For the August edition of Faithfully, we asked sacred artist Maria Muszynski, founding member of Sacred Guild of Alberta, a Lay Association in the Diocese of Calgary, to share about her journey in the sacred arts.
Why becoming a sacred artist?
I was born an artist. But why the sacred arts? I have been journeying towards this path my whole life. A journey shaped by childhood experiences, unexpected circumstances, and twists of fate.
My father was a Polish soldier who fought with the Allied army and my mother was a refugee in a displaced persons camp. After the war, by chance, they both decided to settle in Calgary. My mother converted to Catholic Christianity when she agreed to marry my father. Mother’s side of the family were Russian Orthodox and we celebrated Christmas and Easter (twice!) with the extended family. On occasion I attended the All Saints Russian Orthodox Church and feasted my eyes on the iconostasis which separated the sanctuary from the nave. From the cadence and the passion of the choral voices singing the liturgy in the loft, to the intense images that were illuminated by hundreds of candles lit by the faithful – all of these elements left an indelible impression that shaped my sensibilities and my soul.
In comparison, the Queen of Peace Polish Catholic Church - which was the church we attended - was innovative on the outside (built in 1968 and shaped like a gleaming white teepee) but bereft of warmth inside because of its plain concrete walls and lack of imagery (minimalism and constructivism was “in”). Only a framed copy of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa, Queen of Poland, resided above the altar. Over the years, as the population of Polish immigrants increased, many contributed their talents to the beautification of the church. Today the stained-glass windows, once plain, resonate with stories while the walls are warmed with carved traditional architectural features and religious imagery. It is a testament to the transformational power of art and faith.
I began my personal journey into the sacred arts when St. Mary’s University offered a Sacred Arts certificate program. The first course I took was Painting in the Western Renaissance Tradition. Other courses followed – traditional iconography, calligraphy and illumination, and even stained glass. A trip to Italy to see the glories of Rome, Florence and Ravenna was a special highlight. In 2014, I was one of 5 students to complete the requirements for the certificate in the Foundations of Sacred Art. The Sacred Arts Guild of Alberta (SAGA) was conceived by a handful of like-minded souls who wished to delve even deeper. SAGA brings in local and international specialists in illumination, iconography, calligraphy, sculpture - and in the near future Byzantine mosaic - to nourish the skills and spirits of our guild membership leading to a wonderful resurgence in the creation of sacred arts here in Alberta.
Share about other artists who inspired you
My journey has taken me through many mentors most notably iconographer Peter Murphy, David Clayton (The Way of Beauty) and the brilliant illuminator Jeb Gibbons. I am also inspired by the traditional work of Aidan Hart, and the contemporary style of Philip Davydov, among others. I am drawn both to the classical Greek/Byzantine and Romanesque style of icons, and to Marian images in particular because of my Polish heritage. Like Saint John Paul, faith in Mary kept me strong through many trials and tribulations including surviving cancer.
Sacred art is not ‘art’, it is theology, it is a way of praying and connecting with God and all His wonderful creation. I am humbled that people have expressed their admiration of what I do, but I thank the spirit of God who moves through me when I sit and begin the first line. Every stroke is meditative and reflective and prayerful. It is an act of salvation, my connection to the divine. Peter Murphy and Aidan Hart believe that a fragment of heavenly reality is revealed within the sacred image, as it is revealed in the holy Scriptures and through the blessed sacrament. It is ‘extraordinary’ in every sense of the word.
Any advice for novices in sacred art?
The best advice for beginning sacred artists is to be mindful while you are working – hold the focus and pray. Breathe. Practice your drawing skills which is key. Find a good teacher or mentor who inspires you. Learn from everyone you can and practice. The typical stereotype of the hermit monk writing icons alone in his hovel does not fit today, so find and join a community of similar-minded artists. And practice more. Do not worry about the medium you use because it is the message of the image and the intent of the artist that are more important.
Writing an icon is like praying twice. “Lord Jesus Christ, God of all, enlighten us, imbue the soul, the heart, the intellect of Your servant.” So begins the iconographer’s prayer. And is it still relevant today? In the age of Covid-19 and all its’ uncertainties and anxieties - more than ever.
I remember going past the dorm buildings, down the hill, through the cafeteria, and out into the coulees in the Oldman River. It was dark out — the University of Lethbridge hadn’t installed the floodlights yet — and so the only light I could see by was the moon reflecting off of the clouds, sailing eastward on a full chinook wind. I came to the crest of the coulees and just stood there, unsure of exactly what was going on or what exactly I was hoping to accomplish by getting fresh air.
And that’s when He came to me.
The song’s chorus goes:
“And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own,
And the joy that we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known.”
It sounds cliché, and it probably is, but I can’t deny that I felt the presence of the Holy Ghost there that night, riding in on the wind, wrapping me tightly in His embrace, teaching me that I am beloved regardless of my academic abilities. To accept that God loves me as a cerebral exercise is one matter, but to experience it in the heart is another matter entirely. I think I began to understand this all more clearly that night. I felt peace in the midst of the academic storm, and joy in the midst of personal trial. Most importantly, I knew that I was His own.
I stood on the coulees for quite some time, the wind washing over me and carrying all of my anxieties out to Saskatchewan (or wherever the chinook winds go). When I finally left to return to another few hours of pounding my keyboard, I knew that regardless of how my academic work turned out, of more importance was that I would turn out, because I have a loving God who will light a lamp and sweep the house to find His lost coin.
I would go on walks outside again throughout my degree whenever I was overwhelmed and anxious; even now, it has been a very present help in the midst of the pandemic. And still, every so often, God finds me on these walks and speaks with me in my heart, and we share that joy together that “none other has ever known”.
Written by Solomon Ip, a parishioner of St. John the Evangelist, Calgary.
I have been called to Catholic education and this vocational call has blessed and enriched my life in profound ways. As a teacher, principal and superintendent I have had varied and rich opportunities to experience the 5 Marks of Catholic Education first hand. In particular, I have found myself surrounded by colleagues who are authentic witnesses to the Gospel. I have worked with teachers who share their testimonies at staff retreats and liturgies. I have seen the sacrifices made by educators who are absolutely committed to going above and beyond for their students. I have experienced the prayers and actions of my colleagues in times of crisis and tragedy. I have seen extreme generosity and service. I have been surrounded by Gospel witnesses.
One such example that deeply affected me took place during a school administrator’s retreat at Mount St Francis in Cochrane. As one of the four superintendents responsible for creating the retreat, I would often build a time of adoration into our two days away. A few years ago we spent an hour with Jesus in adoration and administrators were invited to come and pray. Some stayed for ten minutes; some for much longer.
As often happens to me in adoration, I lost all track of time. I heard the quiet rustle of people leaving and I knew our hour was coming to a close. I opened my eyes and raised my head. I looked across the empty chapel and saw that only my three superintendent colleagues were still present and deep in prayer. One was on his knees in adoration. The second was focused intently on the front monstrance. The third was in the pew alongside me; his head bowed, hands clasped, immersed in his dialogue with God. I felt the Holy Spirit at that moment and I knew that I was in worship with men of faith and colleagues of integrity. While the chapel had emptied, our leaders remained in prayer, in service, in faith. Their witness to me and the administrators they served went beyond words to lived action---a true mark of Catholic leadership.
Written by Bonnie Annicchiarico, PhD, Director of Grateful Advocate of Catholic Education (GrACE)
Through the visions St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, devotion to the Sacred Heart became formalized and the feast day extended to the whole Church by Pope Pius IX in 1856. This Friday, celebrate this beautiful feast at home, and receive the blessings and mercy Jesus promised St. Margaret Mary to souls who honour the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Devotions to the Sacred Heart of Jesus are numerous and here are some ways we may be able to observe it this year:
The Stations of the Light is a spiritual journey with Christ that takes one through fourteen of the most inspiriting events of His post-Resurrection life on earth. In the early Church this practice was known as the Via Lucis, or Way of the Resurrection. It invites participants to walk along a path of transforming joy by following in the footsteps of the Risen Christ and his friends. Resources for praying Via Lucis:
Pray on your own pace, with a reflection video and accompanying guide.
Download the accompanying prayer booklet (Diocese of Manchester)
The consecration of Canada to Our Lady will enrich our faith, allow a more abundant outpouring of God’s spiritual and temporal gifts on us, and enable us even more to fulfill our calling and mission. Ultimately, consecration to Mary, which springs from a more fervent, more committed, and more sustained life of prayer and devotion in which the Blessed Mother plays a unique and loving role, points and leads to a renewed spirit and understanding of family, Church, and the need for societal engagement. To find more catechesis on Marian Consecration and why we consecrate Canada to Our Lady, please read the document "Consecrating Canada to the Blessed Virgin Mary: Insights for Adult Catechesis."
Join us in prayer: Bishop McGrattan will consecrate the Diocese of Calgary to Mary, Mother of the Church, on Friday, May 1, seeking her maternal protection during the Coronavirus pandemic. To assist dioceses with the consecration, the CCCB will provide a prayer for use during the solemn act of entrustment. It can likewise be incorporated into family or individual prayer at home and used by other groups and faith communities.
Bishop McGrattan will celebrating the following liturgies on Friday, May 1, 2020:
Do we still need to pray for Christian Unity?
The annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity will begin Saturday, Jan. 18. In many countries, Christians will gather in one anothers’ churches to pray. Since the 1960s, prayers and readings for the week have been jointly planned by the Vatican and the World Council of Churches.
Christian unity was a chief goal of the Second Vatican Council and signified the lowering of barriers that caused pain within families, between spouses, and in the workplace. The significance of this ecumenical movement is not lost on Rev. Adrian Martens of the Roman Catholic Church and Anglican Archbishop Gregory Kerr-Wilson.
So, have we been successful in attaining Christian unity?
Archbishop Kerr-Wilson, Anglican diocesan bishop of Calgary and metropolitan of the ecclesiastical province of Rupert’s Land says there has been some success. There is a consensus that “we believe the same things. We have the same God. These similarities weren’t seen 50 or 60 years ago. However, the work is ongoing. Our goal should be to share at one table.”
Rev. Martens, Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs Coordinator in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Calgary says, “there have been wonderful strides and some dark periods in the history of Ecumenism. At times, we vary in our degree of Ecumenism. However, if we focus on being joined with Christ, other denominations will want to share much more.”
So, while there seems to be some success in terms of dialogue and mutual understanding of other Christian denominations, has there been any tangible gains?
Kerr-Wilson says “there have been many benefits to diverse Christian traditions. Different traditions have different strengths and emphasise different things. The Anglican Church went through several centuries with no Eucharist or mass unless you went to the early service for the most devout. The ecumenical relationship helped us to recover the benefit of seeing the Eucharist as the heart of Church worship. This is an example of receptive ecumenism, what we can receive from you that can deepen our own life in Church and faith in Christ. The gift of the other.”
“…We need to realise that the other’s gift is our gift as well,” says Martens.
In the eyes of both Kerr-Wilson and Martens, various Christian traditions and values from different areas and places around the world have helped the abundance of faith.
Martens has seen a marked increase in the number of Christians from other countries. “There is also an increase in the number of Anabaptists, Hutterites and Mennonites.”
One aspect of this growth is the level of fluidity between denominations. Kerr-Wilson notes that “some Anglicans from different countries find that the way they worshiped is more similar to a different denomination here e.g., the Nigerian Anglican expression is similar to a Pentecostal church. There are some positive and hopeful aspects of this fluidity as well as some troubling things. The positive is that we see Christian faith in the other. The negative is that we are leaning towards consumerism, ‘if I am not happy with what is going on, I can move somewhere else.’ There isn’t that commitment to persevere in the midst of the struggle, which is an essential part of the discipleship.”
The looming question for Kerr-Wilson seems to be not whether we still need to pray for Christian unity, but rather, how can we act more together?
“When we talk to each other, we need to recognize that we are not talking to a Catholic, Anglican or Presbyterian. We are talking to a brother in Christ, a sister in Christ. I have seen that when people engage in prayer and bible study together more regularly, that brings them closer together. I would love to see a monthly service where we gather as Christians to pray for others to come to the knowledge of Jesus Christ. We should be fueled by our faith to act together on social justice initiatives.
Martens agrees that such joints actions will help remove barriers in families of mixed Christian denominations. “We can do more to make other denominations feel welcomed. Prayer is the best thing. We can lead the Prayer of the Faithful to pray for local churches.”
By Nadia Hinds
My most enduring memories of youth have to do with the place of faith and prayer in my family. I didn’t fully appreciate the gift that was given to me then. Now I do. And in all honesty, neither did I fully grasp, in my first years as a husband and dad, the beautiful gift, the responsibility, and the opportunities family prayer was. I still remember the prominent weekly ritual of our family getting ready for Sunday mass and the privileged role of Mary in our Polish home. I fondly recall the persevering prayer life of my mother, the power prayer had for my dad when dealing with cancer, the image of my grandfather in prayer, so often with a rosary in hand and ever so contemplative.
A perfect family? Far from it. There were moments of harmony, but also conflict. Unity and cohesion, but also misunderstanding, hurt and pain. There was health, but also sickness and death. Rejoicing with successes, crying with betrayal, and conflict followed by repentance, conversion and forgiveness. How did we ever get through it all? Now, after all those years, I look back and see that it was all grace.
In Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis writes: “A positive experience of family communion is a true path to daily sanctification and mystical growth, a means for deeper union with God” (No. 316). He goes on to say, “If a family is centred on Christ, he will unify and illumine its entire life. Moments of pain and difficulty will be experienced in union with the Lord’s cross, and his closeness will make it possible to surmount them” (No. 317). Given the conviction of the Holy Father and Tradition of the Church on the power of prayer in the life of individuals and families, you may also find relief knowing that there is scientific support to Fr. Patrick Peyton’s maxim, “The family that prays together, stays together.”
One study, published in the Journal of Family Psychology, explored this adage and identified 7 themes.
There is value in creating a culture of family prayer. To do this means prioritizing time for prayer and intentionally setting aside distractions. Jesus said, “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them (Matthew 18:20). In essence, that is what prayer is all about. Responding to His initiative, and inviting Jesus, who loves me and my family in an intimate and unrepeatable way, into our homes and hearts.
By: Anthony Banka, Family & Youth Coordinator
Note: Chelladurai, J.M., Dollahite, D.C., and Marks, L.D. (2018). The family that prays together: Relational processes associated with regular family prayer. Journal of Family Psychology, 32(7), 849-859.
Throughout our Catholic tradition, the book of sacred Scripture has been the honored symbol of God’s living word present among us. Processions, bowing, candles, and incense express our church’s reverence for the inspired word as it is enthroned, opened, and proclaimed in Catholic worship. This prayer service brings the ancient practice of Bible enthronement to Catholic homes, so that it may be a continual reminder to seek and live God’s word each day.
“I would like so much for all Christians to be able to comprehend ‘the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ, through diligent reading of the Word of God, for the sacred text is nourishment of the soul and the pure and perennial source of spiritual life for all of us.” – POPE FRANCIS
Prayer to enthrone the bible in your home - Download Leaflet here
Reverently place the open Bible on a mantle, table, shelf, or bookstand. You may adorn the space with a candle, crucifix, icon, or flowers. It will serve as a spot for regular Bible reading and prayer. As you pray this enthronement service together, different family members may volunteer for different reader parts.
We begin in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. We gather together to enthrone the Holy Bible, the sacred book of our church. Since ancient times, the open book of Scripture has been enthroned at church councils and in cathedrals and parish churches. Since every Catholic home is a “domestic church,” we continue this tradition in the place of our ordinary lives, asking that this enthroned Bible remind us that God teaches, encourages, and challenges us through its open pages.
Let us pray: Ever-living God, send your Holy Spirit so that this Bible may be for us a source of strength, comfort, inspiration, and guidance. Give us a deeper love for sacred Scripture, a desire to read and reflect upon it, and a longing to follow more faithfully the way of Jesus.
Let us listen to Jesus as he offers us truth and freedom through his Word. A Reading from the Gospel according to John:
Jesus then said to those who believed in him, “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31–32)
Pause for a moment of silent reflection.
Reader: Let us all respond: “O God, teach us your word.”
R/: O God, teach us your word.
Let us pray: Come Holy Spirit, open our eyes, our ears, our minds, and our hearts to the living word of Scripture. May it always be the center of our home and our lives. As you have inspired that word with power and truth, now give us confidence to read the Bible in ways that form us into disciples. Fill our hearts and kindle in them the fire of your love, so that you may renew the face of the earth.
Let us pray together as Jesus taught us.
R./ Our Father, who art in heaven …
Reader: Let us offer one another a sign of Christ’s peace.
(This enthronement service may be easily adapted to a classroom, community room, or whatever space you wish to dedicate to the sacred Scriptures.)
A place for listening and prayer
Now that the Bible is enthroned in your home, this spot is a place to come regularly to read the Bible, individually and as a family. Choose a book of the Bible to read over a period of time, the Sunday Mass readings, or a Bible study book. Then follow the five stages of the ancient practice of Lectio Divina to guide you.
Read the verses aloud, slowly and carefully, realizing that God is speaking through the sacred text. Imagine the scene, notice the feelings evoked by the text, and consider the type of writing used by the author. If done in a group, members share with the others what they have discovered in the text.
Considering what particular phrases or images have caught your attention, ask yourself what the text is saying personally to you. What insight, comfort, or challenge is God offering you? If in a group, feel free to share your thoughts with the others.
Respond to God who has spoken to you in the text. In words of thanks, praise, repentance, or petition, speak to God from the heart. In a group, this could be prayed aloud or in silence.
Simply rest in God’s presence. Trust God to work within you and form you in the divine image. Stay in silence and savor the Holy Spirit.
Determine how you can turn your prayerful reflection into practical experience. Let the power of God’s word have an effect in your life, making you a more committed disciple of Jesus.
Text & Prayer from Catholic Initiatives
Written by Steven J. Binz
Pope Francis has declared that the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time is to be devoted to the celebration, study and dissemination of the word of God “that the life of our people be constantly marked by this decisive relationship with the living word that the Lord never tires of speaking to his Bride” (Aperuit Illis, 2). In 2020 the Sunday of the Word of God falls on January 26.
Here are five liturgical suggestions for making the most of this universal invitation from the Pontiff.
Focus on the centrality of the Bible for Christians. In the Gospel, Jesus quotes what we heard in the first reading from the Prophet Isaiah. The word of the prophet is the foundation for his teaching and the call of the first disciples. In the second reading Paul tells the Corinthians that Jesus did not send him to baptize but to proclaim the Gospel and that “it is the power of God”.
2. Bless Ministers of the Word
Following the Homily, invite ministers of the Word to stand (e.g. lectors, psalmists, leaders in RCIA, liturgy of the word for children, and scripture study). Bless them with hands extended:
Blessed are you, Lord God,
Source of all light and all goodness,
you sent your Son, your living Word,
to reveal to humanity the mystery of your love.
Look with mercy upon these women and men who proclaim your word
and lead your people closer to your teaching.
Bless X them in their ministry
so that they may be nourished by your Word,
be transformed by it and faithfully announce it
to their brothers and sisters in your Church.
We praise and thank you, Father,
in the name of Jesus your Son,
and in the love of your Holy Spirit,
God of glory for ever and ever.
Adapted from the blessing of lectors in Celebrations of Installation and Recognition, copyright Concacan Inc.,2005. All rights reserved.
3. Universal Prayer
Introduction to the petitions:
Dear sisters and brothers,
nourished and formed by God’s Word
let us bring our needs and petitions before Him.
In addition to the petitions you have prepared for today, include some for the Word of God to come to life in your community, for example:
Prayer at the end of the petitions:
Grant, O God, that our lives be marked by your living word.
Hear these, our prayers,
and help us to proclaim the good news of the kingdom.
Through Christ our Lord.
4. Eucharistic Prayer
You might use Eucharistic Prayer III for Various Needs and Occasions (Jesus the Way to the Father). Its Preface focuses on Christ as the “Word” of God. Roman Missal p.764ff.
5. Enthroning the Bible (For use in homes, schools, and with RCIA or Bible Study groups)
The faithful have shown reverence to the bible as the inspired word of God since ancient times. The enthronement of an open bible has often served as a symbolic invitation to delve into the sacred text as the source of our spiritual life. You might use this short ritual from the American Bible Society to enthrone the Bible at home, in schools, and with RCIA or Bible Study groups.
The story of St. Paul’s shipwreck on Malta from Acts 27:18 – 28:10 leads this year’s Prayer for Christian Unity. The diverse group of passengers on the boat were at the mercy of the force of the sea and the violent storm around them. They had lost of hope of being saved but an angel of God had come to St. Paul and assured him that God would grant them safety. Through his faith in God, St. Paul encouraged the group. When they ran aground, the people on the island embraced them with “unusual kindness” (Acts 28:2).
The question to ask during this week of Christian unity is whether we show “unusual kindness” and become witnesses of God’s loving providence to all people.
Hospitality is a much needed virtue in our search for Christian unity. It is a practice that calls us to a greater generosity to those in need. Our own Christian unity will be discovered not only through showing hospitality to one another, important though this is, but also through loving encounters with those who do not share our language, culture or faith.
The Week of prayer for Christian Unity takes place January 18 – 25.
Acts 27:18-19, 21
Acts 27:22, 34
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.
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.
"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
The domestic custom of the Advent wreath draws attention to the light that Christ brings as Christmas approaches and emboldens us to bear witness to that light in the world. With an Advent wreath at home, we can keep our focus on Christ by reading a passage of Scripture or saying an Advent prayer each evening as they light the candle(s).
Learn about the history and symbolism of the Advent Wreath.
Blessing the Advent Wreath at Home
All make the sign of the cross as the leader says:
Our help is in the name of the Lord.
(R/.) Who made heaven and earth.
Then the Scripture, Isaiah 9: (lines 1-2 and 5-6) or Isaiah 63 (lines 16-17 & 19) or Isaiah 64 (lines 2-7) is read:
Reader: The Word of the Lord.
R/. Thanks be to God.
With hands joined, the leader says:
Lord our God, we praise you for your Son, Jesus Christ:
he is Emmanuel, the hope of the peoples,
he is the wisdom that teaches and guides us,
he is the Savior of every nation.
Lord God, let your blessing come upon us as we light the candles of this wreath.
May the wreath and its light be a sign of Christ’s promise to bring us salvation.
May he come quickly and not delay. We ask this through Christ our Lord.
The blessing may conclude with a verse from “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”
O come, desire of nations, bind in one the hearts of humankind;
bid ev’ry sad division cease and be thyself our Prince of peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
Prayer taken from the Catholic Household Blessings & Prayers
Prayers for Advent Candle Lighting
All-powerful God, increase our strength of will for doing good that Christ may find an eager welcome at his coming and call us to his side in the kingdom of heaven, where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit one God, forever and ever. ~AMEN.
God of power and mercy open our hearts in welcome. Remove the things that hinder us from receiving Christ with joy so that we may share his wisdom and become one with him when he comes in glory, for he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. ~AMEN.
Lord God, may we, your people, who look forward to the birthday of Christ experience the joy of salvation and celebrate that feast with love and thanksgiving. We ask this through Christ our Lord. ~AMEN.
Father, all-powerful God, your eternal Word took flesh on our earth when the Virgin Mary placed her life at the service of your plan. Lift our minds in watchful hope to hear the voice which announces his glory and open our minds to receive the Spirit who prepares us for his coming. We ask this through Christ our Lord. ~AMEN.
Prayers taken from A Prayer Book of Catholic Devotions
Advent Calendar resources
As the Season of Lent begins, it is a good time for us to seek an interior renewal and to face the distracting attachments and preoccupations that have become part of our often very busy lives. These forty days serve to remind us of Christ’s journey into the desert. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) tells us that “Jesus' temptation reveals the way in which the Son of God is Messiah, contrary to the way Satan proposes to him and the way men wish to attribute to him. This is why Christ vanquished the Tempter for us: “For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sinning.
By the solemn forty days of Lent, the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert. (CCC, 540)
It is this Lenten discipline of penance, renunciation, and detachment which reawakens within us the awareness of our dependence on God and His great love for each of us. While retreating to the desert might be impossible on a practical level, our Lenten observance of penance, abstinence, prayer, and almsgiving helps us to grow in Christ daily and to avoid temptation.
In particular, the psalmist’s refrain, “Be still and know that I am God” invites us to be attentive to our times of personal and communal prayer. One of the Desert Fathers, Amma Syncletica said, “There are many who live in the mountains and behave as if they were in the town, and they are wasting their time. It is possible to be a solitary in one’s mind while living in a crowd, and it is possible for one who is a solitary to live in the crowd of his own thoughts.” (Benedicta Ward, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, Cistercian Publications: 1975, p. 19)
Listening to God in prayer is an important part of a life of faith. God desires to speak to us and we have the privilege of listening to the promptings of His Spirit through the consolations and desolations with which He graces us during our prayer. William Barclay’s reflection on prayer and silence is often quoted as follows, “… Prayer is a way of offering ourselves to God in order that He should be able to make use of us. It may be that one of our great faults in prayer is that we talk too much and listen too little. When prayer is at its highest, we wait in silence for God's voice to us; we linger in His presence for His peace and His power to flow over us and around us; we lean back in His everlasting arms and feel the serenity of perfect security in Him.”
The psalmist writes in Psalm 46, “Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.” Walter Brueggemann, a well-known scholar of the psalms, says that some psalms were written for the good times while others were written for the times when the future seemed uncertain and perhaps filled with impending troubles. These psalms were written for people living in times of change and uncertainty who were experiencing feelings of anxiety and even dismay. (The Spirituality of the Psalms, Brueggemann, pp. 19-25.) Psalm 46 provides the reassurance that God is stable when all else seems unstable. At a deeply personal and spiritual level, this is important for each of us.
This is the deeper experience of prayer and listening which the time of silence and stillness offers to us.
“In the silence of the heart, God speaks. If you face God in prayer and silence, God will speak to you. Then you will know that you are nothing. It is only when you realize your nothingness, your emptiness, that God can fill you with Himself. Souls of prayer are souls of great silence.” (Saint Teresa of Calcutta, In the Heart of the World: Thoughts, Stories and Prayers)
Let us embrace this season of Lent as a time to “be solitary in one’s mind.” (Benedicta Ward, Ibid.) If we allow God’s grace to renew our hearts during this Lenten season through prayer, then in the solitary stillness of such experiences we will know His great love, wisdom, and charity and be moved more generously to witness and share this with others.
Once per month, St. Bonaventure Pastor Fr. Colin O’Rourke brings Jesus into local schools for Eucharistic Adoration.
The Sisters of Divine Mercy play music as students gather in the gym, followed by a short talk. Then, Fr. O’Rourke exposes Jesus, fully present in the Blessed Sacrament, in the monstrance on the altar. He invites students to sit silently before God in prayer for 5-10 minutes, closing with benediction and a prayer to make a spiritual communion.
“It’s a bit counterintuitive to have a bunch of elementary school students sit quietly, people just think that’s not going to happen. And invariably, you can hear a pin drop. The kids are actually very attentive,” said Fr. O’Rourke.
St. Bonaventure Youth Minister Adam Soos coordinates the devotion between the parish and St. Boniface Elementary, St. Philip Elementary, St. Don Bosco Elementary/Junior High and St. Bonaventure Junior High. He said a transferring student asked him to call his new principal to ensure the school offers adoration.
“There is a lot of busyness in life,” said Soos. “Adoration is different from everything else. Instead of feeling scattered or worried, we feel peace. This is utterly authentic and the kids can pick up on it.”
Adoration is a relatively uncommon devotion in schools. In Soos seven years of youth ministry at St. Bonaventure, he’s noticed principals new to the school are usually apprehensive until they experience it.
“They say ‘wow, I’m sad I haven’t had this for my entire career,’” said Soos. “We get feedback that the school can seemingly be in chaos and after, for the rest of the day everyone is happy, content and there is a sense of peace.”
Soos notices more students attend Mass or a parish youth event following adoration in school. Fr. O’Rourke agrees. He said bringing Jesus to school students is more effective than simply inviting them to attend adoration in the parish, but in doing so, students are often inspired to follow Jesus to church.
Diocesan Moderator Fr. Wilbert Chin Jon, former St. Bonaventure pastor, introduced adoration in these schools in 2010. When he was reassigned to Our Lady of the Rockies in Canmore, he instituted 20 minutes of guided reflection and silence before the Blessed Sacrament twice a month in Our Lady of the Snows School; a devotion, the current pastor, Fr. Nathan Siray continues.
We are praying for the victims of the explosions in three churches and three hotels over the Easter weekend in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Pope Francis issued an appeal for peace in Sri Lanka in his Easter message: "I wish to manifest my affectionate closeness to the Christian community there, hit while they were gathered in prayer, and to the victims of such cruel violence. I entrust to the Lord all those who have tragically died, and I pray for the injured who are suffering because of this dramatic event.”
As an expression of our solidarity with the victims of the Sri Lanka bombing, to those who are injured and those who died, their families, and the community of Sri Lankans, let us pray:
The Social Justice & Outreach Department is pleased to announce three important pro-life events taking place in May:
The National Week for Life and the Family is an initiative of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (www.cccb.ca). The theme of the Week for 2019 is Listening to the Gospel as a Family.
Families celebrating the National Week for Life and the Family (Sunday, May 12 – 19, 2019)
Each Day of the Week
By Gabriele Kalincak, Marriage & Family Coordinator
So why is that joy lacking in so many Catholics and Christians these days?
“I think there’s a couple of reasons. One is the climate that we’re in. Many faithful Catholics feel sort of in a siege mentality. So much of the world has changed around us so quickly. We’re a post Christian culture, so our faith, our mission, our morality is being challenged left, right and centre. So it’s very difficult,” said Bishop McCaig when I spoke with him. “That’s why I spoke of the temptation that we have to overcome to lose our joy and lose our charity in the midst of the struggle. But ultimately joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Joy is deeper than happiness. Happiness is transitory. I can be happy one minute and unhappy the next minute. I’m driving to work, and my truck breaks down. I’m not very happy. But joy is deeper.
“Joy is something that the circumstances of life can’t take away. Joy is something that flows from the deep knowledge of being known and loved and forgiven and blessed and anointed by God - of living in the grace of God. That comes from the Holy Spirit. That’s something we can’t manufacture. That’s something that we can’t even choose to have. We can choose however to expose ourselves to it by a life of deep prayer. I think you will find that the kind of joy the Lord speaks, which the world cannot take from us, is the product of someone who spends time with the Scriptures in prayer, with the the Lord personally. Spends time before the Blessed Sacrament in adoration, prays the Rosary, goes to Mass whenever they can. Is living deeply and from the heart that relationship with the Lord.”
But it’s ironic that despite the Good News many people still don’t have a joyful disposition.
“Pope Francis said it beautifully early on in his pontificate. We don’t need pickle faced Christians,” explained Bishop McCaig. “That says it all. Why is it that we’re going to the highest act of worship - the summit and sacrifice of life on earth in the Mass - and our visages look like we’re going to a funeral? It’s really a question of the reception of the Good News. Many of us have received the faith at one level - at an intellectual level. We believe it’s true. But I think God wants a lot more than that. He wants us to receive it deeply. He wants us to experience it. He wants us to come into a relationship with Him. And that’s why we have so many programs that are specifically designed to take us beyond the beginning stages into a deeper love of relationship.”
Wise words from a wise man - something I will remind myself of when I too find myself heading down that dour path. As Catholics and Christians, we truly have good reason to be joyful.
Written by Mario Toneguzzi
It’s time for Catholic men to “man up” and truly follow Jesus Christ in their faith moving beyond the rut they can find themselves mired in when it comes to religion.
That’s the challenging message noted author and speaker Jeff Cavins gave during one of his presentations at the recent God Squad men’s conference - Be Not Afraid To Be A Saint - at St. Peter’s Church in Calgary.
Cavins said men need to understand what it means to be a disciple of Jesus and to walk with Jesus and be His representative.
“There’s a big difference between being a fan of Jesus and a follower of Jesus,” he said.
“We as modern believers can get caught in a rut . . . Where are we at today as men? Are we fans or are we followers? Are we merely going after theology or are we in a real relationship? And one of the ruts we can get into as men is that we get really excited about studying this stuff. We really like to study the faith . . . But there’s a rut that we can get into if we’re not careful. And that rut is that our faith can be simply made up of studying the faith.”
So our faith isn’t so much having a relationship with Jesus, coming to know Him, becoming like Him and doing what He does on a regular basis but our faith is reading the latest book, watching Catholic television, listening to Catholic radio, etc.
“In other words, the rut is that our faith can become our hobby,” said Cavins as he related a story about photography and how initially he learned all there was to know about the hobby, but it took him a long time to actually buy a camera and to “take a shot.”
“It is possible to get into a rut where you know the faith well; you can converse with others . . . You’ve got the Bible, you’ve got the Rosary, you’ve got a Catechism, you’ve got novenas, you’ve got holy water. You’ve got all the equipment set up, but you’re not taking the shot. That’s the problem we can get into particularly I would say as men we can get into that rut.
“You might be interested in theology, and dogma, and doctrine and councils and everything else. And that’s cool. But that isn’t going to get you to grow spiritually. The only thing that’s going to get you to grow spiritually, the only thing that’s going to help you deal with the vices in your life, is not a CD - that can help with ideas - but the only thing that’s going to deliver you . . . the only thing that’s going to help you grow as men is a relationship . . . I’m not in love with theology. I like it. I enjoy it. But I’m not in love with theology. I’m not in love with doctrine. I’m not in love with dogma. I’m not in love with debates and apologetics. It’s all necessary and good, but I’m in love with Jesus.”
Cavins said everyone has been chosen by Jesus to become like Him. But you cannot become like Him without Him and your lifestyle has to reflect that chosenness.
“So men I’m challenging you tonight . . . Guys you’ve got to decide who you’re going to follow . . . and you’ve got to man up and follow Him,” he said.
“You as men you are not called to complacency and you are not called to comfort. That is not the calling on your life . . . The calling on your life is not just to have your retirement plan established . . . The calling on our life is such that Jesus said to every man in here one thing more than anything else combined . . . Be not afraid. Why would Jesus say to men be not afraid more than anything else? Because He knows that what he’s calling you to will give you a reason to be afraid.”
Every man is called to go beyond themselves, to go into waters deeper than they’ve been before, to encounter challenges they have never, ever dreamt of encountering and avoiding.
In an interview, Cavins was asked why it is difficult for men to get out of the rut and become a follower as opposed to a fan of Jesus.
“One of the reasons that it’s difficult for men to get out of the rut is because in many homes, not all, it’s their wife that really is the one that is the leader of the spiritual activity of the home,” he said. “The wife is more relational. Men are more service oriented. They want to do things together. I think that’s one of the reasons why we see a lot of men not taking a leadership role.
“But I also think the point of entry into activity in a local parish is confusing to men. There are not a lot of natural points of entry. We don’t build on what St. Thomas said. Grace building on nature. Men do some things naturally. For example, men naturally lead. Men naturally provide. Men naturally protect. You don’t have to teach a man to do that . . . Then we want to bring that into the Church into the spiritual dimension of being a spiritual protector and leader and provider. There’s not a lot of points of entry into involvement in parishes.”
Cavins said many people have also been taught that their faith is a very private thing. One of the biggest problems with men getting out of that rut is that they have not been formed well in Scripture and they don’t want to talk to anyone about it. And unfortunately, many men have not grown up. They have not had other men take them and mentor them.
“And they are still playing with toys. Electronics. Sports. And things like that. But they have not had this rite of passage into manhood and responsibility, and they don’t have a lot of mentors to follow,” said Cavins. “One of the problems is we’re just so inundated with entertainment, sports, finance, games, cars; you name it. They’re distracted. They’re absolutely distracted, and this is not the love of their life.”
Written by Mario Toneguzzi
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers