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 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.


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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Jesus baptism depicted on stained glass

The church celebrates the Baptism of the Lord on January 9th, the Sunday after Epiphany. While the Gospels tell the story in only a few sentences, it is one of the most important aspects of Jesus’ life, since the baptism of Jesus is the archetype for every baptism that follows his.

Sometimes we miss the rich meaning in the rites of the church. We speak our assigned parts and do the assigned actions, sometimes without knowing the symbolism behind each act. When you understand the Biblical stories behind the sacraments and the images we use, you will see the beautiful liturgical tradition the church has given us.

The Baptism of the Lord

The story is simple. Jesus comes to the Jordan River to be baptized by John the Baptist. John, knowing that Jesus was the Son of God, tried to stop Jesus by saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (Matthew 3:14) But Jesus responds, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). When John baptizes Jesus, the heavens open and the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus like a dove. The Father speaks to Jesus, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).

Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection for sinners, our baptisms are like Jesus’ baptism. We receive the Holy Spirit who gives us the power to live as faithful Christians. We are adopted as sons of God through the Son of God, which means we can pray the prayer of the church which begins, “Our Father.”

Symbols in the Sacrament of Baptism

The historical details of Jesus’ baptism play a role in our own rite of baptism. The first symbol a priest uses is in the reception of the child when the priest makes the sign of the cross on the child’s forehead. The sign of the cross reminds us that baptism would just be water without the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Water

Priest performing first sacrament

Other symbols focus on more concrete parts of the story. Jesus’ baptism begins when he enters the water. You can see images of water in most baptismal artwork. Sometimes the artist depicts the water as a flowing river, evoking the water of life that springs up inside us when we are baptized.

Other times, you will see three drops of water suspended below the bottom of the shell, representing the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, all of whom were present at the baptism of Jesus. They also recall Jesus’ own command regarding baptism, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).

In the rite of baptism, the church confesses the Apostles Creed. The priest asks the parents and Godparents whether they believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. After each of the three questions, they recite together the relevant passage from the creed.

The Dove

After Jesus had been baptized, the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove. While the Bible does not tell us whether the Spirit was visibly in the form of a dove or not, the image of a dove is a symbol that represents the Holy Spirit. When artists use the symbol of the dove, they depict it diving down to earth from heaven. In baptism, the Holy Spirit does not float around aimlessly. Rather, he dives from heaven to us just like he did when Jesus was baptized. A downward facing dove reminds us that the Spirit comes down to us.

The Fire

Holy Spirit depicted as fire in mosaic

Sometimes, fire, a common symbol for the Holy Spirit, accompanies the dove. In the gospel of Matthew, John the Baptist preaches to the crowds, and he predicts that Jesus would come to baptize them with the Holy Spirit and with fire. On the day of Pentecost, in Acts chapter 2, the disciples receive the Holy Spirit and tongues of fire float above their heads. Fire reminds us of the power of the Holy Spirit that rests inside every Christian.

In the rite of baptism, fire also symbolizes the light of Christ entering into the child. The priest lights the child’s baptismal candle from the flame of Jesus Christ’s Easter candle. It shows both our connection to Christ through the one flame passed from him to us, as well as the scattering of the darkness of sin with that light.

Baptism may be the most recognizable sacrament in the Catholic Church. For infants, it is the beginning of their life as members of the church. For adults, it comes as part of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. Either way, baptism is the first step in the sacramental life of the Catholic Church. It enlightens the eyes of the heart and gives a washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.

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Monument to St. Catherine in Rome, Italy

2016 was rough. Or it was great… depends on your perspective and if you’re a glass-half-full or half-empty type of person. Either way, we are now facing 2017. And each time we face a new year, it’s shiny and new and full of possibility.

As we approach the New Year, we ask God and Mother Mary for a peaceful, more harmonious world. Praying to a patron saint to intercede on our behalf brings great comfort and hope to Catholics. Even if you don’t see them, miracles happen every day and, as the Bible tells us, prayer is the answer.

Below is a list of seven patron saints to whom you can direct your prayers to heal you or your loved ones in 2017 in seven different ways.

Dome of St. Peter’s Basilica at Vatican

#1: Health: Raphael the Archangel

Known as the patron saint of healing, Raphael is a familiar figure in Christendom. His name indicates his healing powers. When translated ad litteram, Raphael means God Heals, or, God, please heal.

Raphael the Archangel is mentioned in the Gospel of John, as well as in the Book of Tobit. He is also the protector of travelers, Christian marriages, matchmakers, happy meetings, and medical workers. So, if you are praying on behalf of you or your loved one’s health, Raphael the Archangel will be there for you.

#2: Faith: Saint Monica, Patron Saint of Lapsed Catholics

Saint Monica is another powerful patron in the Catholic Church. The mother of Saint Augustine, she prayed for her son and her pagan husband. After 17 years, her prayers were answered, and her husband converted to Catholicism. She became the patron saint of all those who stray from the Church.

So, if you have someone dear to you who has left the Church, pray to Saint Monica, and, through the grace of God, she will help you bring your loved ones back into the protective arms of Catholicism.

#3: Love: Saint Valentine, Patron Saint of Happy Marriages

Widely known inside and outside the Roman Catholic Church, Saint Valentine’s Day is universally celebrated by Catholics and Protestants alike. However, as little is known about Saint Valentine, in 1969 the Church removed the recognized date of February 14th from the Roman Calendar.

Saint Valentine is best remembered as a martyr (something most sources agree on). Considered to be the protector of happy marriages and love that is pure in the eyes of God, Saint Valentine is the patron to pray to if you are planning to get married.

Orchid with Madonna and Child

#4: Physical: Saint Sebastian, Patron Saint of Athletes

As a new year begins, we all make promises to ourselves—to be better humans, to read more, to be closer to God and his light, to take better care of our bodies, and so on. Among all New Year’s resolutions, the most common ones are to exercise more for the good of our bodies.

Saint Sebastian is known to be the protector of athletes and soldiers, and, although you may not be a pro athlete, he can still help you maintain the willpower to make exercise a regular part of your routine in 2017.

A soldier himself, Saint Sebastian became a martyr in the early days of Christianity. Nowadays, people who want healthy bodies and a clean soul look up to him, and, with prayer and God by your side, he can help you, too!

#5: Heart: Saint Vincent de Paul, Patron Saint of Volunteers and Charity Workers

Saint Vincent was a priest who lived in the 17th century and dedicated his entire life to helping the poor. People often pray for him and ask that they lead the same kind of life: to volunteer and help those less fortunate.

If you want to be a better person next year and help those less fortunate, Saint Vincent de Paul will stand by your side. Pray to him and God to give you the strength, willpower, and love to help create a better, more caring world.

As our Lord Savior Jesus Christ said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

#6: Personal Finance: Saint Matthew, Patron Saint of Those with Money Problems

We should not pray for riches but, rather, for the generosity of our souls and for our power to overcome obstacles. And, yet, God understands that in today’s world we need a stable financial situation to help ourselves and our families deal with life’s troubles.

Saint Matthew, the author of the first gospel in the New Testament and one of Christ’s twelve disciples, was a tax collector during his life on Earth. He is the saint to whom you pray to help you manage your money and increase your earnings in God’s name.

If your financial situation needs help, pray to Saint Matthew. With faith, your prayers are sure to be heard.

#7: Business: Saint Maximilian Kolbe, Patron Saint of Entrepreneurs

Although Saint Maximilian Kolbe was canonized relatively recently compared to many other saints, his life proves God is still with us and miracles still happen. Maximilian Kolbe’s life is one of true candor and generosity. Saint Kolbe founded monasteries, a publishing house, and charities. He was imprisoned at Auschwitz and eventually killed.

In addition to being the patron saint of entrepreneurs, he is also the patron saint of the pro-life movement.

Saint Kolbe, with God’s help, can assist you in healing your new business in the coming year. Pray for the ability to think clearly, make good decisions, and achieve prosperity.

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O God, whose Son was born
in Bethlehem, on that
wonderous night, lead us to
that same place, where Mary
laid her tiny child.
As we look on in wonder and
praise, make us welcome Him
and all new life, and care for
His handiwork; the earth,
the sky and the sea.
O God, bless us again in Your
great love. We pray for this
through Christ our Lord,

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As Catholics, we are familiar with the powerful sacramental holy water. Placed at the entrance in every Catholic church around the world, this sanctified water is part of our life from baptism onward.

Holy water is a very powerful sacramental and should not be taken for granted. It is blessed by God and should be used daily.

Understanding its true significance and uses is an important part of our upbringing.

The History of Holy Water

Although it has not been determined exactly when the Church first started using holy water, it was an integral part of Catholicism beginning after the death and resurrection of Christ.

The use of holy water is closely intertwined with Jewish Law. In Judaism, the Rabbis use blessed water to purify the body and the mind before conducting rituals, such as prior to entering the temple, offering sacrifice, or even eating.

In Christianity, the first uses of holy water are usually associated with Apostle Matthew. According to the writings attributed to Pope Saint Clement, Saint Matthew instituted the rite of using holy water to “protect the soul and body.” Saint Clement’s Constitutions also lists a specific prayer St. Matthew supposedly would say when using holy water.

Where Does Holy Water Come From?

Canon law has evolved, but at one point sacramentals were only blessed on the Epiphany, including exorcised salt, which is sometimes used in Holy Water. However, priests can now bestow these blessings at any time. Water is made holy when it is blessed by a priest. Once it is blessed, the holy water is reserved in a water font at the church entrance. Upon entering the church, we dip our fingers into the font and make the sign of the cross. The holy water reminds us of our baptism and union with Christ. In baptism, we are born anew spiritually, freed from our sins and brought into the covenant family of God.

The Significance of Holy Water

Holy water cleanses the soul. Sanctified by a priest, holy water repels evil and is used to bless those with whom it comes in contact. The rite of purification before entering a church and baptism, as well as many other Roman Catholic rituals, involve the use of holy water.

When a baby is baptized, holy water expunges the original sin that a person is born with and, in an adult baptism, it removes all mortal and venial sins.

By using holy water as part of mass, we are reminded how God has the power to forgive all our sins. Holy water also prepares us to receive the sacraments and protects us from demons.

The Uses of Holy Water

Baby being baptized in Catholic church

Some of the most common uses of Holy Water:

Baptism. Holy water is a fundamental part of the baptismal sacrament. Just as our Lord and Savior Jesus was bathed in the River Jordan by John the Baptist, the priest uses sanctified water to wash away original sin.

Holy Water Fonts. At the entrance of a Catholic church is a font filled with holy water. Catholics use this to bless themselves and purify their souls before entering the church, so they are spiritually cleansed prior to entering God’s house.

There are three categories of holy water fonts: stationary (as in a church), portable fonts (such as those used for baptism), and private fonts (usually found in homes).

Eastern Orthodoxy still has holy water fountains that are used to wash and hands and feet (likely derived from ancient Jewish rituals).

Home. As Saint Teresa of Avila says, there is “nothing like holy water to put devils to flight.” You can never have too much grace or blessing in your life. A holy water font in your home is a great way to renew your spirit and cleanse your home.

Cars. Though technology has created engineering marvels and changed lives everywhere, Christianity does not change. Holy water is just as effective today, despite technological advances, as it was at the time of Jesus. Many Catholics choose to bless their car using holy water. Blessing your vehicle with holy water reminds us that God is always watching over us and our loved ones.

The Sick. Holy water has the power to heal. Blessing someone with holy water is a spiritual work of mercy. You can use holy water to bless their hospital room and help bring comfort to them.

Font for holy water

Your Pets. Pets are beloved companions and can be blessed with holy water because all creation gives glory to God. On the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, many parishes have a rite of blessing for pets. This blessing can be given to farm animals, too.

Holy water can truly work miracles, and it can help you remain clean, pure, and closer to the Light of God.

Holy water is an integral part of what it means to be Catholic. When you dip your fingers into holy water and make the sign of the cross, you should be mindful of the significance of your baptism and renunciation of Satan. Remember, holy water receives its power through the authority and sanctity of the Church.

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Nativity scene with Three Wise Men and animals

As one of the most powerful and popular symbols of Christmas in the Christian world, the nativity scene is familiar to everyone. Nativities can be carvings, art, ceramics, or even living depictions of the night of Jesus’ birth.

The scenes contain the same five basic elements: Baby Jesus in a manager, the Virgin Mary, Joseph, shepherds, and barn animals. Often the Three Wise Men are added to the scene.

This iconic symbol of Christian hope and redemption celebrates one of the most important events in the history of mankind: the birth of Jesus.

The Story Behind the Nativity Scene

Saint Francis of Assisi created the first nativity scene, or crèche (these terms are used interchangeably), to promote the true significance of Christmas. He wanted to remind everyone that Baby Jesus was born into a humble, poor, but loving environment. He felt Catholics were missing the message of the Gospel because they were ensnared in materialism.

On Christmas Eve in 1223, Saint Francis started what would later become one of the most widespread and familiar Christmas traditions of all time. Outside Greccio, in a cave, he re-created Jesus’ birth and its modest conditions to remind people of how Christianity has never been (and never will be) about material richness. Rather, Christianity revolves around spirituality and worship. Catholicism has nothing to do with earthly wealth, and everything to do with God’s love and the forgiveness of sin through His sacrifice of His only Son.

A few decades later, in 1260, Saint Bonaventure described the beauty and awe in the scene created by Saint Francis. His description and praise resulted in St. Francis’ nativity scene becoming a permanent part of Christian tradition.

Christ Child in manger scene

The Common Symbolism of the Nativity Scene

Saint Francis created the original nativity scene using live animals and hay in a cave. Today, live nativity scenes are still very popular, but other methods of reenacting the birth of Jesus are more common, whether it is an olive wood carving or an elaborate icon.

The presence of animals is an important element of any nativity scene. Saint Francis used an ox and an ass in the original because he wanted to portray the extremely humble conditions under which our Lord and Savior Jesus was born.

Most believe the ox represents patience and the people of Israel. The donkey represents Gentiles, humility, and readiness to serve. Brought together, these animals tell the story of Christianity—and, ultimately, the story of a world united under the name of God and his Son, Jesus.

The central character in the nativity is Baby Jesus in his manger. Most scenes depict him with open arms inviting us to accept salvation.

The Virgin Mary is sometimes larger than other characters and usually wears a red gown representing blood. Her cloak is blue, symbolizing the sky and heaven, conveying she is the link between heaven and earth.

The Three Wise Men represent different continents—Africa, Asia, and Europe—and sometimes they are portrayed in different age groups, representing the various life stages. Their gifts are also significant. Gold represents Baby Jesus’ kingship, incense symbolizes His divinity, and myrrh foreshadows His death.

The shepherds represent the common man.

Nativity scene with Three Wise Men and animals

Some Not-So-Common Symbolism Expressed in the Nativity Scene

Sometimes there are some subtle differences in various versions of the nativity scene that have important symbolic meaning. For example, the Virgin Mary is often depicted with her hand clutched over her heart. This refers to the verse in St. Luke that states “But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).

Final Thoughts

The most important thing about the nativity scene is its message. Our Heavenly Father sent His own son to earth to be sacrificed for our sins. Those who believe in Him may receive forgiveness and eternity in heaven.

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How cool is it to get mail that’s not a bill or advertisement or form letter? How often does that happen?

I love all the mail we get at Christmas. Seeing the pictures and watching my far-away friends’ kids change from year to year is sweet. Sobering – because of how fast they grow, but sweet.

When it comes to sending Christmas a Christmas mailing, there are many options out there, including postcards, letters, photos and the traditional card. Continue reading Add Prayer and Love to your Christmas Cards

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The number of ways St. Michael has been depicted in art is innumerable. He holds the Book of Life on the Sistine Chapel courtesy of Michelangelo; Raphael painted St. Michael Vanquishing Satan in 1518, but St. Michael slayed his first serpent on canvas in the 4th century after Constantine commission a portrait of himself defeating a snake, later to be replaced by St. Michael. Continue reading What Does it Mean? The Imagery of St. Michael the Archangel

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In today’s world where cultural emphasis tends toward the secular, the Christmas season is the perfect time to remind ourselves of the meanings of some of our holiday traditions. The giving of gifts, for example, is a reminder of the gifts the Wise Men gave to the Christ child. The gifts given were gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Frankincense was a specific type of perfume used by the Jewish in their worship ceremonies. When given as a gift, it signified that people would worship Jesus as the Christ.

Gold was a precious material associated with kings in the societal culture at the time of Christ’s birth. Giving gold as a gift illustrated the Christian belief that Jesus was above all Kings—that He was essentially the King of Kings.

Myrrh was used in burial practices. Dead bodies were anointed with myrrh, a type of perfume, to give them a nice smell. Giving myrrh as a gift signified that Jesus would suffer and die.

Inspirational Gifts for the Modern Catholic


The world has changed dramatically since the time in which Jesus walked the Earth. When Christmas is celebrated today, the giving of gifts has become more of a commercial exercise than an expression of spiritual inspiration. This trend does not have to be reinforced by members of the Catholic faith.

If you are a practicing Catholic and want to give gifts in the holiday season that have inspirational and virtuous significance, we have a few suggestions for your consideration.

Advent Wreath

Advent wreath with candles

Advent is a time of preparation for the coming of the promised Messiah—a time of hope, waiting, and conversion. One expression of piety designed to help us prepare for this season is the Advent Wreath.

A traditional Advent Wreath is a circle formed of evergreens, wood, metal or other material and includes four candles. A traditional Catholic Advent Wreath will include three purple candles and one rose-colored candle. These are representative of the four Sundays in the Advent Season that come before Christmas. An optional fifth candle, a white one, can be placed in the center of the wreath. This candle is reserved for lighting on Christmas Day.

Sunday after Sunday, these candles are lit as the days flow up to Christmas. The traditional sequence is to start on the first Sunday by lighting a purple candle. Two purple candles are lit on the following Sunday. The rose candle, along with two purple ones, is lit on the third Sunday. The last purple candle is lit on the fourth Sunday, along with the other three candles. Scriptural passages are typically read as the candles are lit, as an inspiration toward reflection.


Chapel Veils

Mantilla lace

In the early days when Christianity was young, faithful women wore chapel veils as a common practice. A chapel veil, also known as a mantilla, is traditionally a circular or triangular shaped piece of lace. They could be black or white and were worn draped over a woman’s head when she attended Mass or if she was in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.

Traditionally, young girls or unmarried women wore white veils, while black veils were worn by women who were married or widowed. Wearing a mantilla was a tradition that signified a woman’s willingness to hide her own physical beauty so that the beauty of God could be glorified among men instead.

The wearing of a chapel veil was also a way of honoring and emulating Mary, the Holy Mother, who is the epitome of humility and purity. The mantilla was a way of honoring a woman’s role as a life-bearing vessel. Although the wearing of a chapel veil is no longer a requirement for women to attend Mass, it continues to be seen as a symbol of a woman’s modesty and her humility before God.


Christmas Novena

Praying woman with sunset

As we prepare for the celebration of the birth of our Savior, a deepening devotion to our prayers is a natural response. Many choose to practice this renewed devotion through praying a Christmas Novena during the days of Advent. A variety of Christmas Novenas are available, so you can surely find one to please those to whom you’re giving this year.

Saint Andrew Christmas Novena: The Feast of St. Andrew is Nov. 30. The Christmas Novena of St. Andrew begins on Andrew’s Feast Day and continues until Christmas Day.

Standard Christmas Novena: The Novena is traditionally a nine-day prayer; thus, this prayer is prayed from Dec. 15 to the 24th of December.

‘O’ Antiphons in a Christmas Novena: The Liturgy of the Hours is the form this Christmas Novena most often takes. It includes the ‘O’ Antiphons that are also used with a Jesse Tree. This novena is rich in liturgical language and scripture.


The Christmas Crèche

Other popular terms for a Christmas Crèche are a crib, manger, or Nativity scene. A Christmas Nativity is an enduringly popular Christmas tradition everywhere.

It is believed that St. Francis of Assisi developed the first Christmas crèche as a live Nativity scene in Greccio in 1223 or 1224. He created this first crèche after returning from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He fostered the idea that this crèche could inspire us to a greater devotion to Christ, and it has proven to be a lasting inspiration to the faithful around the world. The Christmas Nativity is a tradition that has thrived for more than 800 years.

Three wise men nativity scene figures

The crèche is inspired by the Gospels of Luke and Matthew, and it depicts the moment that Christ was born in a humble place, surrounded by Mary and Joseph. Most nativities include the Three Wise Men and various stable animals. Recreations of the crèche are an excellent gift for the home, for display in a church, or to be presented as a living nativity in the fashion of St. Francis from long ago.



Catholic churches have traditionally been adorned with some of the world’s most incredible artwork, both paintings and sculptures. This statuary art is a method of expression used to bring out our inner feelings. The artistic sculptures of saints and religious figures are vehicles used to the honor and glory of God. Catholics don’t worship statues; Catholics worship Jesus through this beautiful art as an inspiration to faith.

Religious statuaries for inside the home or an outdoor garden are welcome additions to any practicing Catholic’s living spaces. Not only are these beautiful works of art, but they also serve to remind us of the goodness of Christ and encourage us to live a life devoted to faith and love. Statues can be found in a wide variety of figures, from patron saints to guardian angels. Statues depicting the Virgin Mary or Christ Himself are intimate gifts that can be given in the true spirit of giving.

Whatever décor or style you have in your home or garden, a statue of St. Francis of Assisi or St. Rose of Lima, of St. Michael or St. Gabriel, or any other statue that inspires you makes a welcome gift during the holiday season.


The Blessed Mother

Statuary depicting the Holy Mother and the Holy Family are timeless gifts for individuals, households, and churches. The sinlessness of the Blessed Mother is celebrated on Dec. 8 in the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Because she was free from sin, Mary was perfect as the chosen vessel through which the birth of Jesus could take place. This Feast Day is considered one of the most important of the Holy Days of Obligation.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Bust Marco Sevelli Plaque

Our Lady of Guadalupe

On Dec. 12, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is celebrated. Our Lady left an image of herself imprinted on the cloak of Saint Juan Diego in 1531—an image that still exists today. Because the image includes a black tie and girdle, the common thought is that the image shows her in pregnancy. Thus, she is considered the Patroness of the Unborn. The story of Our Lady of Guadalupe parallels the seasonal celebration of Advent and the nativity of Christ.


The Holy Family

One of the most beautiful traditions of the Catholic faith is the devotion to the Holy Family. Jesus and his Blessed Mother the Virgin Mary, and St. Joseph his earthly protector, guardian, and father, comprise the Holy Family.

Not only are statues, plaques, and paintings of the Holy Family a welcome gift during the Christmas holiday season, but the Holy Family is a fantastic gift year-round, especially for weddings. You can find the Holy Family depicted on such gifts as art, medals, fonts for holy water, and prayer cards.


Prayer Cards

Saint Aloysius Laminated Prayer Card

The tradition of handing out Catholic prayer cards is a custom of the Catholic Church that dates back to centuries of long ago. These traditional gifts are also called holy cards. The oldest Catholic prayer card that survives today is St. Christopher. This prayer card dates to 1423.

A prayer card presents an image of a religious figure and includes a favored scriptural verse or prayer. These cards are used as a way to commemorate special events, such as First Communion or Confirmation.

One tradition sees prayer cards being distributed at funerals. These cards contain a favorite prayer of comfort, the name of the deceased, and the dates they lived. They serve as a commemoration of the loved one lost and as a reminder to us to pray for the dead.

Prayer cards make great gifts for religious education classes or as greeting card accents and are great as inclusions in more secular Christmas cards. A personalized prayer card makes a thoughtful and special gift on any occasion.

Even occasions like family reunions can be a popular time to give out prayer cards.



One can never go wrong when giving a rosary as a gift, regardless of the season or occasion. Catholic rosaries are most often found in the form of a string of beads grouped into sets of five decades.

Rosary beads

Rosaries can be found in a variety of types, each with its own historical background and place within the Catholic Church’s teachings.

Rosaries are used when praying, as a way to direct prayers to a specific religious figure, and can be used as part of a larger ceremony. A few of the types of rosaries are detailed below:

Standard rosary: For most Catholics, the standard or common rosary consists of five sets of 10 beads, traditionally known as decades. There are also five beads in a set that lead to a crucifix at the end of the string. Each of the beads linking the crucifix to the beads of the decades signifies a prayer.

The first bead is intended to signify the “Our Father” prayer. The next ten beads are intended to mark the holder’s recitation of the “Hail Mary” prayers. The last bead signifies a “Glory Be” prayer. Each of the beads making up the five decades signifies a single “Hail Mary.” The marker beads that space them apart represent one “Our Father” each.

Servite rosary: These popular rosaries are dedicated to the adulation of the Mother Mary. A servite rosary finds the traditional set of 10 rosary beads divided by marker beads in sets of seven. The seven beads are symbols for the seven founders of the Servite order. These founders lived in 13th century Tuscany and dedicated their lives to the Madonna.

Woman with red rosary beads

These founders symbolize the “Seven Sorrows of Mary.” These sorrows are the struggles the Blessed Mother endured during the life and death of Jesus, her son. While praying this rosary, the purpose is to contemplate the difficulties of Mother Mary’s life through the recitation of these prayers.

Franciscan rosary: This traditional rosary is named in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, the well-known and beloved saint. St. Francis began the Franciscan order in the 15th century as a way to celebrate God’s nature. The order also embodies a disdain for wealth and materialism that is symbolized in the life of the Blessed Mother Mary.

A Franciscan rosary has seven or 15 sets of 10 beads. The Franciscan rosary focuses on the joys of Mary’s life instead of the sorrows she endured.

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