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Stained glass window with images of chalice and crosses

The Eucharist has always meant a lot to me because it is infinitely more than just a ritual. It is the true physical presence, not just the spiritual presence of Jesus Christ. Dedicating an entire month, all of April, to the Eucharist seems not only fitting but also very special. Attending Mass or Adoration awards us a chance to encounter Jesus in a very real way. We place ourselves in His divine presence and draw on His love and guidance.

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Sedona Arizona’s Chapel of the Holy Cross

The chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona, Arizona is considered one of the seven man-made wonders of the state. Located in an area famous for its surroundings (there have been many movies shot in the area), the chapel is a prominent feature, having won the Award of Honor of the American Institute of Architects, in 1957, only a year after being built. It has been drawing visitors from all over the world ever since.

A trip to the chapel would be the ideal opportunity to breathe new life into one’s faith―the scenery and setting are truly some of the most impressive of any church.

The chapel is built on a spur, 250-feet high, and it features a large stone cross inlaid in the glass side of the building that overlooks the valley below. The chapel was constructed to capture the view of the sunset shining through the valley, and it is complemented by the beautiful, sunshiny weather in the area.

It was built in only 18 months, quite a feat, considering the literally ground-breaking amount of work needed. The total cost of building would be $2.7 million, in today’s terms ($300,000 at the time). The interior is left quite bare and undecorated so as not to detract from the atmosphere of the space around it. The glass side of the chapel is supported by the large stone cross built into it. The chapel is a good example of how some churches can really keep the cross at the center of the overall symbolism of the building.

Mass is not celebrated regularly at the chapel since the local parish is served out of the church in Sedona. The chapel is now intended as a place for private prayer and reflection. It is situated in the Coconino National Forest, at 5,000 ft. above sea level.

Visitors to the chapel should be prepared for a short walk from the lower carpark, but, overall, the climate and access are quite agreeable, with not much humidity. This and the wheel-chair accessibility make the site a majestic destination where young and old can marvel at the scenery and the impressive monument to the Catholic faith.

The chapel has a very interesting history. It was conceived by local architect and artist Marguerite Brunswig Staude. After visiting the Empire State Building, the artist was inspired to create a place of worship that was in touch with modern architecture and design. One of the final wishes of her late mother was that she build a church to spread the word of the Lord and provide a place for Catholics to get closer to God.

Altar and tabernacle in Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona Arizona

Originally, the project was to take place with the help of architect Lloyd Wright (son of Frank Lloyd Wright) and be modeled on the Empire State Building in style. However, the advent of the Second World War prevented the project from taking place at either of the two sites originally intended. Budapest, Hungary was the original proposed site, but the war made it impossible, and Los Angeles was an early candidate, but it was hard to get permission from the Archdiocese there (and there were also concerns the Japanese could invade the west coast).

Staude then considered Arizona as an alternative. While visiting the local area, she saw Rx engraved in a stone below where the chapel would be built, which she took as a sign from above (the family’s business was pharmaceuticals). Also, one of the surrounding hill formations resembled the Madonna and Child, while another resembled the Three Wise Men.

Several problems stood in the way of building the chapel. Lloyd Wright withdrew from the project as the project was significantly less grand, in his opinion, than originally conceived. Obtaining a building permit proved difficult, as the state owned the land. The latter problem was resolved with the help of Barry Goldwater, who met with Staude in Washington and was so impressed with the plans that he walked over to the Secretary of the Interior and immediately received the permit.

Chapel of the Holy Cross seen from a distance

More Details

The chapel is located about 10 minutes by car outside Sedona (4 miles), which, itself, is located 30 miles south of Phoenix. Access is free, and there is free parking available, also.

Visitors are welcome every day from 9 a.m.-5 p.m., except Thanksgiving, Good Friday, Easter, and Christmas. Adequate footwear should be worn for the climb to the chapel, as the closer parking lot to the building is reserved for the disabled.

Final Thoughts

The chapel is a prime example of how hard work and dedication to one’s faith can literally move mountains. The symbolism of the surroundings of the church is in tune with nature but, existing in its own right, has had parallels drawn between it and the message of Christ to be peaceful while also standing up for one’s beliefs. It has had a colorful history, especially during its development, but it now remains as a tranquil place of reflection that might be a good place to include on any Catholic’s list of places to visit in the southwest.

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Stations of the cross graphic

Easter is on the horizon and, as I look ahead on my calendar, I am reminded of the history tied in with this beautiful holiday and the prayers it inspires. You may already be very familiar with the Stations of the Cross, but I wanted to take this space to really reflect on Jesus’ walk to His death, the moments He experienced along the way, and the moments of grace we can find in His journey.

Statue of Jesus Christ

You may already have the Stations represented in the nave or main section of your church through pictures or high relief images depicting the different moments. You may have learned about them in bible school or just read about them.

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Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Parish Church

Medals are an important aspect of Catholic devotion, and it’s worth exploring the topic. Since medals might be a strong and visible point of interest for very young Catholics, knowing the background of the tradition is useful.

The Value in Medals

Wearing of medals has been popular among Catholics in the United States and around the world for a long time, and it has grown more popular in recent times since Pope John-Paul II’s visit in 1979. Medals are an easy way for Catholics to connect with their faith in a discreet way, and one of the more personal aspects of medals is that they can reflect something important to the wearer—maybe you wear a St. Christopher medal if your father was a truck driver or if you were going on a long-haul flight, since he is the patron saint of traveling and transport.

So, with the wide range of medals available, they can be a good way to express yourself through your faith. Exploring the histories of the various patron saints is not only a way to explore the history of the Church, it can also make for very interesting reading!

Il Duomo di Firenze

One of the Oldest Catholic Traditions

Religious medals have been a part of the Catholic tradition for a very long time. In fact, the wearing of medals is thought to have been carried over from pagan times—the Romans of all classes wore amulets personal to their beliefs, which they believed gave them added protection. Jewelry and decoration are common to nearly every creed and religion, so it is no surprise the early Church found medals a useful way to allow the faithful to express their beliefs. The early Church elders were keen, however, to distance the practice from the magic-related pagan beliefs.

This tradition continued, throughout the early years of the Church, andmedals are mentioned in the histories of many saints and in accounts of important historical moments. They are especially associated with baptism, and many pagan kings were given medals as tokens of their baptism. However, the popularity of medals before the Middle Ages was not as strong as afterward.

During the Renaissance and Reformation eras, artistic influence on medals (with some stunning examples created) was one of the reasons for their growth in popularity. This was mainly centered in Italy, where artists such as Antonio Marescotti gave the wearing of medals new life for Popes and clergy. This was bolstered by the giving of medals to pilgrims visiting holy sites.

Modern Times

Miraculous medals are one of the more popular types, and they were designed in the 19th century based on Saint Catherine Labouré’s visions. The Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal

in Paris is where the visions occurred. The St. Christopher medals are also very popular, and a French saying for the medals serves as an example of how they can give solace in challenging times (especially for travelers): "Look at St Christopher and go on reassured."

The medals commemorating Papal visits have also been very popular in recent times. As mentioned, Pope John Paul’s visit to America in 1979 spurred interest in the medals here.

Nowadays, there are medals for nearly every saint available, and they can be made from varieties of materials, from low-cost pewter to gold and silver. Miraculous medals are especially popular in countries like Ireland, where they are particularly associated with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, which is, in fact, the largest charity in that country.

In many places, they are also strongly associated with sacraments and life events, in particular during confirmation.

It is wrongly believed by some that the Church frowns on the devotional practice of medals. This is not the case, and expressions of faith are encouraged if done correctly. Medals also serve as a useful way to open dialogue with other faiths about Catholic teachings.

Saint Faustina Medal with a high relief image of this Patron Saint of Divine Mercy

How Medals Fit with Catholic Belief

As with all practices and traditions, it is important to remember the act of taking part in a practice or wearing a medal is intended to bring us closer to God and help us explore our faith. It is not the act or the possession that we benefit from—instead, it is what theact or possession represents that is important.

This can be a refreshing reminder for some Catholics who can, at times, be intimidated by the examples ofdevotion of other Catholics, since focusing on one’s own relationship with God and not on external tokens of belief can really take the pressure off. Wearing medals can be an even more powerful way to express your belief. They can also bring a personal touch to your devotion.

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Saint Valentine is easily one of the most famous, and most misunderstood, saints within the canon of Roman Catholic priests. It’s possible he was more than one person whose stories were put together, or he may have simply moved around and let his legend follow him. Whatever the case, the story is endlessly inspiring, and Saint Valentine is worthy of a prayer and devotion this February.

Prayer to St. Valentine Card

Why Do We Celebrate Valentine’s Day?

So, why do we celebrate this odd moment in February? No one knows for sure, and there are several accounts. However, according to the legend, Saint Valentine was a priest around 280 A.D. He served under Emperor Claudius II and was a staunch Christian during a time when believers were persecuted.

However, Valentine persevered and spoke to anyone who would listen about his faith. In the meantime, Claudius needed soldiers and had a theory: if young men were single, they would fight more valiantly and be willing to die more than married men. Therefore, Claudius decided to pass an edict that no young people could marry, and he worked to bring young men into his army.

Despite Claudius’ ruling, Valentine felt that any young couple ready to take their vows should have access to a Christian wedding. He began marrying couples in secret in the Christian church. Keep in mind, this was a time when the old pagan faiths were the dominant belief system. Many people were polygamous but were drawn to the idea of being in a more simplified, monogamous couple. Many of them came to see Valentine and ask for his help to convert and, consequently, keep the young male off the battlefield.

The priest was eventually caught and jailed by the Emperor and locked up in jail for a time. His jailer, or so the story goes, had a blind daughter that Valentine grew very fond of, and the two became good friends. The jailer was dismissive of their relationship and Valentine’s faith, and, one day, he challenged Valentine to restore his daughter’s sight if his god was so powerful.

There are several versions of what happened next; some claim that Valentine prayed with his hands over the girl’s eyes and restored her vision while her father watched. Others claim the girl found she could see again after Valentine’s death. However the miracle happened, it inspired the girl and her father to become Catholics themselves.

Painting of St. Valentine

The priest Valentine was tortured throughout his stay in prison and, on February 14th, was killed and beheaded at the hands of Emperor Claudius. The day he died he wrote a letter to the jailer’s daughter and signed it “Your Valentine.” He was canonized by Pope Gelasius I in 496, and the day of his death was marked as a feast day that became associated with romantic love.

More than anything, the story of Saint Valentine is a reminder that true faith sometimes means a Catholic must be willing to break laws or even lay down their lives to stay true to what they believe. He is also there to remind us that our love, sexuality, and marriages are sacred and blessed by God, but they forever have the shadow of the cross over them and come with very real responsibilities.

Saint Valentine's Day Devotion and Prayer

Saint Valentine is deserving of prayer. Here are some devotional words to offer up this February.

Saint Valentine taught those around him how to devote their love to one another and to our heavenly father. He defied the powerful men around him in the name of the Lord our God and helped young lovers marry and express their love in the purest form possible. He died for his faith so that we might devote ourselves to those we love now, in life and without fear of persecution.

Young woman praying

Let us pray:

Oh glorious protector Saint Valentine,

Defender of marriage and true believers,

Defier of pagans and idols, I offer this prayer to you.

Help me in my marriage and in my daily battle to keep my faith,

Help me to defy doubts and forget my fears,

Help me devote my life to the Lord as you devoted yours.

Saint Valentine, I ask you to bless me in my time of need.

I will devote the 14th of February to you and hold your name in my heart.

Please help me see the truth and the way and the light.

Just as you fought for the young people who needed your guidance, draw your sword for me, carve a path for me. Forgive me for the sin of temptation and help me to leave temptation behind.

One Our Father

One Hail Mary

One Glory Be

Final Thoughts

May your February be a time of joy and celebration for the loves in your life. Remember those who fought for your freedom to love and be with the person you choose, and be sure to offer up your thanks this Valentine’s Day.

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Baptism of St. Augustine stained glass window

What Is the Cathedral Basilica?

The Cathedral Basilica of St Augustine is the oldest Catholic Church in St Augustine, Florida, as well as the seat of the Bishop of the Diocese of St. Augustine. Looking at the cathedral walls, a visitor will see adornments reminiscent of the old New World and Spain’s expansion into Florida and the Caribbean: exquisite stained glass windows and murals depicting the city’s rich history of Catholic expansion and French-British-Spanish conflict. Prominently featured is Saint Augustine of Hippo, a popular saint for whom the city was named.

For 450 years, worshipers of St. Augustine and travelers have gathered each Sunday to praise the Lord in this congregation.

Its History

Painting in basilica of St Augustine

This cathedral serves one of the oldest Catholic congregations in America. The Catholic congregation of St. Augustine was originally established in 1565, with the arrival of Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles and his four accompanying priests. St. Augustine’s first mass, as depicted above, took place on the following September 8th, the day of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The original cathedral constructed in 1565 was a humble wooden structure, which had to repeatedly be rebuilt due to destruction from enemies and natural forces. In 1786, King Felipe V ordered that a new cathedral should be built. This Cathedral Basilica is designed in the Spanish mission and Neoclassical styles of the 18th century, featuring arched corridors, buttresses, terraced bell towers, wide eaves, and low, sloping tile roofs.

Construction of the Cathedral Basilica started on December 8th, 1786 and ended in 1797. Significantly, December 8th is the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. On December 8th of 1797, the cathedral was dedicated to this day. In celebration, Father Miguel O’Reilly (an Irish priest) led a procession of parishioners from St. Augustine’s Catholic parish’s bishop’s rectory to the new cathedral, carrying the Blessed Sacrament.

The Cathedral as a Minor Basilica

Technically, a basilica is a cathedral of elevated status to the Catholic Church. The Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine was not immediately given this status. It was not until December 4th, 1976 that Pope Paul VI deemed St. Augustine’s cathedral to be a “minor basilica.” In order for a cathedral to be elevated to a minor basilica, four conditions must be met:

1) The church must have stood out as a center for active liturgy and have been dedicated to God in a liturgical rite.

2) The cathedral should be sufficiently large, including a spacious sanctuary, so that further religious celebrations can be carried out exemplarily.

3) The church must have a historical renown because it was dedicated to God in a particular historical or religious fashion, significant relics of saints are present in it, or a sacred image is venerated especially.

4) Religious celebrations throughout the liturgical year are performed in a praiseworthy manner.

The cathedral stood for 200 years before the Catholic Church formally recognized its surpassing of the above requirements.

The Beacon of Faith

Crucifix in Catholic Church

You may have seen the image of The Beacon of Faith in popular Christian media, but have not known where in the world it was or what it signified. It is the towering, 208-foot, 70-ton steel cross free-standing on the grounds of the Mission Nombre de Dios, where Menendez and his priests landed on in 1565. Although not directly at the basilica’s location, this Great Cross is a celebration of St. Augustine’s long history of Catholic praise.

Miraculously, St. Augustine has not been devastated by a major hurricane since the Great Cross was erected.

Marker of Catholic Heritage

Located in the Cathedral Basilica’s narthex is the Catholic Heritage of Florida Plaque, erected in 1999 by the International Order of Alhambra, noting how the Franciscan missionaries spread their Catholic faith throughout the region:

“LONG BEFORE THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION, CATHOLIC

MISSIONARIES FOUNDED MORE THAN A HUNDRED MISSIONS

IN WHAT IS NOW THE STATE OF FLORIDA WHERE AT

LEAST TEN MISSIONARIES BECAME MARTYRS FOR THE FAITH.

THOUGH DOMINICANS AND JESUITS WERE ALSO INVOLVED IN

PLANTING THE SEEDS OF RELIGION AND CULTURE IN FLORIDA,

THE FRANCISCANS WERE EXCEPTIONAL BECAUSE THEY SPREAD

OUT FROM THE ST. AUGUSTINE MISSION TO ESTABLISH MOST

OF THESE MISSIONS. RECOGNIZING THIS, WE HAVE ERECTED

THIS PLAQUE AND PROCLAIMED THIS CATHEDRAL–BASILICA

OF THE DIOCESE, WITHIN WHICH MANY OF THESE MISSIONS

EXISTED, A NATIONAL CATHOLIC HISTORICAL SITE.”

The Franciscans of St. Augustine were notable in traveling and spreading Catholicism to the indigenous peoples of southeastern America and the Caribbean.

Today and Now

The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Augustine is a stately edifice, with a grandeur all the public may enjoy. If you ever find yourself in the St. Augustine, Florida area, do make the pilgrimage to see “The First Parish” and appreciate its centuries-old beauty.

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“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Every Catholic is familiar with this phrase. It acts as a reminder of who we are, where we came from, and why we are here. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. For Catholics, it is the beginning of a period of reflection, modesty, and prayer. A number of enduring practices and traditions make Ash Wednesday a particularly symbolic and important date on the liturgical calendar.

Symbolism and Practice

Palm Crosses on Palm Sunday

The ashes are a sign of penance and a symbol of the dust from which God made us. The tradition of wearing ashes comes from centuries-old Jewish traditions stemming from occasions of fasting and repentance. The ashes themselves are the burned remains of palm branches from the previous Palm Sunday.

Generally, everyone is welcome to receive ashes during the Mass, even non-practicing Catholics and those who follow other faiths. Because of Ash Wednesday’s focus on renewal and preparation, it can make for a particularly powerful time to invite newcomers to the faith, as well as welcome home those who no longer practice the faith.

Fasting

As Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Lenten season, it also begins a period of fasting and abstinence. Barring a serious health condition, Catholics between the ages of 18 and 59 are encouraged to fast on Ash Wednesday by refraining from eating meat, including poultry. Catholics are permitted one meal on Ash Wednesday, and two smaller helpings of food that are not equal to the larger meal of the day.

Fasting continues for each Friday throughout the Lenten season. Many Catholics follow additional fasting practices by refraining from eating completely on Ash Wednesday or only permitting themselves to eat bread or water.

Prayer

Rosary Beads

Many Catholics choose to refrain from partaking in an action or eating a particular food for Lent. Kids might choose to avoid eating candy or chocolate starting on Ash Wednesday and lasting throughout the Lenten season. However, it can be far more spiritually fulfilling to add to your life, rather than subtract.

Ash Wednesday and Lent offer an opportunity to rethink your prayer life. Rather than give up chocolate, you can make a vow to pray more during the day and choose to say a full rosary each day. Use your rosary beads and choose to say a full rosary each day.

If you find yourself too busy, spread it out throughout the day, starting by saying one decade of the rosary when you wake up in the morning. By making a commitment to prayer, you can use the season of Lent to grow closer to God.

Changes at Mass

Ash Wednesday brings several notable changes to our regular Sunday masses. Beginning with Ash Wednesday and lasting through Lent, the Alleluia and the Gloria are omitted. These joyous songs return on Easter to proclaim the Resurrection. Many parishes also insert Latin phrases and hymns during Lent. This is also true of the Greek phrasing of the Kyrie. Lent is meant to be a solemn time of reflection and our mass changes to reflect this.

Reconciliation

Centuries ago, the day before Ash Wednesday was a mandatory day of penance and reconciliation. Today, many parishes offer additional reconciliation services during Lent. It is common to find community reconciliation services where parishes have several priests available to hear confessions, and a short mass is held.

This is an ideal time to grow closer together, perhaps with friends or family, by attending confession together. It may also be a good time for those with reconciliation anxiety to make it to church. Confession is required at least once a year for every Catholic.

Scheduling

Ash Wednesday is observed 46 days prior to Easter Sunday. The 40-day period of Lent is a reminder of Jesus’ 40 days in the desert. Sundays are not counted in the 40-day tally. The scheduling of Easter, and, by extension, Lent, is something that is confusing to many people.

Easter is observed on the Sunday that follows the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox. Because of this, the date of Easter changes year-to-year, which is why Ash Wednesday is also not observed on a fixed date. Ash Wednesday is not recognized as a Holy Day of Obligation.

Ashes on Ash Wednesday

However, Ash Wednesday begins our journey to Easter, a season of joy and renewal. To prepare us, Ash Wednesday and Lent serve as a period of reflection, prayer, and sacrifice. The traditions and customs of Ash Wednesday have endured over several centuries. Utilize this time to increase your devotion to prayer and grow your faith. You will get out what you put in, so focus on making Ash Wednesday a day of solemn reflection.

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Guide to Planning a Traditional Catholic Wedding

An engagement and the planning of a wedding is an exciting time for all couples. This is also a time for couples to decide in what ways they want God and their Catholic faith to be present in the ceremony. This is the service that, for many couples, will set the tone of how their faith will be a part of their daily lives.


First and foremost, you need to determine if you are eligible to get married in the Catholic Church and, if you are, determine the next steps to take in planning your traditional Catholic wedding.

Traditional Catholic Couple

Before You Start: Are You Eligible?

Many Catholics find themselves wanting to include their faith in the ceremony that will begin the next chapter of their lives. After all, marriage is a sacrament in the Catholic faith and adhering to Catholic tradition can create a unique bond between a husband and a wife. However, before two people decide to be joined, not only legally but spiritually, they must meet some standard criteria.


While both people who are going to be married do not have to be specifically Catholic, they are required to be a baptized Christian. One partner, however, must be Catholic, and they both need to be free to marry. If you were or your partner was previously married, and then divorced, you are ineligible to be married in the Catholic Church. However, if either of you has been married and had the marriage annulled or your previous spouse has died, you can continue to move forward with your faithful marriage plans.

Alter at Catholic wedding ceremony

There are additional criteria when it comes to whom you are planning to marry. To be married in the Catholic Church, you and your partner must be of opposite genders. While this newer form of marriage of same sex couples is constitutionally legal, and members of the Catholic Church are condemned for acting in hatred toward homosexuals, homosexual marriage is not viewed as a sacramental marriage in the Church.


If you have a question about your ability to get married in the Catholic Church, ultimately it is best to consult your parish priest. He will have an excellent understanding of the criteria necessary for a sacramental marriage, and he will tell you what needs to happen if you and your partner do not meet these criteria.

Traditional Catholic Couple

So, You Are Eligible: What’s Next? The Engagement

Set up a time to meet with the priest who will perform the ceremony well in advance of the date you are planning for your wedding. There are many pre-marriage phases you must take before walking down the aisle, and you want to ensure you have plenty of time to complete those steps.


Couple completing pre-marital inventory

First, you and your partner must complete a pre-marital inventory. This is essentially a discussion with a facilitator to make sure you and your partner have talked about important issues that might arise during your marriage. You and your partner each answer the series of questions separately, and then you see whether your answers match up. Some examples of pre-marital inventory topics include parenting, lifestyle, finances, and the in-laws. A facilitator, who is likely to be the priest that is facilitating your wedding, will lead these questions.


You will need to complete some additional in-person marriage preparation steps to be able to be married in the Church. This includes meeting with the priest as a couple. This is a great way for him to get to know what your relationship is like, as well as make sure you are both there for the right reasons. It will also aid in making sure your wedding has a personal feel.


Pre-Marriage Requirements

Couples will also be required to attend a marriage preparation program, otherwise known as Pre-Cana. This can take shape in many different forms depending on your dioceses. Through this, couples will engage in thoughtful conversations about issues that might arise in their marriage, similar to the pre-marital inventory.


However, this is also a course that ensures couples go into more detail and discussion. These programs can take place online, in the form of a weekend retreat, in weekly classes, or in one daylong program. Additionally, it is suggested you complete a Natural Family Planning course. Consult your parish priest to determine what option is available to you and exact details about what is required during your marriage preparation program.


Finally, the priest will also need to see documents as part of your marriage assessment. In addition to your pre-marital inventory, you will need to provide the priest with a recent baptismal certificate. This certificate can be retrieved from the Church you were baptized in. You will also need to supply a form from the parish that states you and your partner are free to marry.


If you are intending to marry someone who is a baptized, non-Catholic Christian or a non-baptized person, or if you wish to marry in a venue that is not a Catholic church, you are required to complete a dispensation form. The local priest or Diocese who handles the paperwork will have this form. Most parishes take about a month, on average, to grant dispensation. Most routinely grant dispensation requests.

Traditional Catholic Couple

Choosing Your Wedding Date

While setting the date may seem like something only you and your partner should be concerned about, there are specific dates you will be unable to marry in the Church. It is best to know these dates ahead of time so you do not conflict with other church programs when trying to schedule your wedding date.


Calendar with date set for Catholic Wedding

There are certain Liturgical seasons discouraged for wedding ceremonies. These seasons are Lent, or the period that starts with Ash Wednesday and ends with Easter, and Advent, or the period that begins on the Sunday four weeks before Christmas and which ends on Christmas Eve. While weddings are not technically prohibited during this time, many parishes suggest you do not celebrate a wedding during a time that is for preparation and penance for an important Liturgical holiday.


Additionally, while certain days may not be off-limits for weddings according to the Church at large, there are days and times your parish may not allow weddings. It is imperative you double-check with your parish to make sure the date and time you want the church and priest for your wedding are available before you make other plans.


Finally, there are days during the Liturgical calendar that are not off limits for weddings; however, they are off limits for choosing your own readings. The days that require you to use specific readings are Sundays and Saturday evenings, as well as feast days. So, if you are set on specific readings for your wedding Mass, you will want to make sure you avoid these times.

Traditional Catholic Couple

Mass or No Mass?

While the traditional and preferred method for a marriage in the Catholic Church is performed during a celebration of the Eucharist, there are instances where couples may choose not to marry within the context of a traditional Mass. This decision is based on whether only one or both partners are Catholic.


Catholic Church alter with chalices

If you or your partner is not a Catholic, you must obtain your priest’s permission to have your wedding performed within the context of a Mass. However, since the non-Catholic partner would not be able to partake in communion, this is not generally encouraged.


If both you and your partner are Catholic, you can choose whether you would like to celebrate your wedding during Mass with the Eucharist or if you would rather have a Liturgy of the Word service. The Liturgy of the Word service is similar in style to the Mass; however, it does not include partaking of the Eucharist. While the Liturgy of the Word service is typically shorter than a full Mass, the inclusion of the Eucharist does not add significantly more time onto your service and can start your marriage on a special note. If you decide to include the Eucharist, you might want to think about how to address non-Catholic guests who may not partake of the Eucharist at your ceremony.


Consider having your priest make an announcement with an explanation or including a clarification in your program. It is ultimately up to you and your partner to determine which service is the best fit for your personality and ceremony.

Traditional Catholic Couple

Decorations and Photographers

When planning the decorations, it is best to consult your parish. However, there are some basic guidelines you can expect to follow. The general rule is you do not want your decorations to distract from the Mass or from the overall nature and structure of the church. In fact, you can use this to your advantage by heightening the natural beauty of the worship space with simple decorations while still maintaining the celebratory effect. This will enable you to cut costs on wedding decorations without sacrificing a beautifully decorated wedding space.


Madonna and Child Statue

Another thing to consider when planning decorations is what your flower girl and guests will be tossing. Consult your parish to find specific guidelines. Many parishes disallow flower girls to toss flower petals or for guests to throw rice when you and your partner leave the ceremony due to the difficult cleanup. If your parish adheres to these rules, there are other options to keep your exit festive. For instance, try giving your guests strands of ribbon to wave or sparklers to hold as you and your new spouse make your entrance into the world as husband and wife.


Many couples want to capture their special day with pictures or videos. Photographers and videographers are typically allowed in the Mass; however, they must adhere to some general guidelines. They must not disrupt the Mass, get in the way of your guests, or enter the sanctuary space. If they follow these rules, you will still have beautiful documentation of your ceremony without ruining the special significance of the service.

Traditional Catholic Couple

Music and Musicians

Most churches do not require you to use a specific band or set of music. This gives you the freedom to choose a musician with whom you have a close relationship or one who fits your style and budget.



Dancing legs at Catholic Wedding

However, there are guidelines to the type of music you can play during your ceremony. Since the songs you pick will be sung during a Catholic service, they must maintain a religious nature and honor the Lord. It is also typically recommended you choose some songs that can be sung by the musicians, as well as you and your guests, as an act of praise and prayer. Many parishes require you to send in your music choices to be approved for a liturgical service.

Traditional Catholic Couple
Catholic bride and groom dancing

Final Thoughts

While planning a traditional Catholic wedding may seem tedious and like it would be significantly more time-consuming than planning a secular wedding, a Catholic wedding has its major advantages. It is important for Catholic couples to understand that a wedding is not only about the one day your ceremony takes place but about setting you up for a committed relationship with your life partner. When couples take this into account, the strict pre-marital actions and longer service are worth the investment of time.


The Church does not make couples participate in Pre-Cana because it can but, rather, it is intended to make sure a couple is better prepared to withstand the difficult times that come along with the joys of marriage. Couples can consider this a type of pre-marriage counseling which will strengthen their relationship in a time that is often stressful for an engaged couple.

Priest consecrating the Eucharist

Including the Eucharist and the liturgy in your ceremony sets the precedent for your marital relationship being centered on Christ. This will make it much more natural for you and your spouse to continue reinforcing your relationship with each other and with the Lord through weekly Mass attendance.


Similarly, it will likely increase your drive to raise your children in the Church, which will enable you to strengthen your family and set your children up for a positive, faith-filled life. Remember, when in doubt about anything concerning planning, your parish priest is your best resource.

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Jesus Christ Mosaic

Liturgical worship is one of the greatest traditions in western Christianity. Shared by Protestants and Catholics alike, the rites and rituals of the mass date back as far as the second century. When we worship, we sing the same songs and pray some of the same prayers as Christians have for millennia.

This liturgical heritage is more than just an order of worship. It is the most important teaching tool for Catholics who participate in the mass. For many, the mass is the only time they hear God’s word and the teachings of the church. The liturgical calendar helps to emphasize different episodes in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Each season, from Advent to Pentecost, examines a different aspect of the identity and story of Jesus.

The Holy Name of Jesus

The church dedicates the month of January to the Holy Name of Jesus. It begins with the celebration of the day Jesus received his name. The gospel reading for the day contains this passage from Luke 2, “And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” While the sentence is short, the details are very important.

Luke mentions the eighth day because it refers to God’s command in Leviticus 12 that all Israel circumcise their sons on the eighth day after birth. This seemingly small detail reminds us that Jesus followed God’s law perfectly, even when he was eight days old.

Jesus’ name, itself, is also significant. It comes from a Hebrew word ישוֹע, pronounced Yeshua, which means, “He saves.” In the gospel of Matthew, an angel tells Joseph in a dream to name Mary’s son Jesus, “for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

Jesus Reigns in Heaven

St. Paul also writes about the name of Jesus as the highest name in all of creation. Because Jesus humbled himself to the point of death on the cross, he was raised from the dead and seated at the right hand of God the Father. The name of Jesus not only represents sacrifice and salvation, but it also reminds us that he rules all of creation for the benefit of his church. He will return to judge the world and raise the faithful from the dead to eternal life.

The church uses many symbols for the holy name of Jesus. We find the first symbols for his name in the handwritten copies of the New Testament. Out of respect for holy names, called nomina sacra by academics, the copiers abbreviated the Greek words for God, Lord, Spirit, and others. Most often, they wrote the first letter and the last letter with a line drawn over the top of the symbol.

IHS

IHS Symbol

IHS is one such symbol. It comes from the Greek spelling of Jesus’ name, ΙΗΣΟΥΣ, so you can read the name, Jesus, whenever you see it. This symbol almost always appears superimposed over the cross or over a crucifix. The symbolism connects the name of Jesus to his sacrificial action on the cross to save us. This symbol appears frequently in the church, most notably in the coat of arms for Pope Francis.

Chi Rho

Chi Rho Pyx

We also use other symbols to refer to Jesus Christ. Chi Rho is an ancient symbol used by the very first Christians to represent the word, Christ. It looks like a combination of an “X” and a “P,” but it derives from the first two letters of the Greek word for Christ, χριστος or Christos. One of the most common symbols in the church, you can find it anywhere you might find Christian symbols like stained-glass windows, vestments, altar decorations, and pyxes. Emperor Constantine, who legalized Christianity in the Roman Empire, used the Chi Rho in his military standards, too.

IH Monogram

The IH monogram is a similar combination of letters to make a single symbol. This one comes from the first two letters of Jesus’ name in Greek. Combined, the symbol looks like an “H” with a line struck vertically down the middle. A striking symbol, you can find explanations for it in the earliest letters in the church like the Epistle of Barnabas or from the letters of Clement of Alexandria.

Ixthus or the Jesus Fish

Jesus Fish Symbol

The fish is also a common symbol for Jesus, and it is popular today among Christians. A stylized version of a fish drawn with a simple line, the spelling of the Greek word, Ιχθυς or Ichthus, is an acrostic for the titles of Jesus, Jesus (Ι) Christ (Χ) Son (υ) of God (θ) Savior (ς). Legend has it that the early Christians used this symbol to identify themselves secretly when they were being persecuted by the Roman government.

The Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus reminds the Catholic Church about the earliest days of Jesus’ life, his circumcision, and naming. Even in his first eight days, he began to fulfill God’s law, which he continued to do for the rest of his life. We use symbols for the name of Jesus Christ in art and vestments to remind us of him and the salvation he gives us.


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Fountain outside Basilica Church

Between the years 1769 and 1833, Franciscan priests founded 21 missions throughout Alta California—a province of New Spain that encompasses what we now know as California, Nevada, and Utah, and parts of Arizona, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico—to bring Christianity to the Native Americans living in that region. Theses missions were also a part of the Spanish government’s attempts to expand their rule over their claims in New Spain.

Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo

The Carmel Mission’s official name is Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo. Named for Carlo Borromeo, the Archbishop of Milan, it was originally founded in what is now called Monterey, California, the capital of Alta California at the time. Founded by St. Junìpero Serra, from 1770 to 1778, it was the site of the first confirmation of a Native American in California.

St. Serra moved the mission to Carmel-by-the-Sea after a conflict with the governor of Alta California, Pedro Fages, over how the governor treated his soldiers and the Native Americans.

They used adobe, a combination of mud and organic material, to build the first chapel at the Carmel mission, but St. Serra dreamed of having a permanent stone structure for worship. He drew up the plans for the chapel, but he was unable to build it during his lifetime.

Building the Chapel

St. Serra’s successor, Father Fray Fermin Francisco de Lasuen, convinced the government of New Spain to send qualified architects and skilled stonemasons to carry out St. Junìpero Serra’s plan for the chapel. The government licensed Manuel, an architect, and Santiago Ruiz, a master stonemason, to head up construction. The centerpiece of Manuel’s design was a series of vaulted parabolic arches across the ceiling.

Construction lasted between 1795 and 1797 when it was dedicated for worship on Christmas Day. A major earthquake in 1812 moved the Franciscans to remodel the Basilica. They were terrified by the news that the parabolic ceilings of another church collapsed on worshipers during mass, killing many. They tore down the vaulted ceiling, leaving the stone arches that had supported it, and filled the rest in with wooden planks to prevent a similar disaster from happening at Carmel.

They remodeled the exterior of the basilica between 1817-1822. Among many other improvements, they built true towers to house the bells. The original bell towers weren’t towers at all. They were just walls with arches cut out to house the bells.

Basilica Church at the Carmel Mission

The interior of the basilica was much more opulent than it is today. There were seven major side altars with more than twenty statues of saints. The most beautiful side chapel held a massive crucifix with statues of St. John the Evangelist and Our Lady. Another beautiful statue of La Conquistadora, or Our Lady of Bethlehem, was the center of the large reredos decorated with crystal and fine gilded wood.

Disrepair and Collapse

In 1833, the newly independent government of Mexico secularized the Carmel mission. The roof collapsed in 1851, and many of the statues and altarpieces were destroyed. When the Catholic Church regained control in 1864, the mission was in complete ruins.

Restoration

Father Angel Casanova began the long process of restoring the mission in 1884. Monsignor Philip Scher chose Harry Downie to oversee and to complete the restoration process in 1931. Shortly after that, the Franciscans transferred the mission to the local diocese and the chapel became a parish church. Downie worked tirelessly for the rest of his life to bring all the buildings of the mission back to their former glory.

Because of Downie, the Carmel Mission is one of the most faithfully restored of all the missions in California. It most completely represents the style and design of the original building. Some of the original decorations remain, having been rescued by Fr. Sadoc Villaras when the ceiling showed signs of collapse.

In the 1960s the Diocesan Bishop, Aloyisus Willinger petitioned the Holy See to have the church declared a minor Basilica. There are four major Basilicas in the world: St. John Lateran, St. Peter, St. Paul Outside the Walls, and St. Mary Major, and they are all in Rome.

The Holy See designates a church a minor Basilica because they have history, dignity, architectural value, and have significance as a worship site. Pope John Paul XXIII honored the Carmel Mission with this title in recognition of St. Serra’s work establishing Christianity on the west coast of North America and for the work done at the Carmel Mission. It is one of only 69 basilicas in the United States.

Crucifix carved from wood

One of the most important historical California missions, The Basilica Church at the Carmel Mission is not just a relic from the past. Its faithfully restored nave is also a parish church, where priests still celebrate mass. The Carmel Mission, like many historical worship sites, connects the faithful to the living history of the church, helping us to see our place in the long tradition that is our faith.

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