The Divine Mercy.
Jesus Christ

What did Jesus look like?

If I asked you to draw a picture of Jesus, where would you start? Maybe you’d place Him on the cross. Perhaps you’d draw Him handing out loaves and fishes? Or maybe you’d depict him at the Last Supper surrounded by the Apostles? The chances are that whichever setting you chose to put Jesus in, you’d automatically go for long brown hair, a beard and a flowing white robe. Because that’s Jesus and that’s all there is to it. Right? This was the subject of debate last night at my RCIA meeting and it’s something that raised far more questions than it answered. Whilst most of us think of God as being an elderly man in the sky with a profusion of white facial hair, the fact is that we can never really know what the Father looks like. At least not here on earth.

But if we believe that God was made man, if we believe that Jesus really was divine, then it’s only natural that we’re going to wonder what He looked like when He walked the earth. At this point of course, it’s worth pointing out that some Christians don’t agree with the notion of making representations of Jesus in the first place. There are denominations which very passionately reject such attempts to depict Jesus as idolatry and if that’s what you believe, I absolutely respect that. But personally I believe that artists throughout the ages have tried to define an image of Jesus not just to show off their skills but to help us come to know Jesus and to fix an image of Him in our minds to help us as we pray or to focus our devotion. Which I don’t see as a bad thing or anything near breaking the first commandment.

Christ Pantocrator.
Christ Pantocrator, a 6th century Icon of Jesus Christ.

One of the oldest (but by no means the first) surviving depictions of Jesus can be found in the icon of Christ Pantocrator painted sometime in the 6th century. It shows the attributes of Christ we’re used to; long brown hair, brown beard and a halo around His head. But without the Bible and the Halo, what makes that image an image of Jesus? By the 6th century, the earliest Christian art (which was almost always painted in secret because of the Roman persecution of our ancestors) had seemingly come to an agreed image of what Christ looked like and even today, we still cling to that perception. Jeffrey Hunter, Robert Powell and Max von Sydow all gave very different performances as Jesus but they all “looked like” Jesus. They all adopted the basics we accept as being Christlike in appearance. But what about depictions of Jesus as being black? Or a woman? Not only do they exist but they’ve become a focal point for certain groups of Christians and as a result, there has been heated debate and very strong negative reaction from those who feel that “their” Jesus is somehow being attacked or diminished in His dignity.

And I can sympathise with that. Personally, my mental image of Jesus is that of the Divine Mercy or the Sacred Heart and seeing Jesus portrayed any other way makes me feel a little uncomfortable. There are some depictions which go out of their way to offend or to cause upset and obviously those are to be condemned. But if an image of a Korean Jesus brought the people of Korea closer to God, is that really such a bad thing? In 2015, a team of forensic experts “reconstructed” the face of Jesus. That is, they studied the remains of humans who lived around the same time and in the same place and came up with an average depiction of what the every day Jewish male around the age of 33 looked like. In all probability, they said, this was the most accurate depiction of Jesus Christ there would ever be and whilst it raised questions about ethnicity (not to mention centuries of depictions which would now be regarded as inaccurate), it did miss the point a little. As perhaps we’re all guilty of doing.

The Divine Mercy.
The Divine Mercy.

I have a strong devotion to the Divine Mercy. The image which represents the Divine Mercy is an interesting one and it’s probably familiar to you. It depicts Jesus in a long white robe with every other physical attribute you would expect, except that he has two rays of light shining from his heart – one red and one white. The image itself was painted by a Polish artist working from a description given by St Faustina who was commanded to produce the image by Jesus during one of her many visions.

“Paint an image according to the pattern you see, with the signature: “Jesus, I trust in You”. I desire that this image be venerated, first in your chapel, and then throughout the world. I promise that the soul that will venerate this image will not perish”

Notebook 1, Items 47 and 48.

St Faustina was a great visionary and a very holy woman but she wasn’t exactly Van Gogh. She tried to draw the image herself, she even asked some of her sisters at the convent in Poland to help out but none came close to the vision Faustina had been given. The first image that came close enough was painted by Eugeniusz Kazimirowski and is the first recognisable image of the Divine Mercy image we know today. But it isn’t the most popular, nor is it really ever reproduced. That honour fell to Adolf Hyla, another Polish artist, who painted the image in 1943. Since then it has appeared on everything from rosaries to scapulars, t-shirts and even baseball caps. In His instruction to St Faustina, Jesus clearly had a very precise and determined objective. He wanted us to venerate the image He gave Faustina. But the Divine Mercy image can’t possibly be exactly as St Faustina saw the Lord. The artists may have come close but they didn’t experience the vision themselves, however filled with the spirit they may have been, it remains the closest we have to what someone else described.

Forensic Depiction of Jesus.
Is this the real face of Jesus Christ?

The mistake we’re making is that we’re only concentrating on one part of the teaching Christ gave to St Faustina. Yes it’s an important teaching but do we know the meaning behind the image? In her diary, St Faustina writes that Jesus told her to; “Proclaim that mercy is the greatest attribute of God”. When we venerate the image of the Divine Mercy therefore, it isn’t that we’re looking directly into the face of Jesus Christ as He really was when He walked the earth in human form – and that’s devotion enough. It isn’t about studying every brush stroke, it isn’t about knowing the colour of His eyes or how He wore His hair. It’s about meditating on that amazing teaching that whatever we have done, whatever we’re yet to do, Christ died to offer salvation for our sins. As we remember from the Gospel of St John; “Yes, God loved the world so much that He gave His only son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not be lost but may have eternal life” (John, 3:16). The most sacred part of the image therefore isn’t the image itself but the words below it: “Jesus, I trust in You!”.

The fact is, until we stand face to face with the Lord, we won’t know what He looks like. And even though the Church has endorsed many images of Jesus or Mary, we’re reliant on artists interpreting to the best of their ability what our visionaries saw. Whatever you think of when you think of Jesus, as long as you’re putting His love, His mercy and His goodness before anything superficial then you’ll be closer to Him. We have devotionals, we have an ingrained representation of what Jesus looks like but I like to think that even if He appeared just as light or as a voice in the midst of silence, we’d still know it was Him. Because nobody else can make us feel the way Jesus makes us feel. Who else would ever love us so much as to give their life for us, to die for our sins and those of the whole world?

All Saints
How to:

How to: Holy Days of Obligation Explained

Having been born in the last century, I feel that the 21st should have come with a warning: “May cause drowsiness due to excessive demands on your time”. If the governments of the world got together and agreed that we’d all add an extra hour to the day, I’d be thrilled. If you’re anything like me, you keep a list of chores and tasks that absolutely have to get done but as soon as you tick off the last, another 6 have suspiciously appeared from nowhere! So you begin to prioritise. The car needs to be serviced or you’ll have to walk to work – bang goes that trip to the cinema. The dog needs it’s vaccinations again – better cancel that lunch date with friends. An elderly relative may be sick and needs you more than they did before or the children need more help than usual with their homework. These things always come first in our lives because they’re obligations. They’re things we promised to do when we made commitments and so even though we’d probably rather be binge-watching Netflix or playing Crusader Kings II (just me there?), they’re non-negotiable in our diary. For Christians, especially Roman Catholics, there are a few more non-negotiable dates in our diaries: Holy Days of Obligation.

Before we look into the Holy Days of Obligation set by the Church, let’s look at what they are and where they came from. And if you already know what they are and you’re struggling to keep all 8 that appear in the liturgical calendar today, think of our forebears who had a grand total of 36 to keep! A Holy Day of Obligation, simply put, is a day during the year in which your attendance at Mass is required – or perhaps a better word would be ‘commanded’. People can feel a little nervous when they talk about this sort of thing as they panic that it’ll make the Church seem overbearing or too authoritarian in what it expects but what else are the Ten Commandments? They are sacred duties we are commanded to perform when we make our commitment to live for Christ. And I hear you. Life is busy. Is it really necessary to bother with Holy Days when they can be so inconvenient? Well…..purgatory is pretty inconvenient too. I joke. Sort of.

Though it isn’t often included in “the list” of Holy Days of Obligation, the Sabbath is a holy day – and a holy day you’re obligated to attend. Which meets the criteria for a Holy Day of Obligation right? We all know that attending Mass is a vital part of our faith and many older people will chastise younger Catholics who don’t seem to accept or acknowledge that failing to attend Mass without a good reason is actually a mortal sin. Of course, that’s not to say that there are older Catholics out there who no longer hold with that idea themselves. Note that I say Sabbath and not Sunday specifically. Canon Law allows us to meet our obligation to keep the Sabbath holy by attending Mass on a Saturday evening instead of a Sunday morning. Personally I prefer the Saturday evening Mass as it tends to be a little quieter but some people wouldn’t dream of missing Sunday morning Mass – both Saturday evening and Sunday morning attendance are totally acceptable and meet the requirements of keeping the Sabbath day holy. But what if you skip both? I mean, you’ve got to have some time for yourself right?

All Saints
The Solemnity of All Saints is celebrated as a Holy Day of Obligation.

There are plenty of good reasons to miss Mass. Maybe you had an accident and you’re laid up with a broken leg. Nobody can drive you to Church and so you might say a rosary instead. Maybe you absolutely have no choice but to work and without working, you can’t feed your family. Or maybe you absolutely have to care for a sick friend when nobody else can possibly get there. These are all just causes not to meet your obligation and the Lord accepts that sometimes, you just cant be in two places at once. But let’s say you don’t attend because…..well…you need some “me time”. Ultimately, we’re all going to have to stand before the Lord and explain why we did the things we did. I don’t know about you but I’d feel pretty sheepish if I had to tell the Lord that I missed Mass because the new series of The Crown had just landed on Netflix. If you’re skipping Mass, it isn’t the priest you have to answer to. It isn’t even the Curia or the Pope. It’s God.

Dr Scott Hahn speaks of the Mass as an opportunity. He says that during the Mass, a veil is lifted and everyone present experiences heaven. Everyone is in the real presence of Jesus and in that real presence we can offer intentions, we can offer praise, we can show respect – but mostly importantly, we can show our love for Jesus. Mother Angelica used to say that she loved simply walking into her chapel and saying “Hi Jesus” – because she knew He was there and she was with Him. So whilst ‘obligation’ sounds like an angry Bishop pointing at you and ordering you to do something, ultimately the Church can only prescribe. It can’t force you to take the medicine. That’s what free will is all about. We can attend the Mass or we can skip it to go bowling but the reality of that decision is whether we are saying yes or no to God and what he’s asked us to do in His service.

The Mass isn’t the only Holy Day we’re obligated to observe. In the modern Church, there are 8 days set aside for specific observations and some of them will be more familiar than others. Let’s see what those days are:-

  • January 1st, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God
  • January 6th, the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord
  • March 19th, the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Mother
  • Thursday, 6th Week of Eastertide, the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord
  • Thursday after Trinity Sunday, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood
  • June 29th, the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles
  • August 15th, the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
  • November 1st, the Solemnity of All Saints
  • December 8th, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin
  • December 25th, the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord

Now you have to two choices. You can see this as a list of dates you can’t make it to bingo or you can see it as an opportunity to come to know more about the life of Jesus, the Virgin Mary and the Saints. For example, tomorrow is the Solemnity of All Saints. It’s a celebration of all the Saints, known and unknown. I have a particular fondness for two saints; St Rita of Cascia and St Thomas More. So tomorrow, I’ll go to Mass not just because I’m obligated to but because I’ll give thanks to the Lord for their example and I’ll pray for the intercession of St Rita and St Thomas More to help me through my current struggles or trials. Again, by seeing a Holy Day as an opportunity to know holiness rather than as an obligation you’re forced to meet you’ll feel far more connected to your faith, to the Church and to God.

St Thomas More
St Thomas More, Pray for Us.

And whilst these Holy Days are known as “Solemnities”, they are all celebrated as being part of the mystery of our faith and they give us cause to be happy. The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary doesn’t just remind us of the love our Holy Mother has for us or her place in Heaven but it reminds us too that we’re all going to have our own assumption. We’re all going to be received into Heaven – well, we hope so! All Saints in particular gives us thousands of examples of holiness to emulate and so whilst our busy lives do sometimes make our spiritual obligations seem a little excessive, remember that to skip out on a Holy Day is a mortal sin for a reason. It isn’t just a punishment from the Church. It’s disappointing to God. How much time do you really give to Him in your daily life? Could you give more? Well, tomorrow is your chance.

On this All Saints Day, I pray that you find peace and joy in the Lord and that the Saints will inspire you and bring you closer to God’s love and His mercy. Amen!

St Margaret Clitherow.
Catholic History

A Catholic View: BBC One’s ‘Gunpowder’

Remember, remember the fifth of November…

In 1976, the BBC found itself forced to defend the broadcast of what has since become a beloved classic. When Jack Pullman’s adaptation of I, Claudius made it’s first appearance in British homes, audiences were both fascinated and furious in equal measure. The majority of the complaints which poured in were focused on the late John Hurt’s portrayal of the Emperor Caligula. It was one thing to portray the ruthless (and deliciously insane) Emperor appointing his horse to be a Roman consul or threatening his courtiers with execution for his own entertainment but quite another to see him murder his sister Drusilla, passionately kiss his grandmother Livia or behead his nephew Gemellus. By way of response, the BBC insisted that they were simply being faithful to historical fact (though I, Claudius is a fictionalised story of the lives of the Caesars written by Robert Graves) and that as hard as it was to accept, the Ancient Romans really did live their lives surrounded by murder, incest, orgies and poison. A similar defence has now been mounted of a drama series which premiered on BBC Iplayer this week: Gunpowder.

As the name suggests, Gunpowder tells the story of the 1605 plot to assassinate King James I by exploding barrels of gunpowder in the cellars of the Palace of Westminster. Whilst Guy Fawkes has traditionally been deemed the leader of the failed attempt at regicide, he was in fact one of several English Catholics led by Robert Catesby who were determined to put an end to the bloody and brutal persecution of Catholics in England by the hardline Protestant establishment. Whilst King James was not the first (or last) monarch to be threatened with assassination, the Gunpowder plot has left its mark on us in many ways. Today, before the Queen arrives at the Palace of Westminster for the State Opening of Parliament, the Yeoman of the Guard ceremonially plod through the cellars of the Houses of Parliament with lanterns to check for gunpowder. And on the 5th November each year, it’s traditional for firework displays to be held with public bonfires where effigies of Guy Fawkes are burned – in some cases, effigies of a figure in Papal Vestments are still used. The movie V for Vendetta gave us the so-called Guy Fawkes mask which has been adopted by anti-authoritarian groups and many anti-establishment protestors have adopted Fawkes’ image as a kind of logo. But the real legacy of the 1605 plot seems to have been lost entirely and for Roman Catholics, there’s much we can learn if we do “Remember, remember the 5th November”.

The Yeomen of the Guard
The Yeomen of the Guard, who still check the cellars of Parliament for gunpowder.
17th century England was no picnic for English Catholics. Following the death of Queen Mary I in 1558, many high ranking Protestant courtiers wanted to see her sister Elizabeth marry quickly and produce a Protestant heir to prevent any return to ‘the old religion’. With a renewed vigour, men like Sir Francis Walsingham (Elizabeth I’s Spymaster) persecuted Roman Catholics and subjected them to terrible martyrdoms. In 1570, Pope Pius V issued a papal bull known as Regnans in Exelcsis (Reigning on High). It declared Elizabeth I a pretender to the throne and a heretic. It also excommunicated anyone in England who obeyed her orders. The issuing of the bull backfired spectacularly and simply prompted men like Walsingham to increase their persecution of English Catholics. For those affected, they pinned their hopes on Elizabeth’s main rival – Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary was Roman Catholic and if Elizabeth could be overthrown, England would once again be restored to full communion with Rome with Mary on the throne. Encouraged by her advisors, Elizabeth saw that Mary was taken prisoner and eventually beheaded which in turn saw Elizabeth excommunicated once and for all by Pope Sixtus V. After Elizabeth’s death, Mary’s son James succeeded his childless first cousin as King of England and whilst many were certain that his loyalty to the memory of his mother would halt any renewed attack on English Catholics, they had overlooked the zeal of his advisors.

St Margaret Clitherow.
St Margaret Clitherow, the Pearl of York.
What Elizabeth had begun, James I now continued. The Mass was forbidden. Priests were imprisoned without charge and after show trials were held, found themselves hanged, drawn and quartered as traitors. Men, women and children were subjected to the most brutal and bloody reprisals if they were found to be harbouring priests and many innocent victims of this persecution would go on to be canonised by Pope Paul VI in 1970 as the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. They include St Edmund Campion, a priest who was butchered at Tyburn in 1581 and St Margaret Clitherow (the Pearl of York) who was crushed to death in 1586. Placed under a heavy door, weights were added in an attempt to force St Margaret to recant her faith. Elizabeth I wrote to the people of York condemning Margaret’s execution as unjust because of her sex but still the punishments for women remained just as savage for women as for men. James I’s view of Catholics was far more tolerant and yet still priest hunters roamed the country committing acts of unspeakable barbarity. Such persecution would last for another 200 years.

In 1778, the British parliament passed the Papists Act. As long as an individual renounced Stuart claims to the throne and the civil jurisdiction of the Pope in Rome, Catholics could finally own property and inherit land. They could even join the army. In 1782, a new act allowed for the foundation of Roman Catholic schools and bishoprics and by the time Queen Victoria came to the throne, English Catholics had been “emancipated”. No profession remained barred to them, they were entitled to vote and even to be elected to parliament – yet many in society still held prejudices against them. The days of state sponsored religious persecution in England had ended however and for many Catholics, a time of unspeakable horrors and tragedies had finally come to a close. Yet today, Guy Fawkes Day or Bonfire Night is still celebrated. Many (both Protestant and Catholic) have forgotten the origins of the festival and I don’t truly believe that even those toasting effigies of Bishops have the faintest idea of why they’re doing so other than “it’s traditional”.

The fact is that history really is written by the victors. Elizabethan propaganda still holds true in that Queen Mary I is remembered as an evil zealous tyrant complete with the ominous moniker “Bloody Mary” whilst Elizabeth I is remembered as “The Virgin Queen”, an angelic figure in white committed to peace and justice. In reality, Elizabeth’s rabid persecution of Catholics far outweighed the rather middle-of-the-road measures Queen Mary attempted to undo the reformation process begun by her father, King Henry VIII. Whilst undoubtedly Protestants did lose their lives during Mary’s reign for their faith, it simply doesn’t compare to what came afterwards. English history has a rather nasty stain upon it and perhaps this is why it’s come as such a shock to so many Britons that our ancestors were really capable of such atrocities as depicted in Gunpowder. We like to reassure ourselves that we were always quite an upright, civilised, well mannered bunch who had the best of intentions but Gunpowder has forced us to examine our national story a little more closely. And it’s uncomfortable.

Of course, modern Britons can’t be held responsible for actions taken by a government nearly 500 years ago. But we can learn vital lessons from it that may serve us well today in trying to improve our own interfaith relations. It is somehow perverse that despite centuries of religious intolerance and unspeakable horrors being committed against certain groups because of their faith, we would find it acceptable to sanction bigotry or hatred levied against Jews or Muslims when it rears its ugly head in modern day life. The Forty Martyrs of England and Wales stand as an example of unshakable faith. Whilst in the Western World our modern day crosses are rarely so extreme, we see plenty of examples of people of all religious identities being killed for their beliefs. In honouring their sacrifice we have to make a commitment that however small or inconsequential it may seem by comparison, we will never to allow ourselves to be consumed by hate or ignorance because of a lack of understanding or fear.

In the telling of the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus gives us the great commandment, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength, and with all your mind and love your neighbour as yourself”. The lawyer who prompted the teaching tries to justify his own prejudices by asking Christ “Who is my neighbour?”.

And Christ tells him that of the three men who passed by the man left for dead on the side of the road to Jericho, it was the man who took pity on the Samaritan who proved himself a neighbour – and therefore, a faithful child of God. “Go and do the same yourself”, the Lord says. For all the piety and zeal of those who came before us and for all the efforts we make ourselves to prove ourselves faithful to God, we cannot simply ignore the hardest tasks because they’re too difficult. ‘The Great Commandment’ is a poignant one for today’s world and it’s often well known but rarely practised. To keep the world free of the awful crimes of the past, we have a renewed obligation to live that commandment even when it seems that it’s impossible. In overcoming our fears and prejudices and showing love and compassion for those who do not agree with us or believe different things, we can truly become closer to knowing God’s love.

We can learn a great deal from the past. But the most important lesson it holds is that of teaching us to build a better future.

The Last Supper
The Mass

How to: Mass Cards and Missals

If you’ve ever been to a service in a temple, mosque or cathedral you’ll probably know the all too familiar awkwardness of standing whilst everyone else is kneeling or trying to make sense of a service book thicker than the complete works of Shakespeare when everyone else around you seems to know it all by heart. When I first started to attend Mass, it seemed like an Olympic sport of memorised responses and constant bobbing up and down and I often left feeling a little dejected. I wanted to experience the joy of it but I honestly didn’t have a clue what people were doing – or most importantly, why they were doing it. In this post, we’ll examine the Mass from the point of view of the beginner – both the spiritual aspect of it and the practical. For cradle Catholics it’s familiar territory but for those of us who are trying not to look totally lost on a Sunday morning, it can be quite an intimidating experience. If that sentiment sounds familiar, don’t panic! Journey into Faith has you covered.

My favourite definition of the Mass comes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (the big heavy intimidating volume, not the penny version) which says:-

1358 – “We must consider the Eucharist as:
  • -thanksgiving and praise to the Father;
  • -the sacrificial memorial of Christ and his body;
  • -the presence of Christ by the power of his word and his Spirit

If you understand nothing else of the prayers, the tradition or the custom present within the celebration of the Mass (or the Eucharist), for now just focus on that definition. We attend Mass to praise God, to remember Jesus but mostly importantly to be in His presence which for Catholics is a very literal statement. When the priest consecrates the wafer and the wine, a sacred process takes place whereby something made by man is transformed into the actual blood, body, soul and divinity of Jesus. By attending the Mass, we’re taking the place the Apostles took by Jesus’ side at the Last Supper. We’re in His presence and we hear His words spoken by the priest which have their foundation in the Gospel of St Matthew, Chapter 26, Verses 26 – 28:-

The Last Supper
The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci.
26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had said the blessing, he broke it and gave it to the disciples. ‘Take it and eat,’ he said, ‘this is my body.’
27 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he handed it to them saying, ‘Drink from this, all of you,
28 for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Regardless of anything else anyone else might be doing if you aren’t sure what to do at Mass, you can simply sit and meditate on those words and what the Eucharist means for us as Catholics and to you personally. What’s important is that you’re actually there to be a part of the mystery, to praise God, to honour the sacrifice of Jesus and to feel the blessings that come from the Holy Spirit.

But everyone wants to fit in right? Every part of the Mass has been carefully constructed over many centuries to ensure that we give full honour and glory to God as we take attend it’s celebration and don’t misunderstand me, it is important to try to be a part of it’s celebration in terms of the prayers, the songs and the responses. But for a beginner, it can all be very overwhelming and we need a little help.

Let’s face it, we all have bad days. I’ve been into churches before where I’ve been dealt a killer glare from a furious old lady in a long black mantilla for sitting when I should have been standing and I’ve started saying the Our Father when everyone else is working through the Apostle’s Creed. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you’re there to commune with God, to be in His presence. He knows you’re trying your best and I’m pretty sure that He values a contrite and open heart far more than a lightening quick memory. In other words, you can know every word to a gospel but if you don’t understand and appreciate it’s meaning, you’re still falling short of what God wants from us. But this is Sunday morning, people have had an early start and they may be feeling a little crabby and less than generous. If someone sees you struggling, they may help but don’t feel you can’t ask. Yes the old lady in the black mantilla may well ignore you but on the whole, most will appreciate being asked and they’ll try to talk you through it or at least point you to the right page in the hymn book. Which brings us to….missals.

Once you’ve decided that you want to keep going to Mass, you’ll probably want to find something suitable to help you to follow the Order of the Mass and here’s where you can waste a lot of time and money and still feel like you’re wading through treacle in your bare feet. There are so many books out there ranging from $1 to $500 which all contain the Order of the Mass but which might not be so easy to follow. So I’ve gathered up four resources, all of which I’ve used (or still use) which I hope will make life a little easier!

Mass Cards and Missals

Let’s start with the blue ‘Order of Mass in Latin & English’ which was my first purchase. It’s published by the Catholic Truth Society, costs anywhere from $1 – $2.50 and is available from Amazon, Ebay or even at your local church. It’s a great little resource in that the print is fairly large, it’s pocket sized and it gives you the latin translation on the opposite side of the page. And of course, it’s cheap and won’t set you back all that much. But it has it’s drawbacks. I recently showed this to my priest and he agreed that it’s very much “An Advanced Study” in that it offers lots of different options for prayers depending on the time of the year and the various masses than can be said for particular days in the church calendar. And that can make it very difficult to follow. I’ve found myself flicking through pages during the most sacred parts of the Mass simply because I don’t want to get lost or left out and that can actually be detrimental to the whole experience. It’s little brother next door (the orange coloured Order of Mass published by Veritas) is a little more concise but it still relies on a wider knowledge of how the Mass changes throughout the year. Which may be a bit confusing for a beginner.

Now let’s deal with the top two items; The Missal and the Mass Card. Which as you’ll soon tell, are my preferred and recommended options. The Roman Missal (or Missale Romanum) doesn’t just contain the Order of Mass but it contains the scriptures used during the Mass itself depending on what day of the year it is. When you go to Mass, you’ll usually find (either online or on a service sheet) a handy identifier for that particular Mass based on it’s place in the liturgical calendar. For example; “Twenty Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A”. You simply find it in the Missal and there you’ll find the readings used for the Mass as well as the responses – saving you the hassle of trying to remember where you put the church bulletin you were handed as you went into the church!

Missals usually have three handy ribbons so you can easily mark the readings from the Order of the Mass and then you just have to work between the sections as the Mass progresses. Missals will also usually contain other prayers, novenas and devotions which can really benefit your prayer life and give you something to focus on before the Mass begins. But missals can be expensive. The blue missal you see in the picture cost me around $17 but I have seen them go for as much as $80. Unless you particularly like the way they’re illustrated or you want a particular colour or binding, I really don’t see why you’d spend that much but some people like to consider their missal as something precious they’ll use throughout their lives or even as a sacramental. So it really is personal choice depending on what you find easiest and what you can afford.

Finally, we have the Mass card. It’s simple, it’s easy to follow and it’s in apple pie order. But best of all, if your priest is as generous as mine? It’s free! It’s published by St Paul’s Publishing (located in the UK) but they’re widely available online for as little as $0.25. Some online stores even give them away for free if you ask nicely. Now for some Masses, you might find that the Mass card doesn’t include a particular variation of a prayer being said that day but for a beginner who just wants to get to know the basic format? I can wholeheartedly recommend the card over the books until you feel ready to progress. Personally, I like to use both the Missal and the Mass card, relying on the card for the Order of the Mass and then using the Missal to follow the readings. It’s pretty foolproof and even the addition of a hymnal doesn’t give you too much to flip between as you’re trying to follow along.

If you’ve been feeling nervous about attending Mass or you’re just feeling a little left behind, why not have a chat with your priest? He may well know someone who won’t mind helping you through and he may even have a missal or a mass card you can have or at least borrow. Whichever method you choose, remember why you’re really there. It isn’t about parroting words. It’s about celebrating the love of Jesus. And He’s always happy to see you there.

 

General

In the Beginning…

It’s 4am. You can’t sleep. You’ve tried remaking the bed and you’ve bolted down mugs of hot milk but to no avail. Spotify’s ‘Calm Sleepy Time’ playlist left you feeling more awake than you were before you climbed the stairs. It took strength beyond measure to do it, but you’ve finally rescued yourself from the rabbit hole of YouTube where the ladies laughing at pencils and people filling swimming pools with Orbeez live. And now you’re just surfing the internet before sleep. Maybe that’s not you. Maybe you’re on a lunchbreak in the middle of a truly terrible work day. Your boss is being particularly vicious and you’ve spent the whole morning daydreaming about strangling him with the plug from the coffee maker. Or you might be a Roman Catholic who wants to see the faith from someone else’s point of view. Or you’re a committed atheist who hunts down blogs like this one to leave a few nasty comments to irritate those high and mighty Christians. Or you’ve just been dumped and your heart is breaking. Maybe you clicked on this link by mistake. Whichever of these statements apply to you, know one thing – I’m glad you’re here.

With the welcome over and done with, let’s get down to converting you to the Roman Catholic faith!

I jest. This blog isn’t designed to make you see the error of your ways, it isn’t about saving souls or trying to make you see the light. You won’t be tracked down by eager nuns who’ll strap you into a chair and fling holy water in your face until you repent. The purpose of this project really is very simple – it’s about sharing a journey into faith. Blogging is a little like screaming into a bucket. You can’t actually be sure if anyone heard you. You might take something from the posts you find here or you might not. But whether faith is something you consider a closed chapter or whether you find yourself on a similar path, every human being is on a journey into faith whether they’re aware of it or not. We’re consistently learning, discovering, thinking and examining regardless of the different conclusions we come to. Whether it’s Christianity or Judaism, Islam or Hinduism, Buddhism or Humanism, there isn’t a magical box locked away in a secret cave with all the answers inside it. There are just human beings doing what human beings have done since the dawn of time – searching for truth.

For some, that truth is that there is no God. For others, the truth is that God made the world in seven days. Whatever your truth, I’ll bet you the fortune I don’t have that you didn’t have it handed to you on a plate one day and just accepted it as being truth. For me, that’s the difference between religion and faith. We may have been raised within a certain framework with a clear and consistent morality but it’s simply a brand or the name of a collective until we make a personal connection with it – and that’s how we come to know what our faith is. As I get older, I see many of my friends in the same position as I am today. Suddenly, we’ve all hit 30 years old and the bigger questions in life have started to dance about in our heads. Why are we here? What is our purpose? What brings us true comfort and support when we need it? I have a friend who is converting to Judaism, another who has recently entered a Buddhist monastery and others are reconnecting with faith they put on hold during their formative years. It wasn’t quite that simple for me.

As a child of 13 years of age, I was asked to write a paper for school about religion and what it means to people. I hadn’t really given much thought to God to be honest and as the product of an atheist household, my parents quite liked it that way. Religion interfered. It was too demanding. But by the same token, we were free as children to decide what we believed and what religion we’d like to adopt – if any. So there was an audible sigh of relief when, instead of asking my parents about the finer details of God, Heaven & Hell, I opted instead to visit the local convent and see what the nuns could tell me. I was “allocated” Sister Oliver, a heavyset 80 year old nun with large thick glasses that made her eyes look far too big for her head and a thick Irish accent. She viewed me with suspicion.

“You’re not Catholic?”, she interrogated.

I muttered something about having Jewish & Catholic heritage but not belonging to anything.

“Nonsense”, she said defiantly, “You belong to God. Everybody does”.

It was said with such astounding conviction that I was a bit taken aback and lost all my concentration. Once I’d asked her the questions I needed to answer for my school paper, I thanked Sister Oliver and left the convent never to return. But Sister Oliver had worked her magic. She had introduced me to the concept of faith as something personal. It was no longer something other people had and I didn’t. It wasn’t the private possession of the clergy, it wasn’t stored away in vast churches, mosques or synagogues. It was tangible. It was accessible. I belonged to God. Because everybody does…

I would love to be able to write that my faith journey began on that day, that Sister Oliver became a firm friend and that she saw me through my reception into the Roman Catholic Church. But I was 13. Quite aside from the fact that I wasn’t old enough, I was just about to fall over the cliff edge into spotty, angsty teenage depression. And who has time to bother with God at that age? I was determined not to fit in. I didn’t want to hear anything other than what I already knew – and as we all know, teenagers know EVERYTHING.

Fast forward a decade or two and here I am. 6 weeks into the RCIA course after a year or two of private study and preparing to become a Roman Catholic. As I learn and grow in that calling, as I take those steps on my journey into faith, it seems a good idea to document that journey. But having said that, I don’t want this blog to be just another RCIA diary. This blog is designed to explore Catholicism from the point of view of a newcomer with all the questions and conflicts that discovery will no doubt involve as well as the facts and teachings that I just think I’d like to share. There’ll be Bible study, prayer, Saints and sin, debate on the hard moral questions we all face but in all these things I can only offer my truth. Your truth may be different and in today’s world, I feel we’ve taken a step backwards in remembering that the purpose of debate or sharing ideas isn’t to force someone to bend to our view of things. It’s about learning and seeking together.

We may disagree. We may make mistakes. But ultimately, I think the majority of people all want the same thing for themselves and for their loved ones – peace and a little more understanding of what’s out there. If you find that from this blog? I’ll take that as having done something right.

So without further ado, let’s start today. Let’s begin a journey into faith.