word on the goSigns and seasons

Catholics have always recognised how words, actions and symbols all speak powerfully to the soul. By fully embracing the Church’s signs and seasons, we can easily bring the message of Scripture to life in our daily lives.

The Catholic faith is rich in both visual and verbal symbolism. The words and actions of our rituals point beyond this world to the life of God and bring his power into our lives.

As St Paul tells us, ‘ordinary things can be made holy by the Word of God and prayer.’ (1 Timothy 4:4-5)

St Paul

The Church’s form of worship – the ‘liturgy’ - has always been the most important aspect of this. The seven sacred rituals (sacraments) described in Scripture form the backbone of our Catholic life:

The most significant of these is the Eucharist, the sharing in the body and blood of Jesus, which takes place during Mass. The Mass has two parts that form a whole – the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The Liturgy of the Word is the part where the Bible is read, prayed, explained and digested. It helps us prepare to receive the Eucharist. The cycle of readings enables us, over a three-year period, to reflect on a significant amount of Scripture.

However, it’s important to remember that we can’t rely on the Sunday Mass readings alone. Sitting in the pew each Sunday, every three years we hear around half the gospels, a quarter of the letters of the New Testament, but only a small fraction of the Old Testament (mostly because it’s much bigger!). This is why we need to engage with the Bible as we go about our busy lives.

One creative way to do this is by remembering the reason for the season. Through a series of festivals and fasts, the biblical story of Christ’s life unfolds gradually during the liturgical year. It begins with Advent, the time of preparation for Jesus’ coming. It has its first climax in the Christmas season, with the celebration of the birth of Jesus.

Lent - which is based on the forty days Jesus fasted in the wilderness – is another time of preparation. It leads to Easter, the celebration of Jesus’ death and resurrection, which is the Church’s most important festival. The Easter season ends with the feast of Pentecost – the descent of the Holy Spirit on the first Christians and their call to share the Good News.

Throughout the year, there are many other feast days based on events and people in the Bible. This includes, for example, the Baptism of Our Lord, Corpus Christi (the introduction of the Eucharist), as well as many celebrations of Mary and the saints. As the seasons change, delving deeper into the relevant biblical stories can help you to deepen your knowledge and appreciation of Scripture.

Another significant way that the Church brings the message of Scripture to life is through sacred signs known as the ‘sacramentals’. These are different from the sacraments. They are rituals, blessed objects and symbols that bring God’s blessings into our lives in other ways.

Examples include the washing of feet on Maundy Thursday to re-enact what Jesus did at the Last Supper (John 13:1-15), being marked with an ash cross on Ash Wednesday as a symbol of repentance (Job 42:6), or using a baptismal candle to represent bringing light to the world (Matthew 5:14). All these signs and symbols can draw us closer to God.

Case StudyClaire makes a Jesse Tree for Advent

As they prepared for Christmas, we invited Claire and her family to decorate a Jesse Tree – a kind of biblical Advent calendar – in their home.

Claire says: ‘The idea appealed to me because I have young children. They were able to be really hands-on by colouring in pictures for each of the Bible quotes, so they really felt it was their own tree.’ The family used a Children’s Bible to look up the biblical passages for each story.

So what did they make of it? ‘The Jesse Tree is actually a really nice way of getting to know more about Scripture,’ Claire said. ‘It started us off, helping us get more familiar with the Bible in a fun way that we can now carry on.’

 

Here are some other ideas for discovering the Bible through the richness of the Church’s signs and seasons:

Start with a prayer

God of all seasons,
your signs and symbols
enrich my faith.
Help me to follow your Word more deeply
throughout the Church’s year.
Amen.

The Lectionary represents the selection of biblical passages and Psalms that are read or sung during Mass. There are a range of Lectionary resources available - such as Word Sunday, Bible Alive or the Sunday Bulletin by the Redemptorists that can help you reflect deeper on the Mass readings as you go about your week.

Did you know that apart from the readings, many of the elements of the Mass itself are lifted straight from Scripture? Find out more about the sacrifice of the priest Melchizedek (Genesis 14:17-20; Hebrews 5:1-10), who it was who referred to Christ as the ‘Lamb of God’ (John 1:29,35) or the origins of the ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’ acclamation (Matthew 21:1-10; Revelation 4).

The Church’s cycle of feasts and fasts are handy ways-in to the stories of the Bible. You could join in the celebrations by making a Jesse Tree for Advent like Claire did, by reading a biblical meditation during Eastertide, or even by creating a ‘Jesus in the clouds’ mobile for Ascension Day! The crafting website Catholic Icing has some really fun ideas for the whole year.

The message of Scripture will bring added meaning to the celebration of the sacraments. If you’re attending a baptism, why not take the opportunity to meditate on the baptism of Jesus? (Luke 3: 21-22) If you are engaged, you might look at what the Scriptures have to say about marriage. (1 Corinthians 12-13) Alternatively, you might read passages from the Scriptures to a loved one who is sick or dying. (Psalm 6: 2-3; Psalm 62; Psalm 138; Isaiah 38: 10-20)

We can get to know God better by reflecting on the way he changed the lives of biblical characters. For Catholics, Mary, the mother of Jesus, has traditionally been somebody who helps us see God’s grace in a very obvious way. Why not choose the next feast day which commemorates Mary to do some biblical meditation on God’s grace? Or listen to a re-telling of the Magnificat.

Visit the National Gallery (Sainsbury Wing) in person or online to see many different paintings of Mary’s life and devotion.

Deuteronomy 11:18-20 advises us to display the message of Scripture in our houses. Biblically renovate your home using crucifixes, framed Bible verses, images of the Sacred Heart and Our Lady or perhaps a Noah’s Ark theme for a child’s bedroom. A house blessing, which features a gospel reading, is another great way of bringing God’s peace into your home (Luke 10:5-6).

Get to Mass if you can, then later, sit back at home with a slice of cake or glass of wine and read up on the saint of the day.

  1. SS Timothy and Titus (26 January)
  2. St Brigid of Ireland (1 February)
  3. St Joseph (19 March)
  4. St Mark the Evangelist (25 April)
  5. St Joan of Arc (30 May)
  6. St Barnabas (11 June)
  7. St Mary Magdalene (22 July)
  8. St John the Baptist (29 August)
  9. SS Michael, Gabriel and Raphael (29 September)
  10. St Luke (18 October)
  11. St Cecilia (22 November)
  12. St Stephen (26 December).

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