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Intro to Roman Catholicism
Thursday, January 01, 2009

Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli (Saint Mary of the Angels), in the plain at the foot of the hill of Assisi, Italy. (Christian Fuchs — Jesuit Refugee Service/USA)

Initiation Rituals and Membership

A person that becomes a member of the Roman Catholic Church is united to Christ and shares in the life of God as Trinity, through Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist. Full membership in the Church includes participation in the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist.

The preparation for entering the Catholic Church may be lengthy, often lasting nine months to two years. A person usually prepares to enter the Catholic Church through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). For one to be baptized, confirmed, and to receive Eucharist, that person must understand and believe the basics of being a follower of Christ in the Catholic Church. This is normally determined by interview with a priest or deacon, Catholic chaplain or other designated representative of the community, after completing the preparation process.

Persons who have been baptized into another Christian church are often received into the Catholic Church by a profession of faith, since their baptism into Christianity has already occurred.

The normal time for entering the Catholic Church is at the Easter Vigil Liturgy on Holy Saturday evening, the night before Easter Sunday. A priest or deacon is the normal minister of the sacrament of baptism.

The Catholic Church does not require immersion for baptism, but only the pouring of water over the head of the person. The essential words for baptism are “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” While Baptism into the Catholic community is allowed in prisons, chaplains and catechists should always enter into RCIA with the assurance that the individual being prepared for Baptism has the support of a local parish community at the release destination or within the prison community of faith. Detailed rules and regulations about entering the Catholic Church may be found in the Code of Canon Law and in The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.

In 1990 there were nearly one billion Roman Catholics worldwide and about 64 million Catholics in the United States.


Roman Catholicism is a living Christian tradition, community, and way of life based on the example and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, and the belief and experience of Jesus’ death on a cross and his resurrection.

Roman Catholicism is the Western Rite of Catholicism, as distinct from Eastern Rite Catholicism. It is also called the Roman Rite or the Latin Rite. It is the largest ritual church of the Catholic churches, Eastern or Western.

The word Christian means Christ like or one who follows Christ, that is, Jesus of Nazareth, who is believed by Christians to be the Christ or Messiah. Early Christians were Jewish people. They accepted Jesus as that long awaited Messiah and followed his teaching.

Jesus was born Jewish in 4 BCE in Judea. He started preaching about the Kingdom of God when he was thirty. He was executed on a cross under the orders of Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor of Judea around the year 30 CE. After his death, followers believed they experienced him alive in a new and wonderful way. Christians refer to this as the Resurrection of Christ. Motivated by this awareness, his disciples took to heart his message and went about preaching the Kingdom of God.

Approximately forty years after his death, these followers of Jesus were expelled from the Jewish community as a heretical sect. This event also happened around the time of the Roman destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.

The early Christians experienced much persecution from the Roman Empire until Emperor Constantine was converted to Christianity. From the early fourth century, Christians were no longer subject to Roman persecution. Christianity actually became the state religion of the Roman Empire under Emperor Theodosius I.

The teachings and recollections of the life of Jesus were eventually written down. By the end of the fourth century, twenty-seven books of the New Testament were recognized by Church councils. Combined with the Jewish scriptures (Torah or Law, Prophets, and Writing) these books became what today is commonly called the Bible. The Council of Trent (1545-63) officially recognized the books of the Bible used by the Catholic Church.

Catholics believe that Jesus commissioned Peter to be first among the Apostles, chief shepherd, and foundation rock upon which Christ would build his people. Peter, they believe, was the first Bishop of Rome. He died in Rome around the year 64 CE under the persecutions by Emperor Nero and is believed to be buried in a crypt below the altar of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Catholics believe that the authority given to Peter by Jesus was handed on to Peter’s successors – the bishops of Rome or the popes. The successors of the Apostles (the bishops and the Pope) authentically interpret and apply the teachings of Jesus in every age and culture under the guidance of his Holy Spirit. Catholics recognize the Bishop of Rome, the Pope, as the “perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity of the bishops and of the multitude of the faithful.” (Vatican II document, Lumen Gentium, 23)

The term catholic describing the early Christian Church was first used by Ignatius of Antioch in an epistle to the Smyrneans around the year 107 CE.

The early Christian communities were first centered in the major cities of Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople, and Rome. The church which expanded from Rome became known as the Western or Latin Rite Church; the others became known as Eastern Rite Churches.

By the 11th century, the Church of the West and the Church of the East had gradually grown apart, differing in matters of theology, religion, and authority. In the 16th century another split within the Western (Roman, Latin) Rite church occurred called the Reformation. A movement protesting abuses in the Catholic Church resulted in separation from the Church of people who came to be known as the Protestants. The Council of Trent brought reform to the Catholic Church in the 16th century. But the separation of Protestant churches and Catholics still exists today.

Under the Spaniards and Portuguese conquistadores of the 16th and 17th centuries, the Catholic Church came to Mexico and South America. In the midst of conquest and disease brought from the continent by the invaders, the Church set about trying to convert native peoples to Catholicism. Some noble efforts were made to bring the Catholic faith to the natives, such as the Jesuit redactions (communities) in Northern Argentina. But with the changing political situations, these movements failed. In Mexico in the early 16th century, the Blessed Mother appeared to a poor young man, Juan Diego, to bring hope to suffering and poor people. Our Lady of Guadalupe, dearly loved by the Mexican people, has been a powerful source of bringing the Mexican people to faith in Christ.

In modern times, Pope John XXIII called for a renewal of the Church to respond to the needs of the modern world. The second Vatican Council (1962-1965) has brought a dramatic rethinking of the theology and role of the Church in the world. The directions carved out by Vatican II are still being realized in the life of the Church today. Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II after him committed themselves to furthering the renewal begun by Vatican II. Catholics need to be aware and informed about the importance of this event in the Catholic Church. Some consider this council will rank with the councils of Nicaea (325), Chalcedon (451), and Trent (1545-63).



Catholic means universal. Catholicism is characterized by openness to all truth and every good value. It is open to all human, religious, and Christian experience. It is not limited by any one culture, national or ethnic group, school of theology, or spirituality.

Catholic is a way of being Christian that is characterized by a both/and rather than an either/or approach; nature and grace, faith and reason, scripture and tradition, faith and works, authority and freedom, unity and diversity, laws and dispensation, rules and exceptions, respect for authority and respect for freedom of conscience, high ideals but minimum requirements, censures — excommunications but also absolution and forgiveness. Jesus is human and divine. God is Trinity, both three and one.


In the contemporary world, people tend to think that only science and reason can bring true knowledge. If something cannot be proved scientifically or by reason it is not true. Catholics, however, believe that there is another vital source of knowledge and wisdom – God’s own revelation to humanity. Catholics believe that God has revealed himself to humanity, has instructed humanity how to live in relationship with one another, and has revealed humanity’s final destiny. For Catholics, human knowledge must be guided by God’s revelation. Truth is one. Science, reason, and revelation should each contribute to the one truth.

Throughout history God has gradually revealed himself and the purpose of human existence. Peoples throughout history have known something about God. But especially through the people of Israel, the Jewish people, from the time of Abraham until the death and resurrection of Jesus, God has most perfectly revealed himself.

Catholics believe that God’s revelation is now complete. Jesus is the final and perfect revelation of God in human form. To know Jesus is to know God and God’s will for humanity. God has completely revealed himself and all that needs to be revealed. After Jesus, there is no new revelation. But God continues to reveal what has already been revealed and leads the Church into a deeper understanding of what was revealed. Catholics believe that God’s completed revelation still needs to be more profoundly understood and applied in every age and culture.

For Catholics, God’s complete revelation expressed in the personal life and teaching of Jesus was entrusted to the Apostles to be preserved and shared. This responsibility was then passed by the Apostles to their successors, the bishops and Pope of the Church. The responsibility of preserving and authentically interpreting, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the revelation God has given in Christ now belongs to the Pope and bishops. Bishops when teaching in union with each other and the Pope are seen as authentically interpreting the revelat.ion given to the Church by Christ.

Even though the pope and bishops have the responsibility of authentically interpreting the revelation of God, Catholics believe that God is also personally present to every person, revealing to them tender love and mercy, and guiding them with the Holy Spirit. Catholic spirituality involves awareness and response to God’s personal revealing presence in the lives of individuals and communities.

The Trinity

The central revelation of God, Catholics believe, is God’s revelation as Trinity. This revelation was affirmed by the Council of Nicea in 325. Catholics believe that God has revealed himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — three distinct persons but only one substance, only one God. God is Father who creates and gives life, who protects and sustains life by his unbounded love. God is Father of unlimited creativity who creates the cosmos down to the tiniest particle of an atom, who allows human beings to use their freedom in such a way as to participate in God’s creation. God is Father who is just but merciful. God is Father of Jesus Christ. Jesus, Catholics believe, is the image or perfect revelation of God in human form. He is the human expression or Word of God made flesh. God’s perfect love for humanity is shown in Jesus dying on the cross, revealing that God’s love is so great that God is even willing to die for the world. God’s utter faithfulness to humanity is revealed in Jesus being resurrected from death. The Holy Spirit is both the Spirit of the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit teaches, guides, unites, and brings love, peace, and harmony. The Holy Spirit reminds people of all God has revealed.

The Command to Love

Catholics believe that God has revealed to humanity how to live in relationship with one another. They are to love one another as God loves them. They are to love their neighbor as they love themselves. They are to pour out their energies and abilities in advancing the good of others, even in sacrificial love. This involves tremendous respect for the dignity of every human life, from the unborn to the elderly. It involves opposition to everything which diminishes or destroys human life and even the natural environment. Catholics believe that God can be experienced in the rejected, the imprisoned, the poor, the sick, and the weak of society. To care for these people is also to show love for God.

Gratitude and Thanksgiving

Catholics believe they can become aware of and enjoy life’s many blessings given by God each and every day, even in the midst of difficulty and suffering. They are encouraged to develop a habit of gratitude, thanksgiving, and praise for all that life brings them. They are encouraged to trust that God’s love for them never dies, and that God will always be faithful to them.

Awareness of Sin

Catholics know that they often fail to measure up to the vision God has for them. They know they can be sinful, abusive or even violent, selfish, lazy, resentful, and addicted. They are aware they need to be committed to growth and reform. They know they are constantly in need of strength, mercy, conversion, repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Showing that difficulties can strengthen them, they realize virtue rests somewhere between their own striving toward holiness and God’s faithful and merciful love for them.


For Catholics, their purpose in life is not to earn salvation, but, to live as people who know they are saved. Catholics do not believe that their works win them salvation. Instead, Catholics trust and have faith they have already been and are being saved by God in community (through baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist) for the blessedness of eternal life. Catholics believe salvation is a free gift of God which cannot be earned, but can be refused. Because they are grateful for being saved for eternal life, they see themselves called to live with great generosity, love, and trust in God. They try to show their faith by their generous works.


Catholics believe God’s ongoing revelation and saving love for them can best be experienced in community, especially within the community of the Church. For this reason, Catholics come to church services such as the Mass, and work together on community projects such as the education of the young and old. Not to participate in the community of the Church and in its sacred functions or sacraments is to cut one off in some way from the experience of God’s saving love.

The World

For Catholics, the world is good and beautiful. All that God has created is good. Life in this world is a gift that should be enjoyed fully, but not at the expense of causing harm to others. The world should be protected and preserved. The dignity of people is to be respected. People are not to be used as objects by others for personal gain.

Life After Death

Catholics believe that there is life after death. They know this cannot be proven or denied by science and reason. But they believe God has revealed this to them as true. Catholics believe that the resurrection of Jesus is God’s confirmation that there is life beyond the grave. Catholics believe that they experience the love, assistance, and strength of those who have died and live in that new creation which is called heaven. They believe they experience the love of the saints, of Mary the mother of Jesus, and of the angels. Encouraged by God’s promise of eternal life, Catholics are motivated by gratitude to generously give themselves for the good of humanity in this world. They believe that after death in heaven they will continue experience love and be able to show love toward humanity.


The prayer of the Mass is seen as the action of Christ himself in which Christ offers himself to the Father and gives himself as spiritual food to the faithful united with him in his offering. The Our Father (Lord’s Prayer) is the basic prayer taught by Jesus. These prayers have profound meaning and should be the frequent focus of reflection. In the Church there is a very wide tradition of forms of prayer – from recited, repeated, and sung prayer, to liturgical prayer, dance, and contemplation. Through prayer one is strengthened in his or her life’s journey.

The Scriptures

Catholics believe the books of the Bible contain the written formulation of God’s revelation, inspired by the Holy Spirit. God’s ongoing self-revelation, while not limited to written words, is accurately, but not literally, conveyed in the words of the Bible. Catholics are encouraged to read and meditate on the sacred scriptures so they will be better able to understand God’s revelation and be better able to recognize God’s revelation in the world. To understand just what the scripture author intended to reveal about God, Catholics are encouraged to study why and how the various books of the Bible were written.

Over the years and centuries, individual Christians and the entire Church has prayed and meditated on the written Word of God to understand God’s revelation and to apply it to their individual lives and current period of history. Bishops, popes, scholars, peasants, and saints have pondered the message of Jesus to understand it more deeply. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, a deeper and more complete understanding of God’s revelation has developed. This has become part of the guiding tradition of the Church.

Sacramental Theology

A major characteristic of Catholicism is sacramentality. In the Catholic vision, God can be recognized in all reality: persons, communities, movements, events, places, objects, the world at large, and the whole cosmos. It is in and through the material rarities (but not only there) that one encounters the invisible and spiritual God. Catholics believe that God works through material realities to bring salvation. They believe that people are temples of the Holy Spirit. They believe that the world is essentially good, even though fallen.

Catholics believe that the Church participates in the work of Christ through sacraments (especially the Eucharist), the service ministry of all Christians, intercession of saints, and through the use of sacred objects and rituals.

Sacraments are seen as sacred realities, moments, and vocations in life which make present God’s saving love. The sacraments of the Church, Catholics believe, are determined by Christ. There are seven official Sacraments in the Church.

a. Sacraments of Initiation

Baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist are the three sacraments initiating one into the Church.

Baptism is the sacrament through baptism one dies to the old life of sin and selfishness and rises as a new person in Christ. Through Christ (seen as one with the Church) the baptized enters into the life of God as Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The person becomes a member of the Church and commits himself or herself to following Christ.

Confirmation is the sealing and strengthening of the individual by the Holy Spirit to carry out the mission of Jesus in the world.

Eucharist is the central and most important sacrament for Catholics. It is the ritual meal in which Catholics gather with each other in Christ’s presence, before God the Father, in thankful communion with Christ and one another, to hear God’s word, and to recommit themselves in sacrificial love to extending Christ and the Reign of God into the world. It commemorates Christ’s own final Passover supper before he offered himself to God for the salvation of the world.

b. Sacraments of Healing

Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick renew the individual and the community.

Reconciliation is the sacrament of experiencing God’s forgiveness in Christ, and committing oneself to reconciliation with God, others, and oneself. The sacrament of Reconciliation, an opportunity for forgiveness of sin, is among the most sacred rites and rights of Catholics. Detainees that make a request for sacramental confession should be accommodated as soon as possible, even if a contractor or volunteer has to be called into the institution. Detainees may be asked if they are able to wait for a regularly scheduled priest to assist them, but they should not be forced to wait an extended period of time. Only a Catholic priest with faculties from the bishop of the diocese may administer the sacrament of Reconciliation. The Rite of Reconciliation is especially significant at the time of illness or impending death. The seal of confession demands absolute confidentiality, prohibiting the confessor from disclosing any information regarding the confession. Under no circumstances may institution security interfere with the seal of sacramental confession such as audio or video taping, requiring the use of a telephone for confession, conducting an investigation or requiring the presence of a third party during a sacramental confession.

Anointing of the Sick is the sacrament of receiving healing love and strength when one is seriously ill or in danger of death.

c. Sacraments of Commitment

Marriage and Holy Orders are seen as two vocations of life which manifest Christ to the Church. There are other Christian vocations which manifest Christ but which are not official sacraments in the Church – for example, religious (vowed) life.

Marriage is the sacramental way of life or vocation in which a couple participates in God’s creative and faithful love for each other and their children. Canon law of the Catholic Church (Canon 1055.1) defines marriage: “The matrimonial covenant by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a consortium of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered to the good of the spouses and to the procreation and education of offspring: this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.”

Marriage is a powerful and beautiful way to experience both God’s tender and faithful love for each partner and to experience sacrificial life giving love. In marriage the couple extends Christ’s love to each other and to their children. The purpose of marriage is to provide mutual love and strength for the husband and wife, and to create and raise families as small communities formed in God’s love. Hence, Catholics believe God’s plan is for marriages to be a permanent, life-time commitment, until death do us part.

For a Catholic to enter into a marriage that is recognized as a true (sacramental) marriage by the Catholic Church, that marriage must involve a couple that is mature, free, and capable of entering marriage.  The marriage must be celebrated in the presence of a recognized Church official (bishop, priest, or deacon). Of course, people who are not Catholic and not marrying a Catholic are not bound by the laws of the Catholic Church. Before a Catholic couple can marry in the presence of a recognized Catholic official, they must be free to marry (i.e. are mature, have not been married before, of if they have been, then they prove they have received a marriage annulment). The couple typically attends some marriage preparation classes, and if all works out, then the actual marriage is scheduled and celebrated.

However, the church recognizes that not every couple who celebrates a wedding ceremony may have the maturity and ability to enter into a sacramental, life-time marriage. When they marry, they may hope and desire that their relationship will last a life time. But one or both spouses may simply not have the necessary qualities and maturity to enter into permanent marriage as God intended. And such marriages often fail. Sometimes marriages fail for other reasons, too. A couple may grow selfish and forget that they are committed to the true good of their spouse and children.

When a marriage involving a Catholic fails, but before the Catholic is permitted to celebrate his or her marriage again in the Church, the Church will attempt to review what went wrong in that marriage. This review is called an annulment process. The Church will conduct a special investigation and look into the failed marriage relationship in an attempt to determine why it failed. The couple will be interviewed, if possible. Other family and friends may be interviewed. From the investigation, the Church will make a ruling whether or not the couple at the time of their marriage ceremony had sufficient qualities and maturity to enter into a life-time marriage the commitment. If the Church decides that one or both people in the marriage lacked these qualities, the Church will declare that marriage to be null or void. The church is basically saying that since there was not sufficient maturity on the part of the couple to enter a life-long marriage, then there never truly was a marriage as the Church understands marriage – a sacramental marriage. Hence, that failed relationship is simply that, a failed relationship, not a marriage, even if children were born from that union. If the Church determines that there was no true marriage from the start, then those people are free at some point to marry someone else, even with the Church’s blessing.

The annulment process can be initiated by either party in the failed marriage. They need to simply contact a Catholic Church diocesan office in their area. They will then be guided through the process which can often take up to a year.

Holy Orders or Priesthood is the sacrament of making Christ present to the community especially through preaching the Gospel, celebrating the Eucharist, helping people grows in holiness, and providing ordering or governing in the Church community.

Catholic Devotions

a. Devotions to Jesus Christ

Devotion to the Blessed Sacrament is a venerable and traditional form of prayer for Catholics. Catholics believe that Jesus Christ is fully present in the consecrated bread and wine of the Eucharist (Mass). Often this consecrated bread (hosts) is reserved in a tabernacle located where Catholics may quietly pray. A candle or electric vigil light is always lighted near the tabernacle to indicate the presence of Christ in the communion reserved in the tabernacle. In some places, for more solemn prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, the communion bread may be placed in a monstrance and displayed in the presence of the people praying. Scheduling holy hours for prayer before the Blessed Sacrament may be helpful for detainees. If a priest is not available to handle the Blessed Sacrament, this may be done by a deacon, vowed religious, or other commissioned minister of Holy Communion. The reserved communion in the tabernacle may be used for communion services and for bringing Holy Communion to sick detainees.

Catholics have other devotions to Christ. Devotions to the Sacred Heart and to Christ dying on the cross are ways for Catholics to meditate on Christ’s self-emptying love for them individually, and for all people, and to help them realize they are to give themselves generously in love and concern for others.

b. Veneration of the Saints

According to the Council of Nicea in 787, the Christian respect for images is not contrary to the first commandment which prohibits praying to idols. The veneration is not directed to the image, but to the person represented therein. The honor paid to sacred images is a respectful veneration, not the adoration due to God alone. The Catholic teaching is not that one prays to Mary and the saints, but rather that one prays to God through them, just as a child seeking a gift from her mother, may seek that gift through the intercession of her father or a sibling – one who has a close and deep relationship with the giver. Veneration, defined as reverential respect, must never be confused with adoration, which is defined as worship and honor as to a deity or to the divine (God alone). This concept is often misunderstood by some Protestants, and even some Catholics.

From the most ancient times, Mary, the Mother of Jesus, has been venerated and revered by Catholics as the God-bearer. This is the foundation of the special devotion directed toward her.  Catholics do not worship Mary but, recognize her as a human being who has been glorified by God because of her special role in the life of Jesus. It is important to understand that Catholics do not pray to statues or paintings of Mary or other saints. Their prayer is directed to God through the saints, who are already recognized for their closeness to God.

In light of these principles, it is important to remember the following. Veneration of Mary and all of the saints is ultimately devotion to Christ whose grace has triumphed in them. Jesus Christ, in his humanity and divinity alike is the One Mediator between God and humankind. God’s grace is mediated through visible, bodily realities, including those fellow creatures that have shown themselves striking examples of the transforming power of this grace.

c. Devotions to Mary

There are many devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Catholics honor Mary, as they pray to God through her and other saints and family and friends who have died. But Mary holds a special place in Catholic spirituality since she is the human mother of Jesus, and is the God-bearer.

The Rosary is perhaps the most common devotional prayer for Catholics. The practice of praying the rosary traces its origin to a time when monks prayed the psalms in community, but the ordinary people did not have a practical way of praying. Strings of beads were created to count Our Fathers and Hail Marys which substituted for the psalms. These beads eventually became rosaries. It is common for many Catholics to pray the rosary daily. A scheduled time for praying the rosary may be helpful for detainees.

Liturgical Calendar

The Catholic Church celebrates the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus and its beliefs and traditions within the context of a Church Year, also known as the Liturgical Cycle. During the cycle, members of the Church relive the great events of salvation history.

This Liturgical Church Year, also called the Church’s Year of Grace, begins with Advent, which usually starts in early December and continues through the evening prior to the next First Sunday of Advent. The last, Sunday of the Church Year is the Feast of Christ the King, which occurs in late November.

Within the Cycle are designated Seasons, periods of celebration, and commemoration. These include significant events in the lives of the Lord Jesus and Mary, His Mother, and specified feast days which mark remembrances of saints.

The Advent Season

An essential element of Christian spirituality is watchfulness and waiting. Advent commemorates a waiting for Christ, in a threefold way: First, his coming in time, for which the people waited over 4,000 years; secondly, his coming into the lives of each one daily; and, thirdly, his coming again in glory at a definite end time.

Advent has a character of joyful expectation, as a season to prepare for Christmas, when Christ first came among us. The Advent wreath, a popular symbol consisting of four candles set in a circle of greens, is recommended for use during Mass and communion services. A reconciliation service with individual confessions is generally held during Advent as a spiritual preparation for the Solemnity of the Nativity – the Christmas feast.

The Christmas Season

The Catholic Church holds sacred the event of the Christ’s birth and the early events of his life. The Church celebrates the incarnation of God into humanity. The Christmas Season extends from Christmas Eve through the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, observed in January.

A midnight Mass on Christmas Eve is traditionally scheduled between 8:00 pm and midnight, preceded by a period of singing carols. A Mass on Christmas morning may also be celebrated addition to, in, or in place of the midnight Mass.

Generally, the Catholic community waits until Christmas Eve to decorate the chapel or church. However, it is appropriate to arrange the crèche (manger) during Advent and to keep the infant Jesus figurine in reserve until the Christmas midnight Mass.

The Feast of Mary, Mother of God, a holy day of obligation, is observed on January 1st. Renewing spiritual resolutions and promises, as well as prayer for the perseverance in keeping these promises is recommended.

The Sunday of the Epiphany of the Lord, celebrated on or near January 6th, is also known as “Little Christmas.” This day commemorates the Kings’/Magi’s visit to Jesus. It is a time to recognize the gift of the Good News of the Lord Jesus as Savior available to all people of the world.

The Christmas season ends with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.

Ordinary Time

Ordinary Time marks the period from the Sunday after the Lord’s Baptism until the Sunday before Ash Wednesday. Then, it resumes the Monday following Pentecost and continues through the evening prior to the First Sunday of Advent.


The forty-day season of Lent, beginning with Ash Wednesday and ending on Holy Saturday (Sundays are not included), is a sacred time of prayer, personal renewal, and penance. Catholics are expected to renew themselves during Lent by personal prayer, almsgiving, and fasting.

On Ash Wednesday Catholics are signed with a cross of ashes on their forehead to remind them of their mortality and their need for conversion and growth.

Catholics are required to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Minimum fasting in the Catholic Church is understood as eating no more than one full meal each day. Catholics are required to abstain from meat on Fridays of Lent (this includes chicken and turkey, but not fish). They are also encouraged to discipline themselves through other forms of prayer, penance, and fasting. With the no-flesh option available on main line in every institution, detainees are able to eat the required meatless meals on Fridays during Lent by self selection from the main line.

Holy Week is a sacred time for Catholics to recall Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection. Holy Week begins with Passion Sunday (Palm Sunday). This day recalls the triumphal entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem before his death. Palm branches should be ordered ahead of time for distribution at this celebration. The palms are kept throughout the year by Catholics as a reminder of the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.

Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday are known as the Triduum. Because of the importance of Holy Thursday to Catholics, the evening to celebrate the Last (Passover) Supper of Jesus, every effort should be made to find a priest to celebrate Mass on that evening. Holy Thursday Mass, or if need be, the communion service, generally incorporates the Washing of the Feet (mandatum).

Good Friday celebrates the death of Jesus. The Good Friday service is usually held in the afternoon. There is no Mass on this day. However, Holy Communion may be reserved for a Communion Service on this day.

Good Friday is a time when all Christians of whatever denomination can come together for a common worship service commemorating the death of Jesus.

Easter to Pentecost 

Holy Saturday night, is known as the Easter Vigil. It is the primary celebration of Easter for Catholics. It celebrates the resurrection of Jesus and also welcomes new members into the Catholic Church through baptism or a profession of faith. This celebration should take place after dusk. The blessing of the “New Fire” and the “New Water” are important elements of the entire Easter Vigil ritual. The Easter fire is blessed and the Easter candle is lit, recalling the Risen Christ, the Light of the World. The Easter proclamation is sung and lengthy scriptures are read about God’s saving love. The Easter water is blessed to be used for baptisms. New members are welcomed into the Church through baptism professions of faith. All gathered renew their baptismal promises.

An Easter morning Mass or sunrise service is also appropriate. The Easter candle is lighted at all Masses celebrated from the Easter Vigil through Pentecost Sunday.

Catholics celebrate Easter, the resurrection of Jesus, during the fifty days following Easter Sunday. During this time the Easter candle is a continuous reminder that Christ is risen and is among his people.

Forty days after Easter, the Church celebrates the Ascension of Our Lord. This is known as Ascension Thursday and is a holy day of obligation. Finally, on Pentecost Sunday, the Easter season concludes while the Church celebrates the gift of the Holy Spirit upon the Church.

Ordinary Time 

Ordinary Time resumes the Monday following Pentecost and continues through the Saturday before Advent. During this time, the following holy days of obligation occur: the Feast of the Assumption of Mary (August 15th), All Saints Day (November 1st), and the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary (December 8th). Catholic Mass should be scheduled on these days.

Special Feast Days and Times of Celebration 

Some other special times of celebration for Catholics are as follows:

Devotions during the month of May that seek the intercession of the Blessed Mother, Mary, date back to the sixteenth century. Scheduling additional time for devotions such as the rosary, a May Crowning or Procession, a prayer service or reflection in honor of Mary is recommended.

The Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, also known as Corpus Christi, occurs in June. It is customary to have a procession of the Blessed Sacrament on this day, or on an appropriate day near this feast.

The commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, known as All Souls Day, is celebrated on November 2nd. A Mass in memory of deceased loved ones may be celebrated.

The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12th has particular significance for the Mexican people. A Mass celebrated in Spanish, or a prayer service with procession is recommended.

The Mexican custom of Posadas is cerebrated for nine days before Christmas.

Liturgy of the Hours

From ancient times, the Church has celebrated the Liturgy of the Hours (the Divine Office), and in this way it fulfills the Lord’s precept of praying without ceasing. In this prayer, psalms are prayed and scriptures read, especially at Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Night Prayer. Through the Liturgy of the Hours, the Church offers praise to God and intercedes for the salvation of the world.

Books are available which contain this structured prayer. For example, there is the two volume set entitled, People’s Companion to the Breviary, from the Carmelite Monastery in Indianapolis, Indiana, or the Shorter Christian Prayer, from the Catholic Book Publishing Company in New York.

The Ordo

A valuable resource is a small book titled, The Order of Prayer in The Liturgy of The Hours and the Celebration of The Eucharist from Paulist Press, Mahwah, New Jersey. It is important to specify the Diocese or Archdiocese in which the institution located. This resource is commonly referred to as the Ordo and is published yearly. It is generally available eight weeks before Advent, the start of the Church year.