From the Pastor: Special December Masses, Feasts, and Traditions
Friday, December 8, is a Holy Day of Obligation, the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. “Holy Days” such as this, if you are old enough to remember, used to be joyfully held in reverence and awe, at least as far as I can tell from old liturgical accounts of them. The Catholics of old actually liked having occasional days off of work or school so that they could attend Mass on such special feast days. Traditions grew around these liturgical celebrations so that novenas, litanies, processions, and even special foods were cooked and eaten specifically for the special celebration. Unfortunately for us, it seems that few want to ask for even a couple of hours off of work to attend a Mass of Obligation during the week. HR departments and school admins simply scoff at the notion that a Catholic religious celebration deserves any respect. Thus the US Bishops have acquiesced to the times and either canceled most Holy Days or transferred them to Sundays so as to not inconvenience anyone who worships secularism more than Catholicism. Even so, December still brings us two Holy Days of Obligation, the first being the aforementioned Immaculate Conception on the 8th and the second being Christmas on December 25. So mark your calendars and prepare to show that your Catholic Faith is alive and well. Take those days off so that you can enter more deeply into the Traditional Catholic way of life!
While marking your calendar, you may want to put a special mark on the second Saturday from now, December 16. Please cross the 8:00 am Mass off your calendar and insert a 6:30 am Mass instead. This is our annual Rorate Caeli Mass and it, of its very essence, requires an early morning start. Since there are many new parishioners who may not be aware of this Mass, a short explanation is in order. The Advent Rorate Masses are celebrated in darkness, with only candlelight to illuminate the church. As the Mass continues, the daylight grows stronger, as if the signified Light of the World, Jesus Christ, is finally dawning upon us. The Savior is bud forth in the East (or Orient, which, as an aside, is why the term Ad Orientem—to the East—is used when the priest faces East—or at least liturgical East as at Epiphany—along with the congregation, as all are looking expectantly to the Orient for the return of Our Lord in His Majestic Glory), the land is blessed, and the Catholics are set free from the dark captivity of sin. Jesus came to save us from sin, to bring light to those in darkness and the shadow of death. He came through, and is magnified by, the Blessed Virgin Mary, without whom we would find no Savior, and merit no salvation. There may be several reasons to sleep in that morning, but if you make the effort to attend this glorious candlelight Mass, I think you will be hooked and make it a yearly event. Did I mention that there will be food after Mass?
You might think that what has already been mentioned is enough for one article. Yet, there is more. Again, for those new to the parish, unless you came from a Polish, Slovak, or Lithuanian family, you may not be aware of an old Christmas Eve tradition of prayer, thanksgiving, and forgiveness entailing the sharing of the Oplatek. An oplatek (plural: oplatki) is an unleavened and very thin rectangular bread, usually embossed with some sort of Nativity-related scene. It is made the same way that traditional Mass hosts are, using only wheat flour and water (although some may contain a small amount of food dye to color them). They are never consecrated, although they may be blessed by the priest, as ours will be. These are meant to be taken home for the Wigilia, or Christmas Eve gathering of the family. Although details of this custom do vary, the basic format remains constant. On Christmas Eve the entire family gathers for a full day of celebrating the end of the penitential season of Advent and the coming of the Christ Child in just a few more hours. This used to be a day of abstinence (though not a day of fasting), so the great evening feast, which consisted of many courses (7, 9, and 13 are listed in various sources but my older sister insists that there must be 12 courses, and she is a better source than most of my other sources!), was completely meatless. Appetizers, soups, fish dishes, and desserts were prepared. The table was strewn with a light layer of straw (reminiscent of the straw lining the baby Jesus’ manger) and covered with a white tablecloth (swaddling clothes). There were place settings for everyone plus one extra in case a beggar or unexpected guest came by. But before anyone dared to touch the food, the father of the family would take an oplatek, break it and share a piece of it with his wife. As he gave it to her he would ask her forgiveness for any harms he had done to her during the past year and ask special blessings for her in the upcoming one. She would then break off another piece from her piece of the oplatek and share it with the child next to her, and do the same. From one to another, each would follow suit. Only after the oplatki pieces were all distributed and consumed was the main meal eaten. (This is, of course, just a short version. Ask your babcia for more details!)
By next week I should have the oplatki ready for you to take home in preparation for Christmas Eve. Oh, how fast time flies!
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka