Q: Why are Catholic churches so big? Why do Catholic priests wear different robes and vestments?
A: It seems fine to answer two questions as one, because the answers complement each other. When you and I come together into a church building, we join our brothers and sisters in worshiping God, depending on the size of the church community. For example, some parishes have hundreds and hundreds of families, and, so, a larger church building is required in order to accommodate the population. Other church communities, such as in small towns, are smaller and require a smaller building.
The origin of the larger church buildings can be traced back nearly 17 centuries when Christianity was made legal by the Emperor Constantine. The Church leaders of the day adopted the use of the basilicas, which were first used by the civil governments.
As for the color of the priests’ and deacons’ vestments, the color reflects the liturgical season or the particular feast day that is being celebrated. For example, white is used for Christmas and Easter (as well as on other feast days); red would be for certain days such as celebrating a feast of the Holy Spirit; violet (otherwise known as purple for some) is the color for Advent and Lent (as well as for All Souls’ Day), and, of course, green is for Ordinary Time. These colors are a visible reminder that you and I travel together as fellow pilgrims in this world celebrating the treasury of saints and seasons within the Church.
Q: Why do we fast?
A: Did you know that fasting can be traced back in our history to well before the Chosen People (our Jewish roots as Catholics) left Egypt and traveled to the Holy Land? Fasting is not a concept that is purely Catholic, but is a practice of self-discipline and interior penance.
Many of us are familiar with the two principle fasting days of Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The practice of fasting is a reminder of how Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights as he spent all his time prior to his public ministry of teaching the people of his day that the Kingdom of God is at hand, as well as performing miracles and healing people’s illnesses.
We fast, too, as a form of penance or a sign of sacrifice for forgiveness, or to remind ourselves how much you and I need God. No human being is sovereign, for we all need Jesus.
Perhaps, the next time we fast, we should try not to focus so much on being hungry. When we fast on certain days, that is, avoiding food and drink over a period of time, such as between meals, may we draw more on how much we need Jesus.
Q: Why do we say the same prayers all the time at Mass?
A: This is a very good question for it may seem that we as a Church family could be a bit more creative in each Sunday’s Mass prayers. Actually, we are. However, there are many constants (permanent prayers or events) at Mass which must remain in place. Why do I say this? Remember, as our faith instructs, prayer is the raising of our mind and heart to God in praise of his glory. But prayer also can be a petition for us to do good or to thank God for something you and I have received or even to ask God’s assistance for others or even ourselves. All of this is brought together at the celebration of Mass.
For instance, did you know that we begin with the same prayer every time Mass begins, with the Sign of the Cross? What better prayer is there than to pray to God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit? After that prayer, we also ask for God’s mercy at the beginning of Mass as we say, “Lord have mercy.” Also on Sundays and feast days, we give glory to God with the Gloria. We can find the roots of that prayer in the Gospel. And, of course, we have the readings of the day, which change all the time. Then, we pray our Profession of Faith, our Creed, in which we recall that the truth is constant and cannot be changed. Next we share in the Prayers of the Faithful, asking for God’s help, knowing that he always listens to us. And then this takes us into the Liturgy of the Eucharist in which we remember what Jesus did for us and, moreover, how he remains present to us even today just as he did at the Last Supper and his suffering and dying on the Cross for you and me. We live those moments with Jesus every Mass. We find the richness of this part of the liturgy in Scripture itself. The prayers the priest says change with respect to the liturgical day or season.
One thing which never changes is God’s presence at Mass. Each and every time we receive the same Jesus at Communion. For if we go to Communion, it is impossible for us to say we got nothing out of the Mass.
May you and your family have a most blessed and joy-filled Christmas as we celebrate the birth of humanity’s one true Hope.
To “Ask the Bishop,” address questions to Joseph M. Taylor, catechetical consultant and youth ministry coordinator in the Diocese of Steubenville Office of Christian Formation and Schools, P.O. Box 969, Steubenville, OH 43952; email, firstname.lastname@example.org; or telephone, (740) 282-3631.