the solemnity of Thanksgiving and, vice versa, the Thanksgiving celebration would obscure the celebration of the wedding. Neither would be proper. At 9:00 A.M. we have a solemn high Mass with a procession in which ten of the children carry in neatly decorated baskets fruits of the harvest, which, after being blessed (cf. "Collectio Rituum" No. 24) are given to the poor. A fitting decoration of the altar, the flag of our country carried in the procession, both choirs –of adults and children– united, alternating with the congregation, help to make Thanksgiving day a great annual event in the life of our parish.
You will agree 'with me that the holy season of Advent, the joyous-penitential preparation for Christmas, is certainly in great need of restoration. Already three, four weeks before Christmas, you can see lighted Christmas trees, hear Christmas carols, read about Christmas dinners and parties and what-not. But, who ever heard of a wedding reception, three, four weeks before the wedding? 'The Christmas tree, which on Christmas eve should commence its mission in the home, is already so dry and uninteresting that two or three days after Christmas Mama, opening the window, will tell Papa: "Throw that stuff out!" And then that strange "pagan thing" called "Santa Claus"! Did you ever think of the funny combination, "Santa", a feminine adjective, "Claus", a masculine noun? Put together, they surely give us a questionable neuter. The best we can say.
On the eve of the first Sunday of Advent, we have a special service, the closing of the old Church Year, the beginning of the new, the opening also of the holy season of Advent. Earlier in the day, a large advent wreath is suspended from the arch of the sanctuary, adorned with four massive candles and purple ribbons which, on Christmas eve, are changed to red-and-gold ribbons. We thank the Lord for his mercy during the past year of grace. We make an act of sorrow for our many failings and negligences, and then – after singing the beautiful hymn: "Drop Down Dew, O Gracious Heaven" – begin the new year of Redemption. "To Thee, O Lord, Do I lift up my soul, in Thee, O God, I put my trust, I shall not be confounded". In the name of the congregation one of the trustees comes forth to light the first of the four candles. One of my third graders told me last Advent; "When I am big, I'm going to be a trustee of the parish so that I can light that candle". Good luck to this future trustee. May he become a real light-carrier!
On the altar of the Blessed Mother stands the so-called "Advent Candle", on a candlestick adorned in white silk with a blue-and-gold band. Sister Superior in the name of consecrated virginity is given the honor to light this candle which burns at all services from today on till Christmas eve. Even a first grader can tell you that the beautiful candlestick signifies Mary, and the burning candle Christ, the Light of the world. "Thou, O Mary, possessest the joy of Motherhood without having lost the beauty of Virginity". During the lighting of this candle, we sing the ever beautiful hymn: "A rose sprang up unheeded, a fresh and tender shoot, as prophets long had pleaded, the Rose from Jesse's Root".
As I said before, our congregation is able to sing 200 hymns, which we have printed on hymn cards, one for each season. We have seven such cards, each one printed in the color of the season.
Four days in Advent are particularly outstanding: 1) The feast of St. Nicholas, 2) the feast of the Immaculate Conception, 3) the so-called "Golden Mass" on the Ember Wednesday of Advent and 4 ) the vigil of Christmas. On the eve of St. Nicholas we assemble in the hall to welcome St. Nicholas, the "friend of children", who appears in full pontificals, accompanied by "Brother Rupprecht". The choir sings the hymn "Iste Confessor", followed by declamations and songs by children and people. Then St. Nicholas addresses us, admonishing us to spend profitably the holy season of Advent. Seated on his throne he begins "an examination of the consciences" of some of the children who "must" give him an account of their stewardship. It is a joyous, happy evening for old and young, but an evening spent in the spirit of Advent.
The "Golden Mass" is the Church's re-enactment of the Mystery of the Incarnation. It is called Golden Mass because in former days golden vestments were used on this blessed day. But un-doubtly also, because the Incarnation is God's golden gift to the human family. Every child, and every adult coming to holy Mass on this day, brings a gift. Tables are set up, near the Communion Table, on which these gifts are deposited. We invite the "Little Sisters of the Poor", to whom we turn over these gifts after the high Mass so that they may add to the Christmas joy of the aged people under their loving care. Last year we were able to give them 23 bushel baskets filled with food, preserves, clothes, money from the people and children of the parish, a small token of gratitude to our Father in heaven who gave us His beloved Son as "Food" to "preserve" us, to "clothe" us and to "pay our debt".
We instruct the children also to erect an Advent-altar in their home, with two bouquets of pine, two candles and, in the center, the statue of the holy Mother of God. It is so important that we use every opportunity to lift up our homes. There was a time when pagan houses became Christian homes, today, many Christian homes are becoming pagan houses.
For years I have been promoting a "Christmas eve devotion" in the home. Conception Abbey Press publishes a four-page leaflet with prayers and songs for this holy eve. I am convinced that many people are more helpless than unwilling and, if the necessary means are put at their disposal, they will be most happy to use them. This leaflet gives directions on how to proceed, and contains prayers and hymns that will help to make this evening –as it should be– a holy evening and a worthy preparation for the great solemnity of Christmas.
Concerning the crib: The crib must not be set on the floor next to the "inevitable" train, else it will merely be one of the many play things. The crib should be put on a table and serve as home-altar before which parents and children are bound together in the love of the divine Child.
The decoration in our school during Advent are not Christmas decorations but Christmas preparations. To set up a crib with all the figures already two or three weeks before Christmas hardly makes good sense. Between Christmas and Epiphany the children help to collect "old" gold to be used for chalices, either for priest–sons of the parish or for the missions. From the old gold collected thus far, we have already had four chalices made, one quite recently for a newly ordained priest. Many people who might be reluctant to give up the wedding rings of parents and grandparents, as a rule, are quite willing to donate them for chalices and ciboria.
After Christmas we spend some time in appraising Christmas cards. It is no exaggeration to say that, at least, seventy-five per cent of the Christmas cards today are just plain rubbish. And how can children arrive at a better appreciation of true art unless we show them what is good and what is bad. Hence we "hang up" some two to three hundred cards and let the children select what they consider good, passable or bad.
St. John's Day
Two days after. Christmas is the feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist. After the last gospel we have the blessing of St. John's wine. All the "Johns" present at Mass are invited to come forth to the sanctuary, usually about a dozen. The oldest of them may hold the tray with the wine. This is a good opportunity to say a few words about our namesday and the saint under whose protection we were placed at Holy Baptism. I stress also the dignity of wine! At the wedding of Cana, our Lord wrought His first miracle, changing water into wine. At the Last Supper He changed wine into His most Precious Blood. One must have a great respect for "the fruit of the vine" and never abuse it. All present taste of the blessed wine with the greeting: "Drink to the love of St. John, the Apostle and Evangelist". The Church has given us these beautiful sacramentals, these carriers of grace and joy, why not use them to lead our people deeper into the spirit of the Church and her sanctifying feasts?
The Feast of the Holy Innocents
For this lovely feast (or the Sunday nearest it) we invite all the children of the parish, the little babes included. The statue of the Infant Savior is carried from the high altar down to the Communion railing close to the children. There we greet Him, pray with the children to Him, confer on them a special blessing (cf. "Collectio Rituum No. 16), tell them the story of the bad king Herod and of those blessed Infants of Bethlehem who gave their lives for the Holy Child. After explaining to the children the meaning and purpose of the "Holy Childhood Association", we let all of them come up, the little ones in the arms of their parents, to make an offering for the Holy Childhood. We lay our hands on everyone of them and bless them. After Benediction with the Blessed Sacrament, the pastor gives each child a gift-bag with candy, nuts and cookies at the Communion railing with this in mind: That the little ones – who in a year or two or three will approach this very Table – may acquire a small foretaste of that other Gift, the "Bread from heaven that contains all sweetness". That, "in between", the sixty, seventy babies in the arms of their parents are singing their own "Torculus" and "Quilismas" only adds to the completeness of this feast of the holy Innocents.
The feast of the glorious "Manifestation" of our Lord offers many opportunities for children. First of all, there is the blessing of water on the eve of the feast. For last year's Epiphany our seventh graders collected over 100 bottles, painted on them appropriate texts and symbols such as "Christ has appeared to us" or the "Chi-Rho upon the waters", which they distributed to parents and friends. A fine piece of Catholic Action promoting the use of holy water. One wonders in how many homes today holy water is being used? Three boys of the eighth grade with the best report cards are given the honor of being the "Epiphany Kings". Regarding the "royal" vesture, one must avoid all pompous, baroque appearances. These "Kings" are vested in Roman tunics, with a golden diadem on their head, to indicate the position of those whom they represent.
On the feast itself we bless gold, incense and myrrh, carried and presented by these "three kings". What a fine opportunity for each grade to procure a pound of good incense. Each time the incense is used, the children are reminded that their offering is being carried into the worship of God. Just another contact with the altar! We also bless chalk ( cf. "Collectio Rituum" No. 8 ). Each child receives, a piece, in fact, everyone present, and we tell them to write over the main portals of their home the names of the Magi, like this: 19+C+M+B 56, which means: "May the Lord in this year of 1956 grant His blessing and peace to this home through the intercession of St. Casper, St. Melchior and St. Balthasar."
The Unity Octave
From January 18th to the 25th, the Church observes the so-called Unity Octave, eight days of fervent prayer for the return of the "other sheep". We encourage our children to offer up their daily prayers and mortifications in union with the Lord's holy Sacrifice, and to receive holy Communion during the octave.
"That all be one, O dearest Lord, we pray,
That all be drawn within Thy one true fold.
Back to Thy Church from which the wanderers strayed
And Thy true Faith she keeps like saints of old.
O bring them back, good Shepherd of the Sheep,
And rouse the heathen nations from their sleep".
The ten stanzas and the music of this hymn were written by the former Episcopalian, Arthur Ritchey, who after the death of his wife entered the Church, came to Kenrick Seminary in my student days (1912-13) but, realizing that his children needed his care, particularly during the long summer vacation, he discontinued his studies and became associate editor of "The Lamp". Twenty years later he returned, finished his theological studies, was ordained priest and labored with great zeal in California till the Lord called him three years later.
In the Holy Night of Easter 1954, I was privileged to receive two former Lutheran pastors and their families into the Church. Naturally, this event made a profound impression on old and young and inspired everyone to observe the Unity Octave with even greater fervor. It is so important that we instill into our children a strong missionary sense, a truly "Catholic" spirit, thus lifting them out of a narrow parochialism into that grand vision of the Church universal, the Kingdom of God, for whose coming we daily pray in the "Our Father".
With joy we look forward to this beautiful feast, the "finishing touch" of Christmas and the "overture" to Easter. In classroom and Church we explain its meaning, the meaning and purpose also of the blessed candle, which is used in the divine worship, and also in the home –not only for sick calls but also in times of storms and tribulations, and, last but not least, at the principal meal on Sundays and feastdays. What a beautiful practice to set the blessed candle in the center of the meal table so that "where two or three are gathered together in His Name, He, the Lord and divine Head, may be in the midst of them." We explain to the children the Easter Candle, its holiness and purpose.Also the profession and ordination candle, likewise the death-bed candle. The six candles, too, which are placed around the casket, "Lux perpetua, luceat ei, May the eternal light shine upon him". The children must learn that the blessed and lighted candle is a symbol of Christ the Light. I give them also the following – I believe– very practical illustration: "Look children, here is a candle, now I light it. Before your baptism your soul was dark. In holy baptism you receive the divine light. In fact, after baptism the priest said to you: "Receive this burning light, keep your baptism without blame. Keep the commandments of God so that when the Lord comes to His marriage feast you may meet Him in the halls of heaven with all His saints and may live with Him forever." Then, blowing out the light, I tell them: "Look children, what happens when we commit a serious sin. The divine light in us is blown out, nothing is left but blackness, like this black wick and the unpleasant smell. But how merciful is our Lord! On the most glorious day of His life, on Easter Day, He gave us a sacrament that will put the divine light back again. 'Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them'." We encourage them, always to receive with great earnestness, with true sorrow, with a sincere heart this precious Easter gift of the Lord, the sacrament of penance, which removes whatever wrong we have done against the majesty of God and every sin committed against our co-members in Christ.
Needless to say, after the blessing of the candles on Candlemas day, all the older children receive a lighted candle and join in the procession. "Adorn Thy bridal chamber and welcome Christ the King"! You may be interested to know that the "Will and Baumer Firm" has produced a very fine wax candle, tapered and made with such care that there is practically no dripping. It is good to know this because, in a number of places, the use of the candle has already been "excommunicated". But who would want to celebrate Candlemas, or the holy Night of Easter, or a Forty Hours procession without candles?
Farewell to the Alleluia
On Saturday before Septuagesima the Church bids "Farewell" to the Alleluia, the perennial chant of heaven. Only, after our minds and hearts are duly purified by a holy Lent, will we be worthy to receive it back in the holy Night of Easter. In order to make the departure of the Alleluia more concrete, we set up in the sanctuary an ALLELLIJA in gold letters on a bright redbackground, size about 10x20 inches, the frame decorated with flowers. After holy Mass of Saturday before Septuagesima, one of the servers –with the best record for serving– may carry with a red veil this ALLELUJA in procession to the altar of the Blessed Mother. On the way we sing the "Alleluia" and Psalm "Laudate" ( 6th mode). Having arrived at her altar, we entrust the ALLELUJA to our beloved Mother, humbly asking her to bless us so that, with pure minds and chaste bodies, we may be found worthy to receive it back in the blessed Night of the Lord's Resurrection.
In the holy Night of Easter one of the chantors, an eighth grader with the highest record for choir work, may carry it back while celebrant and congregation are singing the triple Alleluia after the epistle.
Just to give you an example how children can be impressed. A few years ago in the midst of Lent, the consecration of three bishops took place in one of our midwestern cities. Since this consecration was to be televised, I procured a T.V. set for our Hall, to give the children an opportunity to see what ordinarily they might never see in their life-time –the consecration of a Bishop. It so happened that at the end of the service the choir sang Handel's magnificent Hallelujah Chorus. Quickly, quite a few of the children turned to me and said: "Didn't they bury the Alleluia?"
On Tuesday before Ash Wednesday we do two things, one in the morning, one in the afternoon. In the morning the children write their lenten resolutions on paper, not more than three. These resolutions are collected, put in a box covered with violet crepe paper and tied with a golden band, to be offered the next morning, Ash Wednesday, when eight representatives bring the resolutions of their respective room to the altar railing. Two servers receive them and place them to the right and left of the high altar. During lent, on the so-called "scrutiny days", we examine ourselves on how we have kept our resolutions. In the holy Night of Easter we put them as "mystic incense" into the newly blessed fire, the symbol of the risen Lord.
At 3 o'clock in the afternoon the children assemble outside around an urn in which we are about to burn the old blessed palms for tomorrow's ashes. I tell the children: "Children, last year these palms were young and fresh, now they are old and withered. The Church gives to all her children, old and young, a stirring lesson: "Remember man that thou art dust and into dust thou shalt return". Then one of the older boys sets fire to the old palms. Of course, one must not use a match but a taper ( for lighting the palms, or the candles on the altar!) Do things with dignity! After the burning each child receives a candy bar which, for most of the children, may be the last piece before Easter, since one of their resolutions –as a rule– consists in abstaining from candy in this season of great mortification.
The Roman Stations
Every child is supplied with a stational map (published by Conception Abbey Press). Holy Cross is fortunate to possess relics of the Roman "stational saints". Among the 450 churches of Rome are forty-five, known as "stational churches", in which the greater solemnities of the year are celebrated. Naturally, since every day of Lent is a "great solemnity", one can readily see why each day of this blessed season should be observed in one of these venerable churches.
Every morning we expose the relic of the respective stational saint on the altar of our blessed Mother. Here the procession begins, singing (an abbreviated) litany of the saints. Between high altar and people stands a shrine on which the holy relic is exposed. Each day, sixteen children, two from each room –provided their conduct warrants such participation– are chosen to be in this procession. A daily opportunity for children to realize their close union with the most holy Roman Church. After all, our Catholic altars are extensions of that great altar before which the Sovereign Pontiff, Vicar of Christ and Successor of Peter, celebrates the divine mysteries of Redemption. "Una cum famulo tuo Pio", as we profess in the canon of the Mass. Without some knowledge of the "Roman stations" one could hardly understand the texts of the lenten Masses, because so frequently it was the station which inspired the text, or it was the text that called for an appropriate station.
In the Confessional
Everyday –Sundays and weekdays– we priests are in the confessional before each holy Mass in order to give old and young an opportunity to receive the sacrament of penance, particularly important during the great purifying season of Lent. I have never been too enthusiastic about "herding" children to the sacred tribunal. "The Spirit breatheth withersoever He wills".
Annually, between the third and fourth week of Lent, I conduct a three days' retreat for our eighth graders, laying special emphasis on: 1) Our incorporation into the Mystical Body. 2) The dignity and responsibility of a Christ-member. 3) Our duties towards home, parish, school and society in general. 4) The holy Eucharist, as foremost wellspring of life and holiness. 5) The regular reception of the holy sacraments, especially that of penance. 6) The question of vocation (with stress also on the often forgotten "vocation to the Brotherhood"). 7) The particular problems of adolescents –so important in these crucial years.
I prepare them also for "a general confession of their entire life" which, I think, is of great importance, all the more, because children in their earlier years are apt to do things in a routine-like way. Now, that they are old enough, let them "stop, look, listen", go over their life carefully, make a good general confession and then step with a peaceful conscience into the important years of young manhood and womanhood.
Holy Week and Easter
We owe a debt of profound gratitude to our Holy Father, Pope Pius XII for his great reforms, especially for the precious gift of a Restored Holy Week. May the Lord bless Him, protect him and grant him length of days!
In years to come the Catholic world will appreciate more and more the tremendous work of restoration undertaken by our Holy Father, a restoration whose aim is to bring clergy, people, and especially the children, closer to the altar, closer to "the primary and indispensable source of the true Christian spirit" (St. Pius X ). Long Live Pope Pius XII!
Since Holy Week is the center of the Church's Year and the deepest wellspring of our spiritual life, it is a matter of supreme importance that –beginning with Ash Wednesday– earnest efforts be made to prepare well for "the principal Mysteries of our Redemption" ( title of the decree)."Local Ordinaries should carefully see to it that priests, especially those who have the care of souls, should be well instructed not only about the ritual observance of the restored Ordo of Holy Week but also about its liturgical meaning and its pastoral purpose" (Instruction I, 1).
"Hence all those things required for the devout and becoming performances of the liturgical services of Holy Week must be carefully prepared and put in order. The sacred ministers and all of the rest who take part in the services, whether clerics or laymen, especially the boys, should be thoroughly instructed about what they are to do" ( Instruction I, 3).
How can a person appreciate what he does not understand? No one denies that the primary purpose of our Catholic school is "to seek first the Kingdom of God and His justice", to which all "other things" are to be added. Let us not become guilty of inverting values, else we fall into the abyss of secularism.
A. PALM SUNDAY
We are well aware of the important part which the children of Jerusalem played on the first Palm Sunday. The example of the "Pueri Hebraeorum" must be continued by the "Pueri Christianorum" in praising the Redeemer who on this day "comes in the name of the Lord" to give His Life for His Sheep. The children must be given a thorough instruction on the three parts of the Palm Sunday service. 1) The blessing of the palms and their distribution, 2) the procession and 3) the eucharistic Sacrifice.
For the last twelve years we have given our first graders the privilege of singing alone the "Sanctus and Benedictus". Needless to say, it is a joyous experience for the congregation to see these little ones assemble in the middle aisle to chant, at the end of the Preface, "The Sanctus and Benedictus". By devoting a few minutes of each religious instruction period to the Holy Week music, beginning with Ash Wednesday, our children were able –the first graders included– to sing the "Hosanna Filio David", the "Gloria Laus", the two "Pueri Hebraeorum" and the "Christus Vincit" during the blessing and procession. What an effect the joyous participation of children has on adults! Their enthusiasm enkindles enthusiasm in their elders.
B. HOLY THURSDAY
On Holy Thursday afternoon we prepare a "Last Supper meal" in our Hall for our eighth graders, the pastor serving at table. During the meal every boy receives, in a sealed envelope, an "Easter greeting card". On twelve of these cards are written, beneath the greeting, the name of an Apostle. These twelve are the ones who have the honor of participating in the "Mandatum", the "Washing of the Feet". The fact that one of them will draw the name of Judas adds a touch of moderate hilarity, all the more so –perhaps we should be thankful to St. Matthias for his watchfulness– when the "lot falls" –as has usually been the case– on one of the very best.
Thank God that this significant sacramental has been incorporated into the eucharistic Sacrifice. I need not tell you what an inspiring moment it is, not only for the twelve "apostles", but for the entire parish, to see continued the act of loving service performed by Our Lord on the night before He died. "I have given you an example that, as I have done, so do you also".
C. EASTER MORNING
We have three solemn high Masses, 1) in the Holy Night, 2) at 7:30 and 3) at 11:00 a.m. In the 7:30 high Mass our first graders receive their first Holy Communion. From earliest days Easter has always been considered the Church's First Communion Day. Because burning candles are somewhat dangerous for children of seven, we have provided extensions for the candles, high enough to keep the flame above their heads. The children do not carry their candles. The extensions with the candles are set in brackets that can easily be attached to, and removed from, the pews. I would not want to deprive First Communicants either of the candle or of the white garment. Light and whiteness are part of the Easter mystery and certainly should grace the first paschal Communion of these children on "the day which the Lord has made".
After the Midnight Mass, and again after the second high Mass, we bless bread, meat and eggs, as assigned in Missal and Ritual. At the end of the second High Mass, we march in procession from church to the parish hall, first communicants, their parents, grandparents and god-parents, for a joyous "Agape" –a love feast. There, the first Communicants are assigned a place of honor at the head table to which are joined the tables for their relatives. As a rule, our greeting to one another during Eastertime is not "Good morning" or "How do you do", but "Alleluia". That is the true Christian greeting. During paschal-tide we lay particular stress on decorating the holy font, especially for Sundays, when flowers, greens and lights surround that "immaculate womb of Mother Church" out of which we were born unto God. All these things speak their own language and, I can assure you, leave a deep impression especially on the minds of children. I felt quite happy when, after the paschal Midnight Mass, one of my eighth grade servers asked me: "May I borrow one of the vigil lights so that I can take the light from the Easter candle with me? We want to keep it burning in our home till Ascension Thursday". How thoughtful, how Catholic!
It is customary at Holy Cross to give a brief admonition to the sponsors at baptism reminding them of their great responsibility (sponsors responsibility!) towards their spiritual child.
We also suggest to them to present their God-child as "a first Communion gift" –seven years later– with a daily St. Andrew's missal. And so it happens that quite a few of the children receive, for their first Communion at Easter, a missal from their God-parents. True, many of the words may still be "too big" for these little ones, but it is amazing to see how quickly they learn to find the respective Mass-text. A year later they are quite well able to follow the sacred texts. May I remind you teachers that, one of the best ways to teach children the art of reading, is to place a daily missal into their hands. Children possess a strong instinct of imitation and absorption. Just to give you an example. The other day as I was walking outside saying the divine office, I noticed one of the first graders climbing along the fence that protects the playground from the street, lustily singing the "Regina coeli laetare". So I called him and said: "Mark, where did you learn that?" "I learnt it from the other children", he said. Here he sang the entire "Regina coeli" from beginning to end perfectly. Let's not say "these things" are too difficult. They are not as difficult as we imagine. I am afraid, the reason why we have not accomplished more is, that we did not try hard enough. Nothing will ever be accomplished, unless we do something about it.
Rogation Days and Ascension
People and children of Holy Cross look forward with joy to the beautiful outside Rogation Procession on the three days preceding Ascension Thursday. In this procession are carried also the holy relics of the "stational saints" 1 ) in thanksgiving for their intercession on our behalf during the holy season of lent, 2) but also that this "multitude of intercessors" (cf. collect of All Saints) may obtain the Lord's blessing upon our hearts and homes and fields. Perhaps we city people do not realize enough how much we depend on country, gardeners and farmers for the "fruits of the earth". Remember how our Lord compared His Father to a farmer: "My Father is the husbandman, every branch in Me that beareth not fruit, He will take away, and everyone that beareth fruit He will purge it, that it may bring forth more fruit". Of course, it is important that we explain properly all of the Church's feasts and functions, not merely their ceremonial part but, above all, the meaning of their divine contents. Surely, we must stress, and carry out conscientiously, the rubrics, the "shell-part", but much more so the "kernel", I mean the divine life that flows behind the visible forms. By all means, let us cultivate a high regard for the Church's "carriers of grace", among them the significant Rogation days.
We make very special efforts to prepare old and young for a most solemn and fruitful celebration of the glorious Ascension of Our Lord, 1) for it's own sake, but 2) also to "make up" in some measure for what thousands and ten thousands are unable to do, because the "lords of the world" call them to factories and offices on the triumphal day of the "Master and Lord of the world". We must instill into our children a sense of reverence for the "holy days of obligation", especially for this one, the glorious day of the Lord's Ascension, the beginning of His heavenly Priesthood at the right hand of the Father, whence He directs His Church through His Holy Spirit, preparing His redeemed members for final participation in His Divinity (cf. preface of the feast).
Novena for Pentecost
Isn't it strange that our age which abounds in novenas shows so little appreciation of the first and most necessary of all novenas? One of the duties of the school is to restore an intelligent and fervent observance of the great novena for Pentecost. All of us need the Spirit of Truth! "O King of glory, Lord of Hosts, who hast this day mounted in triumph above all the heavens, leave us not orphans but send unto us the promise of the Father, the Spirit of Truth, alleluia".
Pio Decimo Press, St. Louis, publishes a booklet, "Veni, Sancte Spiritus", divided into nine parts for the nine days of preparation for Pentecost. We decorate our classrooms with symbols of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. During these nine days we study the "rite of Confirmation", the beautiful "Sequence" of Pentecost and the hymn "Veni, Creator", thus preparing the children for the most holy feast of Pentecost, the fullness of Easter, the blessed day which marks the birth of the Church, the beginning of the great apostolate, the march for the conquest of the world, a conquest which must continue until the day of the Lord's return in majesty, when, in the power of His Holy Spirit, He will judge the world by fire.
Before closing, allow me to add a few suggestions. It is not a good piece of pedagogy to use in the classroom the self-same prayers day in and day out. I don't mind eating sauerkraut and spareribs but I certainly would not care for them every day. We need prudent variety, also in our prayer life. For that reason we say before and after class the "collect of the day". A splendid means for enriching the prayer life of children. By all means let us preserve joyous freshness in the children's prayer life! In each classroom we have an "altar", decorated appropriately according to the various seasons of the year. During the religious instruction period a candle is lighted before the respective image, be it that of our King on the Cross, or that of the Risen Lord, His Blessed Mother, the Sacred Heart, or the Guardian Angel. Part of each religion period is devoted to singing. I am convinced that, all too long, we have under-rated the educational and uplifting value of music. Many of our schools have failed to promote the chaste chant and sacred hymns of the Church, nor have they fostered effectively good secular music and folk-song, doubly necessary today when children are constantly exposed to crooners, swooners and all types of musical barbarism beyond description.
In regard to reading, it is important that we insist on proper diction, permitting no "sing-song" in praying and reading. Nothing is more deadening than monotonous speaking. My motto has always been: "Boy, when you speak alone, open your mouth, come out with it, and say it beautifully". In concert speaking and reading, however, let there be moderation and subdued tones, else you will have "gang-noises".
We are using the Little Hours, published by "Leaflet Missal", St. Paul, Minn., Terce, Sext and None. Terce before holy Mass, Sext at noon and None at 3 o'clock, thus teaching the children 1) sanctification of the day and 2) union with the great prayer of praise which the Church, united with her divine Head, daily offers to the Father in Heaven.
Children must also be taught the regular use of the "Sunday and feastday envelope". If we hope to have responsible men and women that will "support the Church according to their means", it is necessary that we begin with the children, teaching them the duty of making their offering regularly and cheerfully.
Please tell me: Who looks forward to the end of the school year with greater eagerness, teachers or students? Anyway, after a year of hard work, both teachers and students are in need of relaxation, entitled to a pleasant vacation, although for most of our teachers, "vacation" means heavy summer courses and . . . . a good retreat.
Concerning graduation, may I suggest that we strive to simplify our present graduation exercises? They are becoming too pretentious and too worldly. "Body-adoration" and "child-adoration", both are no good. I believe that our graduation services should be truer, more Catholic. Let there be a high Mass with participation by all in the morning in which the graduates seal their elementary school days by the reception of the Lord's most sacred body. In the evening, a hearty word of congratulations by the shepherd to "his boys and girls"; likewise a paternal word of advice and admonition to their parents; the announcement of scholastic achievements and efforts, a pledge of loyalty to the parish, a word of thanks to the teachers for their noble and unselfish work, followed by the conferring of diplomas and Benediction of the most Blessed Sacrament. As pastor I should like to visit the homes of the graduates today, but, since that is hardly possible, I invite my graduates and their parents to come to the parish house after the evening Graduation where I can personally extend my good wishes to the happy parents and their hopeful children. At the same time I can once more assure the parents of my whole-hearted support during the next four, all important years.Conclusion
A year ago the editor of Worship asked me to write a monthly article ( for vol. 30) "On the Church Year in ,the Parish". Some of the things which I have said here, are contained in those articles which, I hope, will appear in book form in 1957. Permit me to direct your attention to this forthcoming book, because many of the questions merely indicated here, will be treated at greater length in that book. In conclusion, may the Lord bless and reward you teachers, render your work ever more fruitful, and enable you in days to come to carry the tremendous educational values of the Church's Year even more effectively into your class-work. After all, the Church Year is the great "School of Life". "Show me Thy ways, O Lord, and teach me Thy paths", is the Church's prayer on the very first day of her new year (Introit). The Church Year is the source of holiness, the power-house of transformation, the wellspring –provided we drink freely– will bring forth saints, true worshippers of God, faithful members of the Church and loyal citizens of the country. May the "victorious hand of the Lord" always be extended over you, your work and your students –Christ's holy members.
Martin B. Hellriegel
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