Ecclesiastical Year for Catholic Schools - Andreas Petz



1. Through exorcism, man and nature are freed from the power of Satan; through blessings he is sanctified, his original destiny restored. Through blessings, nature is again made serviceable for man; many spiritual and temporal evils are averted, and spiritual as well as temporal welfare procured.

2. The power to bless is given to priests and bishops, and is exercised by them either in general or in special cases to produce a certain efficacy prescribed by the Church.

3. Blessing consists in prayer united to an outward sign, generally the sign of the Cross, or by the imposition of hands, whereby the minister of the Church invokes the Divine blessing upon others, if they are worthy of receiving it.

4. Even in the Old Testament, God designated minutely how Aaron and his followers should bless the people, and promised that He would fulfill their blessing. How much greater is the priesthood of the New Testament, therefore the priest's blessing will at least be no less efficacious.

"Into whatsoever house you enter," said Christ to His disciples, "first say: Peace be to this house: and if the son of peace be there, your peace rest upon him, but if not, it shall return to you. From these words of our Lord, the faithful have always believed, that the priest has power to bestow blessings upon all who are worthy of receiving them.

This blessing is more particularly to be desired from the priest newly ordained, because he has so lately received the fullness of this power from the Holy Ghost.

5. The priest may bless publicly or privately; publicly in connection with the Divine Service, especially at the end of Mass; this was prescribed even in early Christian times. He blesses privately, when blessing the sick or any who asks his blessing.

6. As the consecration of a bishop is higher than that of a priest, so the bishop's blessing will be more efficacious. When the bishop bestows his blessing, it is done more solemnly than the blessing of a priest; he makes the sign of the Cross three times. which is not permitted to a priest. The bishop may give this solemn blessing apart from the Divine Service. Privately he may bless the people everywhere even on the streets and highways. We should eagerly seek to receive this richly laden blessing.

7. The Papal Blessing is the most efficacious because it is bestowed by the highest shepherd, the vicegerent of Christ, to whom the supreme power over the treasury of Christ's graces is committed. With the Papal Blessing also called Apostolic, an indulgence is generally united.

The Holy Father bestows this blessing solemnly on the festival of Easter, on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, and on other special occasions. Privately he confers it on all who ask it. Very frequently he empowers bishops and religious priests to give the Papal Blessing on certain days to the faithful. As we have before mentioned the Papal Blessing is given in the General Absolution at the hour of death.

8. Benediction, or blessing with the Blessed Sacrament, was not known in early Christian times, it was only introduced after the institution of the feast of Corpus Christi (in the fourteenth century). It is easy to see that this Blessing differs from those already named, for here it is no longer the priest who blesses but Christ Himself, therefore the priest uses no words of blessing when giving Benediction, but makes one sign of the cross with the monstrance; when given by a Bishop he makes three.

9. The priest may bless with the relics of the saints, while doing so he invokes the intercession of the saints on behalf of those present.

10. The blessing which parents give to their children, superiors to their subjects, does not compare with the priestly blessing, for it does not proceed from a person canonically empowered to impart blessings. Nevertheless a parent's blessing has a higher significance than that of pure intercession.

By the fourth commandment, God gave parents a higher authority over their children—made them His representative, consequently their prayers and blessings must be of greater might before God, than those of others. When the Apostle speaks of a universal priesthood, parents, first of all, are called by God to direct this priesthood in the family circle and to call down the blessing of God upon their offspring. Ecclesiasticus says (iii 10-11): "The father's blessing establisheth the houses of the children, but the mother's curse rooteth up the foundation." The Christian mother will not fail to make the sign of the Cross upon her babe, nor pious children fail to ask their parent's blessing, at least before going to bed or when leaving home. To many a young man, the remembrance of a parent's blessing has often proved a safeguard in time of temptation, while battling with the world. The blessing of a dying parent especially, is most solemn and efficacious, and often has been the means of reclaiming the most hardened sinner.

11. The Ritual contains many blessings for objects of ordinary use, such as food, the houses we live in, the cattle and fields. Even for the modern inventions, railroads, telegraph, electric lights, etc. The faithful should be encouraged to make frequent use of this means of grace, and thus draw down the blessing of heaven upon themselves and their undertakings. By the use of Holy Water we may draw the blessing of the Church upon ourselves and our possessions.

The Way of the Cross

It is said that the Way of the Cross owes its origin to the Mother of God.

Tradition says, that the Blessed Mother of God was often wont to walk in the steps of her Son to Calvary, pausing at the spots marked by some special incidents. The early Christians flocked in crowds to the holy places to follow the Via Crucis. But when, in the Middle Ages, the Holy Land fell into the hands of the infidels, and the devout pilgrim could only visit the scenes of our Lord's sufferings at the risk of his life, the Stations were erected in churches, and enriched by the Popes with large indulgences. St. Francis of Assisi contributed greatly to spread this devotion.

1. The Way of the Cross is the name given to the fourteen stations which depict the way along which our Redeemer passed bearing His Cross, from Pilot's palace to Mount Calvary.

The fourteen stations consist of fourteen wooden crosses, to which pictures and inscriptions are generally added. They are erected in churches, sometimes in the open air, on the slope of a hill; occasionally in cemeteries.

2. The manner of performing the Way of the Cross is to go from one station to another, making meanwhile a meditation on our Lord's Passion.

It is not necessary to go from station to station in the church if one stands up and kneels down as every station is being made. It is enough to meditate on the Passion in general, making a special meditation at each station. An Our Father, Hail Mary, and an act of contrition are generally recited at every one.

3. By performing the Way of the Cross large indulgences may be gained; we also obtain contrition for sin and are incited to the practice of virtue.

Daily meditation on the Passion of Christ is more profitable than fasting every Friday in the year on bread and water, or taking the discipline to blood. A single tear shed in compassion for Our Lord's sufferings is of greater value in God's sight than a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. We learn how acceptable meditation on His Passion is to Our Lord, from the revelations of St. Bridget. Our Lord once appeared to her, with blood streaming from all His wounds. She asked what had reduced Him to this pitiable condition. He answered: "It is the doing of those who never consider the great love I manifested towards them by all I suffered upon the cross." It was as a continual memorial of His Passion that Our Lord instituted the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The same indulgences are granted for making the Way of the Cross as for visiting the corresponding places in the Holy Land; they can be gained, however, only once in a day. The wooden crosses must be blessed by a Franciscan, or some priest who has the requisite powers, and the stations must be visited without any break. The Way of the Cross is a means of obtaining the grace of contrition. As the Israelites who were bitten by the fiery serpent were healed by looking upon the brazen serpent, so sinners are healed of the deadly wound of sin by frequent meditation on the Passion of Christ. The Way of the Cross is also an incentive to the practice of virtue. The saints often tell us that meditation on Our Lord's Passion imparts strength to suffer not merely with patience, but with joy. Our arrogance, our avarice, our anger will be cured by the humility, the poverty, the patience of the Son of God. If, O man, you would progress from virtue to virtue, contemplate with all possible devotion the sufferings of Our Lord, for this is most conducive to sanctity.

4. If we are prevented from making the Way of the Cross, we can gain the indulgence by reciting the Our Father, Hail Mary, and the Gloria twenty times, holding meanwhile a crucifix blessed for the Stations in our hand.

The hindrances must be of sufficient nature, such as long distance from a church, sickness, etc. The cross for performing the stations must be of strong material, with the figure of the Savior attached to it, and must have been duly blessed for the purpose. The indulgences are not gained if the Crucifix is not the property of the individual using it, but if several persons perform the devotion together, it is enough for one to hold the cross in his hand. For the sick it suffices to take the cross in the hand and make an act of contrition. The Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory be to the Father, are recited fourteen times for the fourteen stations, five times in honor of the five wounds of Our Lord and once for the Holy Father. If the cross has been blessed by a Redemptionist the prayers need only be repeated fourteen times.

The Churching of Women

1. It is an old established custom for a woman after the birth of a child to present herself to the priest in the church, to receive his blessing and to implore the blessing of God upon her child. This custom was observed even in the Old Law. Every mother had to present herself in the temple, with her infant, forty days after the birth of a boy and eighty days after the birth of a girl. This law, it is true, does not apply to Christian women because the Church has abolished Jewish ceremonies, but since the Mother of God conformed to this rule, the Christian mother will in all humility follow the example of the Blessed Virgin. She should thank God for her happy delivery, and offer her child to God, promising to bring it up in the fear and love of God, and finally implore the blessings of heaven upon herself and her child.

2. The priest sprinkles the woman with Holy Water, while she kneels at the door of the church holding a lighted candle, and after reciting the twenty-third psalm, reaching the end of the stole into her hand he leads her into the church saying: "Come into the temple of God; adore the Son of the Blessed Virgin, who has given thee fruitfulness." The woman then kneels before the altar, while the priest, having said a prayer of thanksgiving, blesses her and again sprinkles her with Holy Water in the form of a cross. This rite is for women who have borne children in wedlock.

3. The lighted candle is to remind us of the words of the pious Simeon who called Christ the Light of the world, by it the mother also acknowledges that she will bring up her child in the light of the true faith.

Christian Burial

1. The Church not only stands by her children until death but does not delay to send help and consolation to the soul in eternity, and to prepare a worthy burial place for the body where it will await the general resurrection. This resting place is the graveyard consecrated especially for this purpose. The Church deems it only proper that the body of a Christian should be interred in consecrated ground, because it was so often sanctified by the reception of the Blessed Sacrament.

2. The Church buries her dead with many outward ceremonies, prayers and blessings, not only to show her respect for the dead, but at the same time to impress the living with the truth, that the body is not to remain forever in the grave but to arise to eternal reward. She thus honors the body as the temple of God, edifies the living, and procures help and consolation for the soul, if it is in need.

3. Ecclesiastical burial is denied in the following instances:

a)   To pagans, Jews, and infidels.
b)   To apostates.
c)   To notorious heretics and schismatic.
d)   To those publicly executed and interdicted.
e)   To those who committed suicide, if before expiring they did not manifest any repentance. Those, however, who committed suicide while insane or deranged can be buried by the Church.
f)   To those killed in a duel.
g)   To public and notorious sinners who die in final impenitence.
h)   To those who die in the act of some grievous crime.
i)   Finally to those who refused the Sacraments at the point of death.

4. The body is prepared for burial, by washing and dressing it properly before placing it in the coffin.

5. The body remains for a time unburied, in order to make certain that life is really extinct. In former times the body was brought to the church, where the faithful prayed psalms and other prayers, day and night, for the departed.

6. A Crucifix is placed in the hand of the departed, and one upon the coffin; a cross is borne in procession to the grave and, finally, one is planted upon it, to show that the departed died a servant of the Cross, and through the Cross hopes for eternal life.

7. The bells are tolled to pay a last honor to the (lead, calling upon all the faithful to pray for him, and accompany him to the grave.

8. One or more candles are kept burning beside the corpse to signify that the departed walked in the light of faith, and to remind us of the oft repeated prayer: "May eternal light shine upon him."

9. The priest and servers are vested in black to express their grief and sympathy for the bereaved, also to express their sorrow for the soul lest it has not yet attained to the vision of God. This maternal care and sadness of the Church, is shown in the whole burial rite.

The Church does not wish that her children should be indifferent and callous at the death of relatives, she seeks rather to ameliorate and ennoble their grief by participating in their sadness, and lead them to think of a meeting beyond the grave.

According to the Roman Ritual, the corpse should be carried to the house of God, and a Requiem Mass said, then the body is blessed and borne to the grave accompanied by the clergy, friends and relatives praying or singing mournful psalms on the way. Before it is interred it receives a last and farewell blessing.

10. The absolution, also called Libera because the hymn begins with this word, is a blessing over the corpse that the Lord may be merciful to him and pardon him in judgment. The Church like a loving mother stands before the Divine Judge and implores grace for her child. This absolution takes place after Mass before the bier; here Holy Water and Incense are used as well as at the burial itself.

11. The words spoken at the grave: "Remember man that dust thou art and into dust thou shalt return." remind us of the judgment pronounced by God over all mankind after the sin of our first parents. The Church impresses it every year upon the forehead of her children on Ash Wednesday, so that they shall always have it before their eyes. This sentence is fulfilled at the burial of the body.

12. Children who die after Baptism before they have come to the use of reason are free from sin and need no prayers. Therefore at the burial of children, psalms of praise and thanksgiving are said, and there are no prayers for the repose of the soul. Signs of mourning are not appropriate here, so the priest is vested in white, for white is the color of innocence.

Because the child is under the ban of original sin, Holy Water and Incense are used, to purify and sanctify it, that it may be worthy to stand one day, in the presence of God. When a Mass is said at the burial of a child, it is said in honor of the Angels.