Celebrating Our Lady of Loreto (10 December)

Celebrating Our Lady of Loreto (10 December)

‘Loreto, after Nazareth, is the ideal place to pray while meditating on the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God.’ —Pope Benedict XVI

Sometimes living liturgically can be as simple as giving new meaning to something you already do. That may be the case with celebrating the feast of Our Lady of Loreto on 10 December. If you usually decorate gingerbread houses this time of year, do them that day and tell the story of the Blessed Mother’s house! And if cookie houses aren’t your thing, or you’d rather not buy the kits or supplies, you could make houses from waffles, blocks, or legos, or draw one with crayons. 

The title Our Lady of Loreto refers to Santa Casa, or the Holy House, of Loreto, which is the stone house in which Mary was born, where the Annunciation occurred, and where an ancient statue of Our Lady is found. Many believe it is also the house in which Mary and Joseph raised Jesus. Since the 13th century, popes and over 150 saints and blesseds have made pilgrimages to the site.

The fact that St. Anne and St. Joachim lived there with Mary and that Jesus lived there with Our Lady and St. Joseph is more than enough to capture our interest. But there’s more! The story has a fascinating twist because Loreto … is in Italy! How, you may wonder, did the house in which Mary and Jesus lived come to be in Italy?

The house originally stood in Nazareth. It was a sacred place from the apostles’ time. Emperor Constantine had the first basilica built over the house and its attached grotto in 312. The first Crusaders built a new basilica over it in 1100, which was destroyed during a later crusade. With the Crusaders driven out of the Holy Land in 1291, the house itself was at risk of destruction or desecration.

The first miracle of the transportation of the holy house was reported that same year on 10 May 1291 when the house suddenly appeared in a field in Tersatto, now Croatia. Inside the “chapel” shepherds found an ancient altar and a beautiful statue of the Holy Mother of God. They ran to get their priest, who spent hours praying for understanding. Our Lady appeared to him in a dream and told him this was the house in which she was born and raised and where the Annunciation happened and Jesus became incarnate. She told him the altar in the house was consecrated by St. Peter. This priest was then miraculously cured of his crippling arthritis. The house was venerated as a holy place until it suddenly disappeared three years later – just before the area was invaded. Shepherds reported seeing angels carry it away. 

Next the house was discovered on a little plain in Italy near the city of Lecanati, then a second property in Lecanati, and then finally in Loreto. Government investigators were sent to Nazareth to research the house. All they found was the spot where the house originally stood – with the foundation measuring exactly that of the house in Loreto, 13’ x 31’. The hand-chiseled bricks used in the house are exactly those found in Nazareth and are completely different from what was used in Italy. The investigators were convinced it was the Holy House. 

There is an alternative theory of how the house came to be in Loreto. Some say the origin of the tradition that angels carried the house is because a rich merchant whose last name was Angelos (meaning “angels”) paid crusaders to move the house to Italy. Documentation in the Vatican was found that was the basis of this explanation. Some scholars have noted that there are no signs that the house was ever disassembled and reassembled, which would have been necessary to move it.

The tradition of angels transporting the house from Nazareth to Tersatto to Italy is the reason that Mary, under her title Our Lady of Loreto, is the patron saint of pilots! 

Regardless of how the house was transported from Nazareth to Loreto, it has become the greatest shrine to Our Lady in the world. More than 50 popes have testified to its authenticity. And, it is a place of many miracles. 

Pope Francis added the Feast of Our Lady of Loreto to the Roman Calendar to be celebrated as an optional memorial during Advent on 10 December. The feast comes just two days after the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, inviting us to contemplate further on the love God had for his Mother in sparing her from original sin.

Our Lady of Loreto, pray for us!

Celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Loreto by:

  • Decorating a gingerbread house or building a house from blocks or Legos.
  • Praying the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which was originally called the Litany of Loreto.
  • Eating spaghetti or another Italian dish as a reminder of the home’s location in Italy. You might consider serving Challah bread along with it to tie in the Jewish origins of the Holy House. You could try your hand at baking it, or just look for it at your local grocery store. It’s often in the bakery section this time of year due to Hannukah.
Celebrating Saint Juan Diego (9 December) & Our Lady of Guadalupe (12 December)

Celebrating Saint Juan Diego (9 December) & Our Lady of Guadalupe (12 December)

It is fitting to celebrate these two feast days together. The beautiful story of Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe is well known. A poor Indigenous man named Juan Diego was walking for many miles to attend Mass on December 9, 1531. Near a hill called Tepeyac, he heard beautiful music that sounded like birds. A radiant cloud appeared, and in it stood an Indian maiden dressed like an Aztec princess. The lady spoke to him and sent him to the bishop of Mexico to ask for a chapel to be built in that place. The bishop was skeptical and told Juan to ask for a sign. Juan promised to do so but that day his uncle became very ill and Juan stayed to care for him instead. When Juan later went to the priest, he took the long way around the mountain, trying to avoid the lady he had let down. The lady appeared to Juan along his detour and chided him for not coming to her for help. “Am I not here, I who am your mother?” The lady assured Juan that his uncle would recover. For the bishop’s sign, she instructed Juan to gather roses in his cloak, called a tilma. The roses were miraculously growing out of season on the mountaintop. When Juan opened his tilma in the bishop’s presence on December 12, the roses fell to the ground, and the bishop sank to his knees in reverence. On the tilma was an image of Our Lady, exactly as she had appeared at Tepeyac. The symbolism of Our Lady of Guadalupe’s image was obvious to the Native Mexicans: she is more powerful than the Aztec gods, yet she herself is not God. Our Lady of Guadalupe did not appear again, for her mission was complete. She had come to offer faith, hope and consolation to the oppressed natives of Mexico and to reconcile them with their Spanish rulers. She put an end to the bloody human sacrifice of the Aztecs and converted ten million natives in the next 10 years. The church she asked for was built and remains there today, in a suburb of Mexico City. Juan Diego’s tilma, woven from cactus fibers (with a shelf-life of just 30 years) remains miraculously preserved there. With the Bishop’s permission, Juan Diego moved to a small room attached to the chapel that housed the sacred image. There he cared for the tilma and church. Millions made pilgrimages to see the miraculous tilma, and to honor Our Lady of Guadalupe. Great miracles continue to occur, even today. In 1945, Pope Pius XII decreed Our Lady of Guadalupe to be the “Patroness of all the Americas.” Juan Diego died on May 30, 1548, at the age of 74. In 1990 he was declared Blessed and was canonized in 2002. Saint Pope John Paul II praised Juan Diego for his simple faith and considered him a model of humility for all.

Ideas for celebrating these feast days at home:

  • Mexican-inspired dinner menu: tamales or tacos, black beans and rice, guacamole and chips. Make Mexican hot chocolate with Mexican wedding cakes for dessert! Click here for more recipe ideas. 
    • We love a good taco night! We kept it simple. We also picked up some local pan dulce and empanadas at la Panaderia Pereira, just 3 minutes down the road from Prince of Peace on the corner of E Lee and Watson Rd! 
  • Roses: buy dark pink roses or make tissue paper roses to place on your dinner table in memory of the Castilian roses that Juan Diego picked on the mountainside. 
  • Decorate Tilmas: turn brown paper bags into homemade “tilmas” in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Click here for idea.
  • FORMED has a wonderful children’s video about Juan Diego and Guadalupe – available for free using your parishioner account! Click here to watch. There are also several wonderful books about her apparition.
    • We also watched this great authentic music video of the most famous song about La Virgen de Guadalupe. There are some neat clips of “los danzantes” and the crowds outside of the shrine celebrating the great feast in Mexico City.  
    • We read this book by Carmen D. Bernier-Grand from the library, and there were several other options available there as well. 
  • Prayers to Our Lady of Guadalupe can be found at this link
  • If you have a statue of Our Lady, decorate it beautifully with flowers, Christmas lights, or candles in honor of this special feast day. You can encourage devotion to the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe by purchasing one to display in your home. Or, you can print one here
    • We put our large picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe on our altar and prayed a decade of the rosary (good thing those rosaries are chewable…)
  • Click here to learn more about the amazing symbolism of Our Lady’s image on the tilma. 
Celebrating St Nicholas (6 December)

Celebrating St Nicholas (6 December)

6 December: Feast of St Nicholas. Saint Nicholas is the patron of children, the hungry, brides and scholars! He was born in the year 270 and grew up on the coast of what is now Turkey with his wealthy Greek parents. He became bishop in Myra and died there on December 6, 343.  He was also known as “Nikaolaos of Myra” and “boy bishop”, because he became a bishop at the young age of 30. He was known for being incredibly generous, especially to children. In the year 800, he was officially recognized as a Saint. In France in the 1200s, Catholics began celebrating Bishop Nicholas Day on December 6. Throughout the years, Saint Nicholas became more well-known and Dutch immigrants brought their traditions to America. They added their pronunciation of his name — Sinter Klass. This began to lead the way to the tradition of gifts being brought in the night by the name of Santa Claus on Christmas Eve.

Traditions: The most popular way to celebrate St. Nicholas Day is to put shoes out for St. Nicholas to leave small treats and gifts in. This tradition is done in remembrance of how St. Nicholas himself would leave gifts for the poor outside their windows or doors at night. Children love this tradition! They put their shoes out the night before St. Nicholas Day. Shoes can be placed outside a door or by the fireplace. When they awake, it is a delight to find that St. Nicholas has left special surprises in their shoes!

St. Nicholas Day shoe gift ideas:

  • Chocolate gold coins (to represent the gold coins St. Nicholas left for 3 poor daughters)
  • Candy canes, Life Savers, or other little candies
  • Small toys or trinkets
  • Ginger or gingerbread cookies
  • Clothing or new shoes (to represent how St. Nicholas gave clothing to the poor)
  • A Christmas ornament
  • Clementines (because they also represent the gold St. Nick gave away)
  • Religious items (medals, holy cards, rosaries, saints books or videos, saints peg dolls, etc)

Some fun St. Nicholas feast day activities for children include coloring pages or printable ornaments:

  • Check out these from Catholic Icing
  • Read about St Nicholas with this book, this one, or even this one!
  • Try out these cute & easy St. Nicholas cookies or, make your own traditional St. Nicholas Gingerbread cookies
  • Here is an idea for making a St. Nicholas miter
  • Another neat tradition is the blessing of candy canes. The candy cane shape reminds us of St. Nicholas’ crozier (bishop’s staff). On St. Nicholas day, you may purchase candy canes and say this blessing
  • Most importantly, be sure to pray together and ask St. Nicholas to intercede for you and your family.

God our Father, we pray that through the intercession of St. Nicholas, you will protect our children. Keep them safe from harm and help them grow and become worthy in your sight. Give them strength to keep their Faith in You; and to keep alive their joy in your creation. Through Jesus Christ Our Lord.  Amen.

God of joy and cheer, we thank you for your servant, the good bishop Nicholas.
In loving the poor, he showed us your kindness; in caring for your children, he revealed your love.
Make us thoughtful without need of reward so that we, too, may be good followers of Jesus.

Celebrating Advent!

Celebrating Advent!

3 December is the First Sunday of Advent. The word Advent comes from the Latin adventus, which means a coming or arrival. Advent is the first liturgical season of the Church Year; it begins today and ends on December 24th. Don’t skip Advent – it’s there for a reason! It is a time of hopeful, joyous preparation for the coming of the Savior. The liturgical colors of Advent are violet and rose. Violet symbolizes penance, preparation and sacrifice. Rose is used on the Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday (Gaudete is Latin for rejoice.) The color rose signifies anticipatory joy that the waiting is half over; Christmas is near.

Advent is a time for us to prepare our minds and hearts for Jesus (through prayer, penance, fasting). We think of Advent as a time to prepare for Christmas, or the First Coming of Christ, but it should also remind us to look forward to the Second Coming of Christ. When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming. By celebrating the precursor’s birth and martyrdom, the Church unites herself to his desire: “He must increase, but I must decrease.”” (Catechism, 524)

Here are some ideas for how you can celebrate the holy season of Advent. Remember, you don’t have to do it all—just choose a few, and see what blesses your family. The ultimate goal is to use the season of Advent to prepare our minds, hearts, and homes for the birth of Christ.

Ideas for celebrating the season of Advent in your home:

  • Advent Wreath: place on your table and light the candles each night. Pray together and sing O Come O Come Emmanuel. Be sure to bless your advent wreath using this blessing.
  • Advent Calendar: a wonderful visual for children to count down the days leading to Christmas.
  • Jesse Tree: lots of ideas and resources online for this. It is a fantastic way to learn about Jesus’ ancestors and the Biblical events leading up to His birth. Click here for more about the Jesse Tree.
  • Nativity Scene: this tradition started by St. Francis is a perfect visual to remind everyone about the meaning of Christmas. Say a blessing over your nativity set and maybe wait to add baby Jesus to the manger until Christmas morning!
  • Special Sunday Advent Dinners: fix a special dinner and eat together by candlelight. Read aloud a Christmas story or Advent devotion. Say prayers together as a family.
  • O Antiphons: from the Liturgy of the Hours, these antiphons are sung or recited at evening prayer from December 17 to December 23, the octave before Christmas. Each antiphon welcomes the birth of the Savior by heralding one of the ancient Biblical titles given to the Messiah (as prophesied in the Old Testament). Click here for the antiphons.
  • Las Posadas: this Hispanic tradition reflects on what it was like for Joseph and Mary to be turned away from shelter on the night Jesus was born. This begins on Dec. 16 and continues through Christmas Eve. Click here for more.
  • Read Christmas & Advent books to your children: Here is a wonderful book list to get you started.
  • Almsgiving and acts of service: good deeds and generosity have always been an important part of preparation for Christmas.
  • Celebrate Saints’ Feast Days: There are many wonderful feast days during Advent. Click here for a list. You could keep it as simple as mentioning the feast day over dinner, reading about the life of the saint, or make it a more elaborate celebration.
  • Sacrifices for the Christ Child: fill an empty manger during the season of Advent – one piece of straw placed for every sacrifice or good deed done. Baby Jesus will have a soft manger when he arrives on Christmas from all the good works performed during Advent! Click here for more.
  • Go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation as a family; pray together; attend mass; do everything you can to prepare your heart and soul for the coming of Our Savior! Here is the Advent Confession Schedule at our parish.
Celebrating St Cecilia (22 November)

Celebrating St Cecilia (22 November)

St. Cecilia was born during the second century to a very rich family. When she was young, she married a man named Valerian. However, she had already decided to remain a virgin and consecrated to Jesus. On their wedding night, she told Valerian of this calling, and said that her guardian angel was protecting her virginity. He wanted proof of this consecration by seeing her angel.

“After you convert and are baptized a Christian you will be able to see my angel,” Cecilia said.

Eventually he did become Christian, and it is said that he was able to see her guardian angel! He saw her angel crown her with roses and lilies. After Valerian became Christian, his brother did as well. Together they worked for God and spent their lives doing so.

Cecilia loved to tell people about Jesus and helped many become Christian throughout her life. Valerian and his brother would spend their days secretly burying the recently martyred men and women of that age. It was a dangerous time to be a Christian.

Eventually, Valerian and his brother were discovered to be Christians, and they too were martyred. St. Cecilia was later caught and killed. She is believed to have said, “To die for Christ is not to sacrifice one’s youth, but to renew it”.

St. Cecilia is the patron saint of music because it is thought that she sang in her heart during her wedding, asking Jesus to keep her virginity for Him alone, and to consecrate her to Himself.

St. Cecilia, pray for us! 

Ideas for Celebrating the Feast Day at Home:

  • If you have an altar, fireplace mantel, or bookcase, set up a candle with a printed picture or holy card of St. Cecilia. This automatically makes it feel like a special day. You can even put out a little treat in the morning to help kids know today we are celebrating a special saint.
    • Our family finds holiness in the simple things! An image, quote board, and candle always help make a feast day feel different from others. We prayed this prayer to honor St. Cecilia.
  • Incorporate music into the day today. Have children play their favorite instruments, sing together as a family, or have a dance party. Listen to good sacred music. Try our parish playlist here.
    • Our toddler loves a good dance party, and it’s always fun when Dad uses his gift of guitar playing to have a “jam session”. We celebrated with both. Everyone likes different music, so celebrate the diversity of music and dance to your family’s favorite songs!
  • Find a musical treat to share! An easy piano replica recipe can be found here!
    •  We opted for an even easier version of the pianos as you can see in the picture, using just vanilla wafers and Kit-Kat bars.  
    • During your “jam session”, have a snack of biscuits and jam
Celebrating St Martin of Tours (11 November)

Celebrating St Martin of Tours (11 November)

11 November: Saint Martin of Tours. Born to pagan parents, this son of a veteran was forced at the age of 15 to serve in the army. Martin was baptized a Christian at age 18. He lived more like a monk than a soldier. One of the most famous stories associated with Martin happened while he was in the army: Martin came across a poor, naked beggar at the gates of Amiens who asked alms in Christ’s Name. Martin had nothing with him except his weapons and soldier’s mantle; but he took his sword, cut his own cloak in two, and gave half to the poor man. That night, Christ appeared to him clothed with half a mantle and said, “Martin, the catechumen, has clothed ME with his mantle!” At age 23, Martin refused a war bonus and requested dismissal from the army. He told his commander: “I have served you as a soldier; now let me serve Christ. Give the bounty to those who are going to fight. But I am a soldier of Christ and it is not lawful for me to fight.” He was accused of cowardice and after great difficulty, was discharged. Martin then dedicated himself to God’s work. He traveled to Tours where he began studying under Hilary of Poitiers (a doctor of the Church). Martin was ordained as an exorcist and a monk. He established a French monastery near Poitiers. He lived there for 10 years, forming his disciples and preaching throughout the countryside. The people of Tours demanded he become their bishop. Martin did not wish it (was so reluctant that he hid in a barn full of geese which honked loudly and gave him away to the archbishop!). He then became bishop of Tours and served faithfully. Along with Saint Ambrose, Martin rejected putting heretics to death. He worked against the Arian heresy, paganism, and the Druid religion. He was an extraordinary evangelist and won many to the Christian faith. Once the devil appeared to him and spoke as if he were Christ. Martin recognized the deceit. Three dead persons he raised to life. When he was an old man, Martin fell into a painful fever. Although he longed for Heaven, Martin prayed: “Lord, if your people still need me, I do not refuse the work. Your will be done.” Sick and suffering, he was called to heaven on November 11, 397. Saint Martin of Tours is a patron of the poor, soldiers, horsemen, alcoholics, tailors, and winemakers. 

Ideas for celebrating this feast day at home:

  • St. Martin’s day, also known as “Martinmas” arrives in autumn, the beginning of wine harvest and the time to slaughter winter meat. It is a day for great feasting. The tradition is to have “St. Martin’s goose” and taste the new wine on his feast. Some traditional Martinmas foods are: goose, wine, cakes, figs, fruits, nuts, and puddings. 

Since a goose is hard to come by, our family celebrated with a delicious roasted chicken and sides (a store bought rotisserie chicken is a great shortcut here!) 

  • A symbol for St. Martin is a horse; horseshoe cookies are also traditional. Recipe here. The catch is that you should break your cookies and give half away, in honor of St. Martin!

Our children had great fun making cut out cookies in the shape of horseshoes (store bought dough is a great shortcut!). The finished cookies were each split in half to share with a sibling in memory of Martin cutting his cloak in half to share with a cold beggar. 

  • To remind us that we should be a light in the world like St. Martin was (bringing light to the life of a beggar), lanterns are a main tradition of Martinmas. Pull out some camping lanterns or make your own St. Martin paper lanterns. Free download of a St. Martin lantern here. Then, have a family procession or “lantern walk” and sing a traditional  lantern song for Martinmas. Or, sing around a bonfire with your family!

Our family enjoyed celebrating by making paper Martinmas lanterns. We placed battery operated candles inside and read the book “Snow on Martinmas” by a warm fire. 

  • All of these traditions are based on the fact that St. Martin cut his cloak in half to give to a poor beggar. The perfect way to celebrate this feast would be to help the needy. Participate in a coat drive, take your unneeded coats/clothing to a local shelter, give generously to the ministry of St. Vincent de Paul.