Many Calgary Catholics are pushing through the coldest week of the new year by holding onto fond memories of the Christmas past. Others in the city’s East Asian communities keep themselves warm by anticipating the opportunity to celebrate the Lunar New Year on Saturday, Jan. 25. Ditto for parishioners at other ethnic parishes in the Diocese, where being Catholic and Canadian means you can commemorate important secular events with festivities that include prayerful appreciation of the cultural traditions that moved to Canada with their families.
Calgary’s Korean, Chinese and Vietnamese communities celebrate the Lunar New Year on the second new moon after the winter solstice. At St. Anne’s Korean Catholic Church in the community of Ramsay, parishioners will welcome the Lunar New Year with special prayers at the 11 a.m. mass on Sunday, Jan. 26, says parishioner and parish spokesman Nes (Luke) Noh. That service will be followed by a traditional New Year’s Day meal of rice cakes and soup in the parish hall. The rice cakes will come from a Korean market, the soup from parishioners. “We expect about 300 people,” says Noh. “No matter what the weather, people like to get together to celebrate. It’s tradition.”
Culturally, the Lunar New Year is also a good time to honour the memory of ancestors, so Korean Catholics will also offer prayers for their deceased family members, says Noh.
Week of Prayer about a shared faith
This year’s Lunar New Year falls at the end of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, says Theodoric Nowak, Director of Social Justice and Outreach Ministries with the Calgary Catholic Diocese. This year’s Week of Prayer, set for Jan. 18 to 25, calls for Christians to move from shared prayer to shared action. The theme also challenges Christians to show greater generosity to people in need. “In a Diocese as diverse as Calgary’s, it’s always important to remember the different backgrounds which people come from and the traditions they hold,” says Nowak. “The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity reminds us that despite the differences which exist between cultures and denominations, we find unity in our love of Christ and commitment to achieving the common good.” In addition to prayers for the faithful being offered for Christian Unity, the FCJ Centre and Ascension Parish will each host prayer events, adds Nowak.
Cultural and spiritual traditions
New Year celebrations at St. Stephen Protomartyr Church also reflect cultural and spiritual traditions, says Fr. Gregory Faryna. The Jan. 1 liturgy at this Ukrainian Catholic church in Glamorgan, celebrated the naming of Jesus and the feast of St. Basil the Great. An early Church father who defended the orthodox faith, St. Basil the Great is especially important to Albertans of Ukrainian heritage. At Fr. Albert Lacombe’s request, St. Basil sent Basilian priests to the Edmonton area to serve European Catholics who came from the Byzantine tradition, explains Fr. Faryna.
As the Ukrainian people historically followed the Julian calendar, Fr. Faryna’s parish also marked the Ukrainian New Year. While the actual date was Jan. 13, St. Stephen held a Ukrainian New Year banquet and dance on Friday, Jan. 8. About 200 people filled the parish hall for the event, which included a performance by a local Ukrainian dance group. Since many parish families are compromised of Ukrainians who married outside that ethnic group, events like these are an important way of sharing cultural traditions, says Fr. Faryna.
The Ukrainian New Year was also part of the Sunday liturgy on Jan. 12. There, the community offered special prayers for world peace and prayers for lives lost in the Ukrainian airliner shot down in Iran earlier this month.
Ukrainian Catholics approach each new year with prayers that honour the past year and help people prepare for the year to come, adds Fr. Faryna. Some families also commemorate the new year by performing or attending a traditional Malanka (which means new year) play. The play reminds people living through the long nights of winter that spring is on its way. “It’s that anticipation of new life that’s coming around the corner,” says Fr. Faryna.
Over at Ste.-Famille Church just south of the downtown core, Msgr. Noel Farman says the arrival of 2020 got him thinking about how important his parish is to the local francophone community. Ste.-Famille is the only French-language parish in Calgary. Many of the children Msgr. Farman met when he arrived at Ste.-Famille 11 years ago are now adult parishioners attending post-secondary schools or working. “This Christmas I told them, ‘I consider myself as your grandfather.’”
As with Korean-speaking parishioners at St. Anne’s parish, Msgr. Farman knows many of his parishioners make a special effort to attend a French-language mass for special events, including Christmas and New Year’s. At this year’s Christmas Eve mass, children gathered around the priest’s chair and treated mass attendees to a special performance. “It was like a dialogue between three candles representing faith, hope and love,” says the priest. The recitation ended with the candles representing faith and love declaring that hope brought them together to help each other.
This Christmas season, Ste.-Famille weathered the deaths of four people with close ties to the parish. Msgr. Farman says he was touched by how so many of his parishioners travelled to funerals in Edmonton and Claresholm to show their solidarity to each other and to their faith. “I was thinking, this is how we show our belief in eternity, we pray for those who have passed.”
For more information on this 2020 Week of Prayer for Christian unity, please download this poster.
By: Joy Gregory
An early family Christmas weekend this year brought special blessings to our family. My three children, their spouses, our seven grandchildren, my husband and I gathered at our family cabin at Pigeon Lake for some time together, exchange of presents and Christmas fun. On the agenda was mass at 10 a.m. Sunday morning at St. Theresa’s Church in Mameo Beach. Even though the little ones (seven children under five years old) were up at 6 a.m., it was still a scramble to get us all dressed, strapped into car seats and to the church on time. With just minutes to spare, we walked through the doors of St Theresa where the ushers met us with warm smiles and a sincere welcome. “Would you like to bring up the gifts?” they asked. My husband agreed and said he would bring the four boys (all 3-4 years old) with him.
We seated ourselves at the front in the hopes that the kids would be more attentive. Armed with coloring pages, stickers and some goldfish snacks we settled in. Mass was beautiful and the gathering of parishioners was intimate. There were a few squawks and cries from the front row but all in all the kids did pretty well. During the offertory, my husband took the four boys to the back of the church. Never one to be left behind, within seconds little Abby (19 months) was on her way as well, so her mom moved quickly to follow her.
The parishioners beamed as my husband and daughter walked up the aisle with the bread and wine. The kids followed. During communion, Father blessed every child individually as he placed his hand on each little head and said, “May the Baby Jesus bless you.” As mass came to a close, the usher came to the front and asked if there was anyone with an upcoming birthday. One of the ladies raised her hand, and he responded that we would now sing the blessing song to the birthday girl. In the same breath, he turned to us and he added, “And I think we should bless this family and all the little ones who have brought us such joy this mass.” The entire congregation raised their hands and sang the blessing song to us and the special parishioner. Amazing!
As Father began his closing prayer he turned to our family and said, “These children are the future of the church, and we are so glad that you brought them all to mass today.” The entire congregation applauded, and we were invited to stay for cookies and coffee and the decorating of the Church for Christmas. As a mother and an educator, I know that early childhood experiences form children. I also know that children are spiritual beings who instinctively love God and all of His creation. Having my whole family together at this mass and to be so warmly welcomed by St Theresa’s community was a gift beyond words. Thank you, St. Theresa’s for embracing us and blessing us so kindly.
By: Bonnie Annicchiarico
With the disappearance of decorated Christmas trees from bay windows and the appearance of dried up evergreen trees free of ornaments, tinsel and lights now lying on our curbs we can easily perceive an atmospheric change in focus. However, Liturgically, Christmas ends with the Baptism of the Lord, which falls on Sunday, January 12.
So, even if your Christmas trees have come down and decorations have been returned to storage, we invite you to consider keeping out the Christmas crèche a while longer and placing it in a prominent place in your home where you can gather with family and pray.
You may light a candle (mindful of everyone’s safety) and pray these words…
“O God, who were pleased to give us the shining example of the Holy Family, graciously grant that we may imitate them in practising the virtues of family life and in the bonds of charity, and so, in the joy of your house, delight one day in eternal rewards. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. ”
Did you know that the Vatican has their life-size nativity scene up until February 2?
Just as the Blessed Virgin spent 40 days contemplating the Divine Fruit of her womb before going to the temple to fulfil the Law, we also can ponder, explore, and live out the fruit of the Incarnation in the period of Ordinary Time leading up to the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord on February 2. While this feast day is not part of the Christmas season, it is a feast that points back to Christmas and leads us forward to Easter.
And so, building on the #I Am Blessed campaign, we invite you and your family to keep in mind the words of Pope Francis: “The nativity scene is like a living Gospel rising up from the pages of sacred Scripture. As we contemplate the Christmas story, we are invited to set out on a spiritual journey, drawn by the humility of the God who became man in order to encounter every man and woman” Pope Francis, Admirabile Signum.
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
The holy days of the Christmas season are upon us.
This year, at the Vigil Mass for the Nativity of Our Lord, we hear the familiar narrative from Matthew’s Gospel of Jesus’ humble birth among us in fulfillment of the scriptural promises. Joseph, a “righteous man” is faced with a situation he does not fully understand and yet in the simple words of the Gospel, “he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him.” And in that moment, Joseph becomes a model of trusting in God and following His Will.
These inspiring events of Mary and Joseph, annunciations and dreams, angels and shepherds, stars and adoring magi serve to captivate our imaginations and invite us to celebrate the profound simplicity of God’s presence among us as a humble and innocent child. The Son of God is born into the human world and gives flesh to God’s saving power. These scripture passages announce hopeful messages of “Peace on Earth,” “Good will to all,” and the absolute steadfastness of God’s promise to save His people. Indeed, such messages of “Good News” are welcomed among the poor, the vulnerable, and all of us who recognize the need for God’s salvific love in our lives.
This year Pope Francis, in speaking to the United Nations, offered the following reflection about Christmas:
“These are days in which we raise our eyes to heaven and commend to God those people and situations that are closest to our heart. In this gaze, we acknowledge ourselves to be sons and daughters of one Father, brothers and sisters. We give thanks for all the goodness present in this world, and for all those who freely give of themselves, those who spend their lives in service to others, those who do not give up but keep trying to build a more humane and just society. We know well that we cannot be saved alone. … May Christmas, in its authentic simplicity, remind us that the most important thing in life is love.” (Pope Francis, December 20, 2019.)
As our communities in Faith look heavenward at Christmas, let us invite the Christ child to be born into our hearts spiritually, to transform our lives, and to strengthen the witness of our faith so that we might grow in humility and confidence as missionaries of charity for our brothers and sisters. May we proclaim His Birth with great joy and announce the saving love of Jesus Christ in the daily living of our lives.
I offer you the assurance of my prayers as you gather with family and friends to celebrate these holy days of Christmas.
Yours in Christ,
+ Most Reverend William McGrattan
Bishop of the Diocese of Calgary
December 24, 2019
Close to the celebration of Christmas, after the Nativity scene has been set up, gather around to bless and praise God for sending his Son, Jesus. Here is a blessing prayer you can use at home with your family:
Sing a Christmas hymn or carol.
Leader: Glory to God in the highest.
(R/.) And peace to God’s people on earth.
Leader: Let us listen to these words of Scripture.
A reader proclaims one of these readings from Holy Scripture:
Leader: Let us praise our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world, who was born for our salvation. Our response to each intention is “Glory to God in the highest.”
(R/.) Glory to God in the highest.
Leader: Eternal Word, you have scattered the darkness of sin and death. (R/.)
Word made flesh, you have made us children of God most high. (R/.)
Incarnate Son, you have united heaven and earth. (R/.)
Lord Jesus, you are the revelation of God’s love. (R/.)
Eternal Son, you are the light of the nations. (R/.)
Emmanuel, you are fullness of God’s glory. (R/.)
Son of God, you were born of Mary with Joseph as your protector. (R/.)
Bread of life, you were laid in a humble manger. (R/.)
Son of David, the shepherds came to worship you. (R/.)
Light of the world, the Magi brought you gifts. (R/.)
Prayer of Praise
Leader: Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation:
you have sent your Son
as the promised Saviour of the world
so that he might share with us your divine life.
Bless us as we prepare this crib,
and let it be a reminder of the Lord Jesus,
who was born of the Virgin Mary in the City of David.
Grant that we may always serve you in faith
as did the angels,
praise you for your saving deeds
as did the shepherds,
and surround you with the warmth of our love,
as did the animals of the stable.
Glory and praise to you, eternal God,
through Jesus Christ our Saviour,
who lives with you and the Holy Spirit,
for ever and ever.
Conclude by singing a Christmas hymn or carol.
From Blessings and Prayers for Home and Family.
Ottawa: Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2004.
Written by Bishop William T. McGrattan | December 5, 2019
"To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord." (Lk. 2:11)
You are invited to spend the Christmas season with Our Lord Jesus Christ with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Calgary. Check out the Mass times for the Christmas Season in parishes throughout the Diocese of Calgary. Click here.
While shops, television, and radio are filling our ears with Christmas music during the “holiday season”, for Catholics most of the worldly festivity does not take place during Christmas at all. It falls rather, during the liturgical season of Advent.
Unlike the red and green of the secular season, the liturgical colour of Advent is violet – the colour of a penitential season. We use candlelight to soften, not eviscerate, the darkness to invite prayer and introspection. We cease singing the Gloria and our hymns reflect the twofold character of Advent.
One of the most popular Advent hymns is “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”. The text of this hymn originates with the medieval O Antiphons, one of which is prayed each day in Evening Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours and as the verse for the Alleluia verse of the Gospel Acclamation in the Mass from December 17 – 23.
The O Antiphons introduce us to several names given to the Messiah in the Old Testament. Each of the seven antiphons has three parts:
O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care.
Come and show your people the way to salvation.
O sacred Lord of ancient Israel,
who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush,
who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain:
come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.
O Radix Jesse
O Flower of Jesse’s stem,
you have been raised up as a sign for all people;
kings stand silent in your presence;
the nations bow down in worship before you.
Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.
O Clavis David
O Key of David,
O royal Power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of heaven:
come, break down the prison walls of death
for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death;
and lead your captive people into freedom.
O Radiant Dawn,
splendor of eternal light, sun of justice:
come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.
O Rex Gentium
O King of all the nations,
the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man,
come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.
O Emmanuel (“God is with us”)
king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people,
come and set us free, Lord our God.
Tonight, as I was driving by a parking lot in the bleak and snowy weather, feeling downcast and discouraged by difficulties from recent weeks, I saw a guy dumpster-diving in a clothing donations bin in the dark. Pulling over to ask if there was anything I can do to help, I was shocked to see a guy probably in his 30's, not older than me.
He said what he needed most was a warm pair of gloves to make it through the cold night, as his was full of holes. Since all the stores were closed, I offered him mine, though they were rather worn. He hesitated, but I insisted that he tried them on – they fit. The look on his face was one of genuine happiness and gratitude, over just my old worn pair of gloves. My heart ached. We made a run to Tim’s to get some food, and I let him know about the Feed The Hungry program every Sunday at St. Mary’s. He shared with me that he went to a Catholic school growing up, so I asked him if there was anything I can help pray for. Looking away, he stood silent for what seemed like a minute, neither speaking or moving. Then, with tears in his eyes, he asked me to pray for his two kids whom he hasn’t seen in a long time. I promised I would pray for him, and in your charity, I ask that you please pray for Mike and his kids too. He was so grateful, but to me he was the real blessing tonight, as he snapped me out of focusing on myself and my own problems. God bless Mike, and may he receive all the graces and help needed to be reunited with his kids. #iamblessed
Shared by Dr. Thomas Fung, parishioner of Holy Spirit Parish in Calgary, Vice President of Calgary Catholic Medical Association. Photo credit: Dr. Thomas Fung
During the 2018-2019 school year, Shannon Griffin, principal of St. Damien School, a Calgary Catholic Elementary School contacted me about how her school could partner with the Christian Life Centre and the Sisters, Faithful Companions of Jesus to do something good for our Church and world. I knew that the Centre offers a special retreat each January, free of charge, for unemployed people, and that finding funding for that retreat is a challenge, given the current downturn in Calgary’s economy. The retreat does nothing to help people find a job; rather, it is a “heart-helping” retreat to offer support, encouragement and a renewed appreciation of each one’s personal gifts in a time when people feel quite vulnerable and often depressed. The weekend experience is called “The Gift of Hope”.
Together, the principal and I devised a plan: I went out to her school and met with all the students, by grade-level groups. I told them about the unemployment retreat and asked, “If people do not have enough money to pay their bills, would they have money to go to a retreat centre and attend a retreat that’s meant to help their hearts?” “No,” they chorused. So, I invited them to go home and offer to do four little jobs that are NOT their ordinary chores and to ask their moms to give them 25 cents for each job. When they had earned four quarters, they were to trade them in for a looney and bring it to school. If every child at school was able to bring in a looney, the school could pay for someone to make the retreat. They would be retreat sponsors!
Then, Ms. Griffin wrote a letter home to the families, explaining what we were trying to do and giving the target date for the looney collection. And a few weeks later, I went to the school, and they held an assembly and presented me with a cheque for $1,103.55! I couldn’t believe my eyes! I had no sooner received the cheque when a teacher came up and asked, “How much more would we have to give to pay for four retreatants?” When I told her, she took out her cheque book and wrote another cheque for $36.45 right on the spot! What a blessing!
When I returned home and told the Sisters and the others who work at the Christian Life Centre, there was such joy. So many were touched by the children’s and families’ generosity. We feel a real sense of being partners in hope with the school community at St. Damien School!
Written by Sr. Madeleine Gregg, fcj
Photo submitted by Sr. Madeleine.
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers