Have you ever wondered why Catholics do the things we do. There are many outward expression of our faith that are unique to the Catholic faith. We grew up doing them and have seen others in parishes all over the world doing them, but why?

Our answers will be researched and written in straightforward language. This would not be the place for a theological debate or discussion. This is the place, however, if you have ever wondered why we use incenses during Mass or why there is Holy Water at the church entrance. If you have any questions about the outward and visible expressions of your faith send them along and we’ll do our best to provide answers to your questions and share them with our community.

Q: Why do Catholics bless themselves with holy water?

It used to be mandatory for Christians to wash their hands before prayer. The idea was to be clean and pure before approaching Christ. Early Christian churches were designed to have fountains or large basins for people arriving at Mass to wash their hands.

This type of public cleaning is no longer required but we continue to see priests, during the Mass, wash their hands following the presentation of the gifts. You will also see small fonts of Holy Water at the entrances of churches so that people entering the church can touch a drop to themselves as they make the sign of the cross.

Holy water is blessed water and this act of touching a drop to yourself transfers a priest’s blessing. Cleaning yourself on the way in to the sacred mysteries. This simple act also symbolizes our baptism into Christ, which makes us members of the Church, the Body of Christ.

Blessing Food at Easter

We do this as a way to celebrate the end of fasting associated with Lent. Easter used to be the first day when meat and eggs could be eaten again and so the tradition began of blessing the food for the first great feast on Easter. The food can be blessed before or after the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday or on Easter morning. Why not ask for God’s blessing over your Easter meal and add to the celebration of the church filling with joy.

The current blessing can be found in the Book of Blessings Bless, O Lord, this creation that it may be a means of salvation to the human race, And grant that, by the invocation of Thy Holy Name, it may promote health of body, and salvation of soul in those who partake of it, through Christ our Lord.


Why Do Catholics Keep Celebrating after Christmas?

The birth of Christ is celebrated on December 25th. Christmas Mass is the feast of the incarnation, the feast of God becoming flesh – of choosing to become one of us. This is a celebration second only to Easter. Easter has Lent as time of preparation, and is followed by the fifty days of Eastertide leading up to Pentecost. Analogously, Advent is the time of waiting for Christmas, and after the feast, there are the weeks of Christmastide. In these weeks, we first celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family on the Sunday after Christmas (Dec 31 2017), and the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, on New Year’s Day. On the Solemnity of the Epiphany (Jan 7 2018) we remember the visit of the Magi:

"According to tradition, the wise men were sages, watchers of the constellations, observers of the heavens in a cultural and religious context which saw the stars as having significance and power over human affairs. The wise men represent men and women who seek God in the world's religions and philosophies. The Holy Spirit prompted them to follow the star, kept them strong when their quest proved difficult and filled them with the grace they needed to have a personal encounter with the true God.” – Pope Francis

Christmastide ends with the feast of the Baptism (Jan 8 2018), when God’s voice identifies Jesus as His beloved son as he goes down into the Jordan in order to be baptized by John the Baptist.

Forty days after Christmas, Catholics celebrate “Candlemas”, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord (Feb 2 2018). This feast commemorates the day when Mary and Joseph, according to the laws of the Old Testament, brought Jesus to the temple for the rites of purification and dedication 40 days after His birth. Saint John Paul II revived the custom of keeping the Nativity scene in St. Peter’s square until February 2nd. At St George’s, we keep the Christmas trees in the church up until that day.

Q: Why do Catholics kneel so much?

Catholics genuflect (kneel the right knee to the ground) as a sign of adoration to the Blessed Sacrament. You will see Catholics genuflecting before sitting down in the pew, at any time when they cross in front of the Blessed Sacrament and upon getting up from the pew once the Mass has ended.

The Blessed Sacrament is reserved in the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle candle or lamp is always lit when the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in the Tabernacle and is extinguished when the Blessed Sacrament is in repose during the Triduum.

Making the sign of the cross in combination with genuflecting is optional.

The Stations of the Cross

The Stations of the Cross travel with Jesus along the route to his crucifixion. These 14 stations are a Catholic devotion and at each station there is an accompanying prayer. The stations bring Catholics closer to their faith as they prayer and mediate on the Passion of our Lord. The Stations of the Cross can be prayed at any time but are most commonly prayed on Wednesday and Fridays throughout Lent. The Stations originated in medieval Europe when wars prevented Christian pilgrims from visiting the Holy Land. To learn more about the prayers and meditations for each of the stations there are audio versions and pamphlets available online.

Q: Why is incense used during Mass?

The smoke arising from the incense is used to symbolize purification and prayer. Creating an actual vision of the prayers of the people rising up to heaven. The smell is unique and intended as a further reminder that you are participating in a sacred liturgy.

The smell of the incense combined with the visual aspect of the smoke is intended to be transcendent – to link Mass here on earth with heaven. The Catholic Mass by design is intended to engage the five senses, to keep your focus on the celebration and worship of the Holy Eucharist.

If you look closely at the Easter candle in your local parish church you will see five grains of unburned incense pushed into the candle in the shape of a cross.


Why is Christmas Mass at Midnight?

Traditionally, the birth of Christ is celebrated at night. We know this because Luke’s Gospel tells us that Jesus was laid in a manger because there was no room at the inn for Mary and Joseph by the time they arrived in Bethlehem. We also read in Luke’s Gospel that the shepherds were keeping watch over their sheep at night. Keeping Vigil is part of our Catholic faith.

Father Raymond J. de Souza writes in The Catholic Register, “In the whole year – sacred or profane – no other event begins at midnight. For no other reason do we head out in the middle of the night. In the heart of the night, in the heart of the darkest season, in the heart of the winter bleakness, Catholics gather because they have seen a great light.”