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No matter what country we are in, or what culture we live in, a universal image comes to mind when the word “angel” is spoken. Looking back through human history, as evidenced by our art, architecture, literature, and even the names of our children, we can see the influence of the belief in angels. Continue reading Angels – What the Catholic Faith Believes vs. Angels in Popular Culture

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The Catholic Church tends to get a bad rap when it comes to change – quite unfairly, too. The Church isn’t likely to make major changes every few years – or even each generation, at that – but looking at the roughly 2,000 year history of the Christian faith, we can see that the Catholic Church has undergone a wide array of changes, both subtle and dramatic. For pretty much any religious group, making alterations to important teachings, and extremely sacred rituals and ceremonies isn’t going to be done lightly or without contest.

One of the most important rituals that take place in the Church is the Mass, taken in a few different forms but all of which deliver the message of Christ’s sacrifice and the sense of thanks, reverence, and humility that it should bestow. Mass is an integral part of the Catholic Church, but that doesn’t mean it has stayed the same throughout the centuries. In fact, as recently as the mid-1960s the Vatican created changes within the Church that affected the Mass and, in order to understand these changes, we need to take a closer look at the council that enacted them.

While the name implies that the Church has only held two major council meetings in all its history, it actually only alludes to the fact that this particular meeting of the Church’s ecumenical council was the second to be held specifically at the Vatican. In fact, what is commonly referred to as “Vatican II” was the 21st such major council meeting.

The significance of this meeting is that the last such meeting to take place at the Vatican occurred in 1868, marking nearly a century since any major changes had occurred within the Church. The overriding objective of Vatican II was to reinvigorate the Church in the modern world of the time so that Catholics and potential converts could come to understand the teachings of the Church in more relatable terms.

Vatican II was also special in the fact that it was a bit more inclusive, having more representatives from outside the typical European Catholic countries like Spain and Italy – such as Belgium, the Netherlands, and various nations in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. It also brought in female religious representatives, who, while unable to vote or take direct action within the council, did consult on much of the topics discussed throughout the period of Vatican II.

Many of the topics that women contributed to were those that directly affected the way in which the average Catholic parishioner could relate to the teachings of the Church and what the realities of modern life were like for everyday Catholic people. This certainly helped to bridge the gap between the Church hierarchy and the average person that they might be a bit disconnected from.

What Vatican II set out to do didn’t involve making any major doctrinal alterations within the Church. Many of the traditionalist opponents to the declarations put forth by the council argue that the changes made by the council have “destroyed” the Mass. This is far from the case, however, especially when you understand that none of the teachings, important symbolic representations, and spiritual effects of the Mass have changed.

As stated before, the major focus was in creating a more modern Church that not only made more sense to people, but that also functioned properly in a more technologically advancing world.

Before Vatican II, the Mass was conducted entirely in Latin, a language that isn’t widely understood and hasn’t been since perhaps the Middle Ages – and even then it was known only by the educated.  For average people, having Mass performed in a language that they couldn’t understand made it more difficult to grasp what the ritual was teaching them.

It also created a significant disconnect, as many people tended to feel that the whole of the proceedings were very impersonal and just too far removed from their own spiritual reality. This was a major issue that the council sought to rectify by introducing vernacular language into the service.

Vernacular language, simply speaking, is the everyday language of any people. So, while Latin is still the official language of the Church and the religious ceremonies it implements, the language of each nation, whether it’s English, Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, etc. was approved for use in the Mass so that more people could come to understand and value its teachings.

By approving the use of vernacular language, the Church made it possible for people to once again feel close to the spiritual teachings presented to them, thus heightening their religious experience during the Mass.

It’s important to note that while the use of vernacular language was approved by Vatican II, it didn’t make it mandatory or forbid the use of Latin. In fact, many churches will use both Latin and the vernacular in the Mass.

For example, a priest might use Latin for particular prayers or important ceremonial parts of the Mass, and then use the vernacular when reading from Scripture. This dual use of language not only lends a sense of the sacred and official through the use of the Church’s official language, but it also allows for a more logical use of common language in order to make the lessons from Scripture and the Gospel understandable, relatable, and practicable.

The way in which priests behaved and interacted with their parishioners dramatically changed after Vatican II. Before the meeting of the council, the way in which people viewed priests, especially during the Mass and other religious ceremonies, tended to reflect the sense that the priest was very separate from the rest of them – too separate, even.

During Mass, priests would be facing away from the congregation, not only speaking in Latin, but speaking so low that many people present couldn’t even hear what he was saying. Before Vatican II, there didn’t seem to be a great call to address such issues, with the result being that many people present at the Mass had a tendency to feel detached from the priest and the rituals he was enacting.

Vatican II thus sought to not only modernize the administration and wider viewpoints of the Church, but to modernize its priests and other religious officials as well. Priests now will most likely stand facing the congregation, known as versus populum, rather than ad orientum, where they face away from the congregation to the east.

Technology has also been more thoroughly embraced so that now priests will speak into microphones that allow everyone in the church to hear precisely what he says all throughout the Mass. These alterations have created an atmosphere in which parishioners now feel like they’re more a part of the ceremony taking place, and that the priest is directly including them in the sacredness of the Mass.

Another change implemented by Vatican II has made it possible for women to have more of a part in the rituals of the Mass. Prior to Vatican II, women would not have been seen as readers, Eucharist ministers, and various other types of servers, but, thanks to the council’s reforms, were able to experience a more inclusive atmosphere within Catholic churches. This change has helped deliver the message that everyone is worthy of revering and worshiping God and Jesus Christ.

The New Aesthetics of the Mass:

The various sensory experiences of the Mass also changed after Vatican II, again in an effort to be more relatable to modern tastes and aesthetic appreciations. The vestments seen during Mass certainly had a marked change, as beforehand they were always very ornate and richly embroidered.

The changes made by the council mean that nowadays we’re more likely to see priests and servers wearing vestments that are much simpler than and nowhere near as rich as what would have commonly been seen in the past. Many people like this change because they feel that it’s less ostentatious and more in keeping with the concept of humility and the idea that worldly riches are nowhere near as important as a richness of spirit.

That being said, ornate vestments have not been banned, so they’re still worn by priests who do so in response to what their own parishioners would like to see, their own personal preference or for very special religious occasions.

New music was also introduced after the reforms of Vatican II. Music has a very powerful emotional and psychological effect on people and is therefore a key element for any religious service.

A more diverse range of music was approved by the council, as well as ways in which churches could be adorned or even designed. It’s now more likely than before that you could walk into a Catholic church and see a space that isn’t anywhere near as extravagant as older cathedrals and churches, with artwork and adornments that reflect simpler tastes.

Other Significant Changes from Vatican II:

Apart from the reforms that brought about major changes to the Mass, the council also agreed upon certain declarations that espoused official views toward various issues, both religious and secular.

One very important declaration that came out of Vatican II was the dignitatus humanae, or Declaration on Religious Freedom. With the declaration, the Church created a new foundation for how it would approach the wider world and modern society as a whole.

It declared the righteousness of religious freedom and tolerance, and the importance of nations to uphold these freedoms for the sake of the people. The Church also made it clear that the Christian faith is something that must be accepted willingly by individuals after their own careful consideration.

The Catholic Church and Judaism have had a long and bitter history with one another, and Vatican II sought to create closure and lay the groundwork for a more respectful friendship.  Historically, Catholics and other Christian groups have blamed the Jews for the death of Christ, and this is something that the council made a point of addressing.

It stated that an entire people could not and should not be condemned for actions of the few, especially for actions committed by people two thousand years ago. The Church also gave thanks to and showed appreciation for the role that the Jews played in helping to create the basis for the Catholic Church, specifically through the teachings of Scripture and the Gospel.

Vatican II also worked to create friendlier relations with the Muslim world, and to soothe hostile feelings present between both groups. The council created an important message of respect and shared purpose for the reverence of God, as well as an enduring message of hope regarding a future where violence between Muslims and Christians would have no place in the world.

The council urged Catholics and all other peoples to interact with Muslims – and, indeed, all faiths – with a sense of understanding, compassion, and goodness.

While there are certainly those who contest the changes made by the Second Vatican Council, the overall effect of the reforms implemented by the council has been positive. The council created not only the building blocks for a modern Church, but also created important precedents for how to administer its own teachings, as well as how to interact with various cultures and faiths around the world.

The messages that have come out of Vatican II have created a greater sense of dedication to the ideals of equality, brotherhood, peace, and generosity that everyone, not only Catholics, can take to heart. More than anything, what Vatican II accomplished was the creation of a mentality that helps people remember that faith and dedication are important, but change and a willingness to hear the need for it is every bit as valuable.

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We are called to be charitable. It is core to our faith as Catholics. .  It is also one of those things that you could consider as a double-sided bit of goodness, as it helps those in need and brings a sense of fulfillment and understanding to those that practice it. 

If you’re feeling called to get involved in projects that let you have a more meaningful impact than what you could do on your own, you may want to look into getting involved in some kind of charity work through the Catholic Church. 

The Church  has a large network of charity projects available that give you plenty of options, making it easier for you to find something that really lets you realize your charitable potential. 

Not sure how to get started?  Not to worry – we’ll go over how to get involved with charity work and what projects might be perfect for you.

A self assessment will help you narrow down your focus:

  • What am I good at? What knowledge/training do I have?
  • How much time do I have?
  • What do I have a passion for?
  • What type of people do I want to help?

Consider pockets of volunteer opportunities that can fit you in on a one-time basis. Organizations are always looking for a little bit of office or organizational help to help alleviate the workload of their over-worked staff.

Making Contact

  Now that you have an idea of the type of work you’d like to do, contact a local church and speak with someone in charge of charitable works.  You can certainly do some research online – in fact it would be helpful – but finding someone local that you can talk to will go a long way in helping you figure out how you want to proceed. 

Speaking to someone at a church or affiliate service will help take some of the research out of the equation, as they’re going to know more about local charities, as well as where you can specifically look in order to find larger projects around the country and abroad.

Doing Your Own Research

Contacting someone in the Church is definitely going to help get the ball rolling, but there’s plenty of information you can uncover online.  Catholic charity groups can be found on both a national and state-by-state basis – along with those that perform overseas work, of course. 

If you’re looking to stay closer to home, check out groups and organizations in your state.  You’ll find that national groups have chapters in each state, and this could be a good opportunity to get some experience on a local level before trying out projects that have you traveling to other parts of the country. Your parish office can help with this.

Create Your Own Charity

In your research did you find a need that’s not being filled? Are you being called to do even more?

Charity comes in all shapes and sizes, and creating your own grassroots project can have just as much meaningful impact as any major charitable organization.  If there’s an issue in your area that you know needs to be addressed, and you know other like-minded individuals who would like to get involved, then organize your own effort and contact the Catholic Church to see if it will sanction it with its own backing. 

Getting such approval will not only help you spread the word and get more people involved, but may also help you garner more resources to keep your charitable efforts moving forward and expanding.

If sharing your faith is part of your mission, consider investing in products that you can easily pass out to those you’re helping in order to encourage them spiritually and give them hope, as well as act as a token of the friendship and kindness you offer.  Prayer cards, rosaries, bibles, medals, and other sacramentals can carry great meaning as well as represent the devotion you have to the people you’re helping.

God has a plan for us, and He gently calls us. “But as to what is within, give alms, and behold, everything will be clean for you.” Luke 11:41

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Is there anything more difficult that finding a gift for teens and pre-teens? However, if you know that someone you’re buying a gift for is involved in various athletic endeavors, things just got a bit easier for you. Here’s our guide to finding the best gifts for athletes. 

Finding something that they’ll both like and enjoy using can be tricky, especially if you’re not the athletic type yourself.  To make your gift buying all the easier, check out these great gift options that every athlete is sure to enjoy.

What’s Their Sport?

Finding the perfect gift for an athletic person is a lot easier if you focus on finding something that relates to their favorite athletic activities.  A good way to figure out what they’ll like AND use is simply talk to them about the athletic activities they participate in, and what happens to make them more difficult, annoying, or reduces their overall performance. 

Perhaps they have gear or equipment that isn’t up to par, or they’re missing something that would dramatically improve their performance, in which case you’ve got a clearer idea about what you can buy.

For example, my daughter loves to play basketball. I asked her what she’s best at – passing and ball handling. What does she want to work on? Defense. In that same conversation she mentioned specialized ankle bands that help train for defense. Bingo! I never would have thought of that on my own.

Great Packs

No matter what kind of athletic activity they’re into, they’re likely to have a decent amount of gear and/or equipment.  Backpacks and other bags are great gift ideas to help make transporting sports equipment a lot easier.  If you know that the bags they’re working with now are difficult to lug around, then you might look into something that will fit their back and shoulders better or that’s just a lot easier to transport. 

Material is also very important when it comes to packs and bags for athletic gear, as you want something that’s going to be durable but which will also breathe well, as this will help cut down on odor.  Nylon is a great fabric option, as it’s more resistant to tearing and staining, and will hold up well against moisture.

Clothing

Athletic clothes can get worn out pretty quick, especially if an athlete is particularly active.  With that in mind, workout and training clothing are great choices for athletic gifts because they’re pretty much always needed.  A useful approach would be to buy a few pieces that would be great in warm weather and a few that would be good in cold weather; that way, they’ve always got something that they can use no matter the time of year. 

Fabrics that will wick away moisture, stretch, and hold up to a lot of wear and tear will be ideal.  Also consider footwear, as this is one item of clothing in particular that can wear out pretty fast, especially if someone is into running or hiking.  Shoes that have good traction and that breathe well will certainly be welcome, especially if they’re also really easy to clean.

Electronics

Many people like to take on athletic activities while listening to music, so something like new ear buds, an iPod, or even a gift card they can use to purchase and download new music would be a great gift option. 

Accessories like fitness watches that record distance, how many steps you’ve taken, and the amount of calories burned are gift options that are both stylish and useful.  You may even consider giving a few fitness DVDs to help with fitness training and workouts, as staying in shape is important if you’re going to take part in different athletic activities.

For the Religious Athlete

If you know an athlete who’s also religious, then presenting them with religion-themed gifts can be very meaningful.  These gifts don’t have to be directly related to any kind of sport, either, so it makes gift buying a little more straightforward. 

You could present any number of religious gifts, such as cross pendants or religious medals to commemorate important athletic achievements, or to act as motivation during sporting events.  If they have a patron saint or a particular prayer or bible verse that has deep meaning for them, then you might consider purchasing something like a corresponding saint’s medal, a prayer card, or a motivational plaque. 

If they like to pray before an athletic event, then a small prayer book would be a thoughtful and useful gift, as it would be a convenient size to pack inside of a sports bag and still offer valuable spiritual service.

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Taking on a mission venture, whether it’s a trek on Camino de Santiago, a stint with FOCUS, or  volunteering in Haiti is a fun, challenging and fulfilling endeavor, one that is definitely going to be a big moment in a missionary’s life.  For such an important occasion it makes sense to mark it with a few thoughtful gifts.  That being said, picking out the right sort of gifts for someone heading overseas for a mission can be a little tricky; you want the gifts to be nice, certainly, but you also want to give things that are useful as well.

To take the hassle out of gift-giving for this unique occasion, we’ve brought together several gift options that are sure to be a hit with anyone heading off on a mission, no matter where that might be.

Conversational Language Book

Many missions take place in foreign countries where English isn’t a prevalent language, but obviously a missionary isn’t going to have the time to learn an entire language before heading overseas.  That being said, it is useful to know a few basic pieces of vocabulary and phrases, as this can help in everyday situations, as well as with creating relationships with the people they come in contact with, which is, of course the whole point of the trip

A foreign language book that focuses more on conversational language will be a good way to not only break the ice with strangers, but also help avoid making social blunders and aid in carrying out certain tasks, like exchanging money or finding a doctor.

Hygienic Supplies

When you’re on the road and staying in various places that may not have running water or the sort of facilities we’re used to, it’s good to have some supplies that help you stay clean and healthy.  Hand sanitizer, wet wipes, deodorant, and even Clorox wipes are mundane items that every missionary will be extremely thankful for once they’re in the midst of their mission.

Personal First-Aid Kit

It’s likely that the group as a whole will have some first-aid supplies to call on should they be needed, but having extras certainly never hurts.  You don’t have to get too carried away with the kit, either.  Just include some good essentials such as bandages, anti-bacterial ointment, ibuprofen, or any other kind of medication that can help with pain or fever, some over the counter medicine for stomach or digestive upset, and maybe some small sterilizing wipes.

Gifts to Pass On

Missionaries encounter all kinds of people, from those they’re helping and talking about their faith with, to local people who are their fellow workers, or host families that provide them a place to stay and food to eat.  For such situations it’s always nice to have a few small gifts and mementos on hand, so you might consider putting together a bundle of small gifts that can be handed out to anyone. 

These could be religious tokens, small prayer books or prayer cards, rosaries, or tokens of friendship.  For some great gift ideas and lots of products to choose from, check out Discount Catholic Products.

Traveling Food

Everyone enjoys a good snack, and having something familiar – especially if it’s a favorite snack – is something that will help ease a missionary’s homesickness.  Putting together some snacks that will travel well will also come in handy for those times when a missionary just needs a pick-me-up. 

Food is also a great way to make connections with people.  While cultures all over the world differ, food is something that’s central to culture.  Having some of their favorite snacks on hand become a way for a missionary to share a bit of themselves with someone else, in turn creating an opportunity for locals to share some of the food items they like.  Simple cultural exchanges like this can form strong foundations for further meaningful connection, thus helping their mission be fullfilled.

Photographs

People are always curious about what life is like for people in other countries, especially if those countries have cultures that are quite different from their own.  Bringing along a photo album that has pictures of family, friends, and cherished memories will not only allow a missionary to share some of their own values, but also let the people they interact with see a more personal side to them. 

You could help them put together the small album or, if you don’t have access to their photos, you could simply buy them an album and explain your gift idea.  It might also be a nice idea to give an affordable digital camera or even a portable phone charger so that they can document their own experience in another country.  Again, this will also create opportunities to bring them together with the locals they meet.

Above all, pray for your missionary. Keep them in your heart and prayers.

“I command you: be strong and steadfast! Do not fear nor be dismayed, for the LORD, your God, is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

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