St. Augustine Catholic
 
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theology 101
eucharistic adoration and benediction
a step-by-step guide through the church’s liturgies

by Elizabeth Solsburg   

By the second century, Christians were reserving a small portion of the Eucharist to bring to the sick and homebound. As time went on, they devised various containers for carrying the sacred bread and kept it in a cupboard in their homes.

who's in the sanctuary?
Sacristan: The sacristan is “behind the scenes.” He or she is the person responsible for setting the appropriate cloths and vessels in place before Mass, for cleaning the altar, and for taking care of the sacristy. The sacristan usually manages the laundry of vestments and altar clothing. Also, he or she often arranges and maintains the altar flowers.


The vigil takes place for one or more days prior to the funeral. It used to be the custom for the vigil, or wake, to be held in the home of the deceased. Now, it is more customarily held in a funeral home. Recently, there has also been a growing trend to celebrate the vigil in the parish church or hall - it is very moving to receive the condolences of friends and family in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament and in a place where the deceased person worshipped in community. It is common for the evenings of the wake to close with the recitation of the rosary or a Scripture service. The vigil is also the most appropriate place for eulogies, in which stories and memories of the dead person are shared.

The Mass of Christian Burial is the fulcrum of the funeral liturgies. At the beginning of the Mass, the priest welcomes the body at the entrance to the church. Family members place a white pall over the casket, representing the white garment in which the person was clothed at his or her baptism. The body is carried to the front of the church, where members of the family place a crucifix and a Bible on it, symbolizing the person’s Christian faith.

Changes in the funeral rites since Vatican II mean that we focus on the joy of resurrection rather than the sorrow of loss. The vestments are white, symbolizing joy, rather than their former black. The emphasis is on eternity, not on our present grief. The Liturgy of the Word comprises readings chosen by the family - they are selected for their consolation and hope of eternal life. The priest or deacon preaches on the readings - offering a homily, not a eulogy.

The Liturgy of the Eucharist follows, reminding us of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. We are offered the hope of eternal life - for our loved one and for ourselves. Members of the family may serve as extraordinary ministers of Communion, readers and altar servers. After Communion, a friend or family member may be invited to share a brief reflection on the life of the departed.

There is a final procession to the place of committal, the cemetery. At the graveside, the priest or deacon offers a final commendation and prayers of farewell are said. If there has not been a eulogy, one may be offered at this point.

Occasionally, the family may have chosen to cremate the body. The Catholic Church permits cremation and, since 1997, it has been permissible in the United States to have the cremated remains present for a funeral liturgy. Afterward, the remains should be treated with the same respect as a body would be - not kept in the home, but interred in a cemetery or entombed in a columbarium.

The Catholic celebration of a person’s life, coupled with the community’s consolation to that person’s loved ones, is one of the most profound ways the church acts as Christ in the world.

why do we do that?
silence: Our liturgies beautifully balance the elements of our lives - speaking and listening, offering and receiving, singing and silence. Silence has an important part in the Mass; we reflect deeply and silently during the penitential rite, before the opening prayer, before the first reading, after the first and second readings, after the homily and after all have received Communion. Moments of silence allow us time to ponder the states of our souls, the truth we have heard and to express gratitude. Silence is also appropriate prior to Mass in order to compose ourselves to prayer; after parishioners have greeted each other and shared conversational fellowship, there can be a few moments of silent prayer before Mass begins.

what's he wearing?
Dalmatic: The dalmatic was a calf-length tunic with wide sleeves - beltless - which first made an appearance in third-century Rome. It originated in Dalmatia and was a senatorial status symbol when it was first seen in Rome. In the 11th century, the church appropriated the dalmatic as a liturgical vestment and it is now worn by deacons when they are serving at Mass.

what's the season?
What is Christmas?
Christmas is the celebration of the Nativity of the Lord. Many people believe the early church fathers chose to co-opt the pagan celebrations surrounding the winter solstice and commemorate Jesus’ birth in December. Recent research suggests, however, that Dec. 25 is actually an accurate date. The Christmas season in the modern church lasts until the Sunday after Epiphany, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. The liturgical color for Christmas is white.

what's in the church?
Crche: The crche, or manger scene, was introduced by St. Francis as a way of explaining the birth of Jesus. It became a popular symbol of Christmas, found in homes as well as churches. Various traditions have arisen surrounding the crche - French manger scenes have tiny figures representing various occupations, for example. In many households, it is customary to set up the crche with an empty manger - the children in the house do good deeds during Advent and add a straw to Jesus’ bed for every one performed. On Christmas Eve, the statue of the baby is ceremoniously laid in his crib.