1. Why don't Catholics eat meat on Fridays during Lent?
Ash Wednesday begins the period of Lent during which we are called to prayer and penance as we prepare for the celebration of Easter.
On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday the Church asks us to observe both abstinence from meat and fasting. For Christians fasting is one of the ways of expressing penance. The other ways are prayer, self-denial and works of charity. The practice of fasting is given to us by the Church to help us acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart (Catechism #2043). All who are 18 and not yet 60 (ie. aged 18 to 59) are bound to fast. All who are over 14 (ie. aged 15+) are bound to abstain.
The tradition of eating fish on Good Friday is a response to the call for all Catholics between the age of 15 and 59 to do Penance. This includes abstaining from meat on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. This does not mean one has to eat fish, there are a variety of other options available when choosing to abstain from meat. In today's society, a popular commercialisation of "not eating meat" has in many places evolved into having a "fish feast". The idea of any "feast" on Good Friday is not in keeping with the spirit/intent of Penance that we are called to as we remember the passion and death of Jesus on the Cross.
There is nothing wrong with meat and there is nothing particularly sacred about fish. With regards to fish there are some Christian symbolic references that may be called to mind when fish is prepared and consumed. In Chapter 21 of the Gospel of John the risen Lord feeds the apostles with some freshly cooked fish and bread. There are also other stories involving fish in the Gospels related to large catches of fish and feeding 5000 with loaves and fishes. An early Christian symbol was also the fish from the Greek word for fish ICTHUS (ΙΧΘΥΣ) made from the Greek first letters of the statement Jesus Christ Son of God Saviour.
2. What is Ash Wednesday?
Ash Wednesday is the day which marks the beginning of the season of Lent, the liturgical period of forty weekdays which precedes Easter. It is a season during which Catholics traditionally examine the course their lives are taking and it calls for a degree of repentance and conversion of heart. It is often accompanied by increasingly fervent prayer and some degree of fasting and self-denial. In preparation for Ash Wednesday ashes are burnt from palm fronds from the previous year's Palm Sunday celebrations. They are spread over the foreheads of Catholics who attend Mass or a paraliturgy on Ash Wednesday, as a reminder that their bodies are destined to return to dust too, following the deaths of their bodies. This represents a powerful symbol of mortality, and spurs Catholics on to make a genuine effort to live out the spirit of the Lenten season in as dedicated a manner as possible.
3. Where can I find Lenten Programs and Resources?
Ash Wednesday begins the period of Lent - a time of prayer and penance - fasting and abstinence in preparation for Easter.
Here are some links to what the some of the Bishops of Australia have said about Lent, penance, fasting and abstinence as well as some other Lenten Programs and Resources.
Maitland- Newcastle Half-day Lenten Retreat
Sale Grace and Faith in Lent - 2013
Sandhurst Lenten Pastoral Letter
Wollongong Lenten Program 2014
4. When does Lent start and finish?
Lent commences with Ash Wednesday (18 February, 2015) and lasts until the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday evening (2 April, 2015).
Lent is in effect the retreat time in preparation for the Easter Triduum - the three days of the celebration of Easter which begins with sundown on Holy Thursday evening and ends with evening prayer on Easter Sunday evening. The Triduum includes the liturgies of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil, and Easter Sunday.
On Good Friday and, if possible, also on Holy Saturday until the Easter Vigil, the Easter Fast is observed.
5. Where can I find Mass times for Easter?
6. Does Mass on Saturday evening count for both Christmas Day and Sunday?
The short answer is no.
Apart from every Sunday of the year, Christmas Day is one of just two Holy Days of Obligation in Australia. The other one is the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (15 August). These two holy days are to be observed each year, regardless of the day of the week on which they fall.
When Christmas Day falls on the Saturday, there are two separate obligations for Catholics to celebrate Mass, one is for Christmas Day and the other is for the Sunday. Where Mass was celebrated on the Saturday evening, it should be the Mass for Christmas Day rather than a Sunday vigil Mass. In the coming years, this will be relevant again in 2021, 2027, 2032, 2038, 2049, 2055, 2060 and 2066 when Christmas Day will again fall on a Saturday.
When Christmas Day is on Sunday, it takes priority over an "ordinary" Sunday Liturgy. In these years, where Mass is celebrated on the Saturday evening, it should be the vigil Mass for Christmas Day. In the coming years, this will be relevant again in 2022, 2033, 2039, 2044, 2050, 2061 and 2067 when Christmas Day will again fall on a Sunday.
The same principle applies to the Feast of the Assumption.
The Feast of the Assumption next falls on a Saturday in 2020.
The Feast of the Assumption next falls on a Sunday in 2021.
7. Where does the Nativity scene come from?
The first live reproduction of the outdoor Christmas nativity was made by St. Francis of Assisi for the event he staged in Greccio, Italy, in 1223. It was a way of communicating the true meaning of Christmas. The idea proved so popular that it soon spread throughout the Christian world.
The story of the nativity comes from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Luke’s account describes the journey of Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem, where they must go to be counted in the census ordered by Caesar Augustus. Unable to find any room at the inn, they take refuge in a stable used to shelter animals. Here Jesus is born and laid in a manger filled with hay. In the hills overlooking Bethlehem an angel tells the shepherds of Jesus' birth. Matthew’s account tells of a brilliant star that appears marking the birthplace of Jesus and of the three kings that follow its light to find the Christ child.
The traditional grouping of wise men and farm folk is symbolic of the universal nature of Christianity and emphasises God’s desire to embrace all people. The shepherds carry the richness of the Earth's harvest, and the first to arrive carries a dove, the symbol of peace. The angel, in bringing the message of the birth to the shepherds, is symbolic of the way God reaches out to all mankind with a message of peace. The wise men are traditionally kings with gifts of riches who symbolise how wealth and wisdom come to kneel before a greater King. Baby Jesus in a humble crib is at the very centre, as He is at the centre of life today.
Since the time of St Francis, the practice has spread around the world in pageants, church reproductions, neighborhood rituals, professionally staged plays where huge casts including live animals are utilized, and of course the school plays where sometimes the imaginative interpretation of the script provides highly original versions of the events.
(some of this information has been provided by artist Tony Johansen who painted the backdrop to the Nativity Scene at St Mary’s Cathedral Sydney – visit www.christmas.blogs.com).
8. What does the Advent wreath mean?
While some think of the time between the end of November and Christmas day in terms of shopping days, the start of school holidays or the end of the year and Christmas parties, the Catholic calendar celebrates Advent, the time of expectant faith as we await the birth of Jesus Christ.
In Medieval times Advent was a time of fasting during which people's thoughts were directed to the expected second coming of Christ; but in modern times it has been seen as the lead up to Christmas, and in that context an Advent wreath serves as a reminder of the approach of the feast.
The Advent wreath is usually a horizontal evergreen wreath with four candles. Beginning with the First Sunday of Advent, the lighting of a candle can be accompanied by a Bible reading and prayers. An additional candle is lit each week until, by the last Sunday before Christmas, all four candles are lit. This custom is observed in family settings and at public church services, and we have chosen this as part of our office decoration.
We have also chosen three purple candles and one rose candle. The purple candles, taking the colour once associated with royalty, symbolize Christ as the "Prince of Peace" and are used for Weeks 1, 2 and 4. The rose candle, for Gaudete Sunday, Week 3, denotes a week of extra joy. Its name comes from the Latin word "rejoice”. Gaudete Sunday anticipates the joy of the Christmas celebration, so its colour is a mixture of Advent purple and Christmas white.
There is also a fifth candle in their wreath and this is white. It is the “Christ" candle which can be lit at Christmas
9. Where can I find Mass times for Christmas?