When Holy Days Become Holidays, My Faith Suffers

I love holidays for the promise they hold within the folds of their tablecloths and traditions, but for the most part they do little to bolster or energize my spiritual nature. It’s all come down to a formula, the same frantic pace to “set the stage” for each holiday. There’s a playbook, and everyone has a copy.

Any errors are mine… I wrote this post when I should have been sleeping…

Although not a Holy Day, I think this was one of the “fire-starter” events that led to the secularization of Christmas. Take the traditional Thanksgiving dinner — turkey, stuffing/dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, green-bean casserole, dinner rolls, candied yams, salad, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, whipped cream — and the assorted side dishes peculiar to your geographic location or culture. Overload. Make people think they have to do it all, and they will die trying to keep up with the neighbors (or those fanciful TV commercials).

Women, especially, feel the disconnect, as we’re the main providers of this fantastic meal. A meal that takes 20 minutes to eat, but 20 hours to prepare. (And a minimum of 2 hours to clean up if you wrangle some help.)  This doesn’t take into account the time needed to clean the house, decorate, and invite family/friends, then wait for the RSVP that folks don’t feel they need to provide a hostess any longer…. So we’ll say that generally as soon as Halloween is unplugged and the last bag of candy eaten, the holiday planning for Thanksgiving gets put in motion… with Christmas on its heels.

How many people know that most churches offer a “Thanksgiving Day” Mass or service? Do you give the excuse that you can’t attend because you’re cooking?  Perhaps this is what it sounds like to God…

Pastor: We hope you can join us in prayer Thanksgiving morning, to thank God for the blessings in our lives and home.

Us: Sorry, can’t make it this year. (As if next year will be better?) I’ve got to put the turkey in the oven and baste it every 30 minutes. There’s just too much to do to leave in the middle to go pray.

God: It would be good to see you relax in prayerful meditation. I don’t need to hear your appreciation for all the blessings I’ve bestowed on you, but it would be so good for YOU  to acknowledgement what you’ve received. I miss my  Children; it fills me with joy when they spend time with me!

ChristmasChristmas is a Holy Day. It is the day the Catholic Church established as a day to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the Messiah. Of course it’s not the exact day in space and time. That’s beside the point. Christ’s Mass — whether it’s the Shepherd’s Mass, Midnight Mass, Sunrise Mass, is to celebrate the coming of our Savior and to wait in joyful hope for His Second Coming. Advent is the four weeks PRECEDING Christmas.  We prepare our homes and ourselves, our spiritual selves, for the second coming of the Messiah. Or at least, we’re supposed to do that. I try and I plan to pray, but life seems to get in the way and the O Antiphon prayers go unsaid each night… the Advent Candles unlit.

Marketers, corporations and businesses have shrink-wrapped Advent and Christmas into one long gooey mess between Halloween and December 24. Because the Christmas craziness starts early, by the time December 25 actually rolls around, people are taking down their tree and turning off their outside lights. Then it’s off to the next prescribed holiday, New Year’s Eve.  Hah! That’s what’s incredible. The Holy day is actually New Year’s Day, and it is called Feast of the Holy Family. But liquor companies own the New Year’s Eve mystique, so folks feel as if they need to party and drink all night long. A lot of Catholics miss this Mass because they partied too hardy the night before.

Remember the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas?” It’s rich with symbolism. It may or may not have been used in the 1300’s, but it is still a valuable lesson. The Catholic Christmas is an OCTAVE.  That’s EIGHT days. Then there’s a few more days to Epiphany, the Feast of the Magi. This is the day to disassemble the Christmas props (lights, tree, stockings, ornaments, etc), but some folks are already preparing for the next pseudo-holiday, Valentine’s Day, which USED to be called Saint Valentine’s Day. It was a day for exchanging greeting cards with loved ones.  Candy and gifts are new requirements, and the jewelry stores are on a no-holds barred campaign to sell you expensive jewelry, so watch out!

ASH WEDNESDAY isn’t a Holy Day of Obligation, but the previous night’s Mardi Gras celebrations have eclipsed the first day of Lent and its’ meaning “Man, you were created from dust and to dust you shall return.”  “Mardi Gras” means “Fat Tuesday” and got that name from over-indulging in activities which are considered sinful, such as overeating (Greed and Avarice). Folks wear a disguise on Mardi Gras to sin in secret, so as not to be recognized by Satan and the other evil spirits who wander the world, seeking the ruin of souls. Lent begins, and I try to take control of my prayer life and whip it into shape. Stations of the Cross were doable last year, and I hope to continue this wonderful prayer again this year.

MON.pieta_-150x150The 3 days of the Easter Triduum (also known as the Passion of the Christ) are the MOST HOLY DAYS OF THE ENTIRE YEAR FOR CATHOLICS, and yet there are Catholics who are not aware of this fact. More Catholics go to Mass on Ash Wednesday (NOT a holy day of obligation) and will find any reason not to attend Mass on Holy Thursday.  Good Friday is the ONLY day of the year the priest does not offer the Sacrifice of the Mass. The photo (above) is from the new movie, Mary of Nazareth.

People are basically good, but they also want to be noticed.  What better way to be noticed than by having black ashes drawn as a cross on your forehead for everyone to see? All day. All night. If ashes were distributed on Holy Thursday and Good Friday, I bet attendance would pick up.

EasterWhen I was a young girl, Easter was magical. We became a new creation. My sister and I wore new dresses, and also wore white gloves, carried white patent-leather purses which matched our new white patent-leather shoes. Going to Easter morning Mass was special. The music, the liturgy, the priest, the people! Afterwards we’d enjoy a fun Easter Egg Hunt before being called in for a scrumptious dinner.

The more secularized the holy day, the greater the disconnect. People choose the televised football game over attending Mass. They choose dinner at home with family they won’t get along with over the Eucharist–Jesus Christ–who died on the Cross to free them from the slavery of sin.

file5811249333571This all is nothing new, but it needs to be said every few years. I’ve got an idea I want to implement next year. I want to throw a “New Year’s Party” on the Saturday night before the first Sunday of Advent, which is the first day of the liturgical year, so it makes sense to me.  Hopefully it will encourage Catholics to return to a true celebration of Advent (waiting) in order to put all the other holy days back into perspective. Also, this is one event I doubt the world will blindly embrace or try to hijack.