Forgotten Catholic Traditions

Forgotten Catholic Traditions
Rediscovering the family heirlooms of our faith
Paul Thigpen

© 2000 by Paul Thigpen

With a typical American disdain for anything seeming old-fashioned, recent generations of Catholics have tended to pack away a number of age-old religious customs like so much outdated furniture. But the difficulty of raising children in a home that's barren of such spiritual furnishings has prompted many of us to go rummaging through the attic to look them over again.

Reconsider some of the old ways, and you'll find that a number of Catholic traditions are like precious family heirlooms: both beautiful and functional, tying us to the generations before us and proving their value by surviving the test of time. Consider these:

· Genuflexion. In this act of deep reverence before the Blessed Sacrament, our bodies say what our faith professes: God Himself is present in the Eucharist.

· Bowing our heads at the name of Jesus. This is another act of reverence that helps to restore the honor our Lord deserves in a culture that often uses His name as a profanity.

· Fasting until Communion. Refraining from food and drink, not just an hour before receiving the Eucharist, but from the beginning of the day, was once the rule. Catholics who have returned to the old custom find it a meaningful way of exercising self-discipline and honoring the Lord in the Eucharist.

· Praying before and after Mass. Rather than socializing inside the church, Catholics have traditionally saved their conversation for the outdoors so that others can pray undisturbed in the pews. Many families who want to spend a few extra quiet moments with the Lord before and after Mass would be thrilled to see this tradition make a comeback.

· Eucharistic adoration. Countless rewards are gained from spending private time with Jesus as He's sacramentally present either enclosed in the Tabernacle or exposed to view in the Monstrance.

· The Angelus. This daily prayer, recited morning, noon, or evening (or all three), anchors the day with devotion to our Lord's Blessed Mother.

· The Novena. This ancient form of prayer to God or His saints, repeating a particular intention for nine hours, days, or weeks in a row, demonstrates the seriousness of our petition and presses us to persevere in faith.

· Meatless Fridays. When the bishops in America relaxed the traditional obligation to abstain from meat on Fridays (except those in Lent), they nevertheless insisted that we should continue to make some act of penance on that day. Though many Catholics no longer bother, many others have found that the small sacrifice of a meatless Friday bears important spiritual rewards for those who tend to feast every other day of the week.

· Table graces. If God has graciously provided us food and everything else we have, the least we can do at every meal is to take time to say thanks.

· Prayers for the faithful departed. Our deceased loved ones benefit from our prayers now just as they did before they departed from us. Catholic families have traditionally prayed in this way at mealtimes, along with a table grace.

· The Saint Michael prayer. Composed by Pope Leo XIII to aid the Church in its struggle against evil in the modern world, this prayer is no longer prayed publicly after Mass. But many Catholics, convinced that we need it now more than ever, still pray it privately.

· Scapulars. These small squares of cloth, worn with religious medals on long, thin cords over the shoulders underneath the clothing, provide an aid in devotion to our Lord and our Lady.

· First Friday devotions. Receiving Holy Communion on nine consecutive First Fridays of the month is a traditional loving response to the world's rejection of Jesus' Sacred Heart.

· First Saturday devotions. To help us grow closer to Jesus through Mary, this devotion calls for receiving Holy Communion on five consecutive first Saturdays of the month, receiving the sacrament of Reconciliation within eight days before or after this reception, reciting five decades of the rosary, and making a fifteen-minute meditation on one of the mysteries of the rosary.

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