Interview with Cardinal Wuerl on his New Book, The Feasts: How the Church Year Forms Us as Catholics

The FeastsCardinal Wuerl answers questions about his new book authored with Mike Aquilina entitled, The Feasts: How the Church Year Forms Us as Catholics.

In The Feasts, Cardinal Wuerl and Aquilina explore the festivities in the calendar of Catholic holidays.  From Christmas to Easter, the Feast of the Guardian Angels to the Pentecost, the authors reintroduce readers to the true beauty and meaning of each centuries-old celebration. – See more at:
In The Feasts, Cardinal Wuerl and Aquilina explore the festivities in the calendar of Catholic holidays.  From Christmas to Easter, the Feast of the Guardian Angels to the Pentecost, the authors reintroduce readers to the true beauty and meaning of each centuries-old celebration. – See more at:

In The Feasts, Cardinal Wuerl and Aquilina explore the festivities in the calendar of Catholic holidays.  From Christmas to Easter, the Feast of the Guardian Angels to the Pentecost, the authors reintroduce readers to the true beauty and meaning of each centuries-old celebration. – See more at:
In The Feasts, Cardinal Wuerl and Aquilina explore the festivities in the calendar of Catholic holidays.  From Christmas to Easter, the Feast of the Guardian Angels to the Pentecost, the authors reintroduce readers to the true beauty and meaning of each centuries-old celebration. – See more at:

In The Feasts, Cardinal Wuerl and Aquilina explore the festivities in the calendar of Catholic holidays. From Christmas to Easter, the Feast of the Guardian Angels to the Pentecost, the authors reintroduce readers to the true beauty and meaning of each centuries-old celebration.


Q. How did you come up with the idea for a book about feasts?

The feasts have an outsized importance in Christianity. They teach doctrine. They form culture. They deliver the truths and mysteries of the life of Jesus Christ in a way that’s delightful and memorable. Think of Christmas and Easter. Every ethnic group marks those days with special customs, special foods, special songs. It’s a powerful experience for the senses; and it makes a deep impression on the mind. If you drive home from church and you’re still humming the hymns, then you’re probably also rehearsing the doctrine in your mind — without realizing it.

This book marks the third book in a series Mike and I have written for Image Books. The three books consider three Christian institutions that are supremely important for forming Christian community and individual Christians — the Mass, the parish church, and the feasts.



Q. Who should read this book? Did you have a specific audience in mind when you were writing it?

We wrote it for everyone, really. I think Catholic families will get more out of celebrating feast days after they’ve gained a deeper understanding of each day’s biblical roots, historical development, and particular symbols and customs. Clergy will find the book a treasury of good material for homilies. Non-Catholics will, I hope, find it an easy way to get to know the celebrations of their Catholic friends, neighbors, and family members.


Q. In The Feasts, you refer to the calendar as a catechism and teacher. In what ways can we learn from the feasts? 

The feasts are a great delivery system for doctrine. Every Sunday, Catholics recite the Creed, confirming that they accept certain basic propositions about Jesus: that he is true God, and that he is true man, that he took flesh to be the Savior of the world. It’s good that we recite the Creed; and it’s good that we commit the propositions to memory. But I think they become more truly part of us when we sing them in Christmas carols and when we kneel before the manger. In a similar way, our Lenten exercises, like the Stations of the Cross and meatless Fridays, work on us — mind, body, and soul — in a way that abstract lessons on the atonement never could. If we have been tending to these things faithfully since childhood, that’s all the better.

There’s more than one way to teach doctrine and more than one way to learn. Through much of history, many Christians could not read. They didn’t own catechisms or subscribe to religious magazines. Yet they too kept the faith and passed it on to their children. They learned it, to a great degree, as they celebrated the cycle of feasts in the common life of the Church.


Q. In the introduction, you write: “Catholics love to celebrate the feasts, but often passively. The time rolls around each year, and we show up because we have an obligation to do so. And participating brings us joy. But our joy could be far greater if we celebrated with understanding.” What can Catholics do to better understand the feasts of the Church and celebrate them with greater intention (other than read your book, of course!)?

The feasts are part of a greater enterprise called the calendar. The Church keeps time to its own ancient rhythm — or, more accurately, eternal rhythm. If you live the life all year round, you’ll have a better appreciation of the special times. If you’ve lived a good Lent and Easter, you’ll be better prepared for Christmas, next time it rolls around. There are many good guides that help Catholics “stay tuned” in between the major holidays. The magazines Magnificat and Word Among Us come to mind. They give ordinary Catholics a way to walk prayerfully at life’s pace, from feast to feast and season to season.



Q: You write, “The feasts are to time what churches are to space.” How did you come up with such an interesting analogy?

Prayer is important to the life of both authors. Mike and I have also done a lot of spiritual reading down the years. So, if you like an analogy, there’s a good chance we learned it from some long-ago — and unfortunately long-forgotten— master.

As for that particular analogy: it seemed self-evident to Mike and me. A Church is a holy place. A feast is a holy day, a holiday.


Q. What is your favorite Catholic feast day?

My favorite liturgical celebration is the Easter Vigil, with Easter Sunday and Christmas as very close seconds. It’s my privilege to celebrate all of them in Washington’s beautiful Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle.

Of the feasts, I particularly love the Annunciation on March 25 and the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul on June 29. The Immaculate Conception has a very special place in my heart for two reasons. It is the patronal feast of the United States — and I get to celebrate that Mass in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception here in D.C. And it is also the anniversary date of my Baptism (December 8, 1940).

A newcomer among the feasts, but very dear to my heart, is the Feast of Saint John Paul II, October 22. It was my privilege to know the saint, and so the prayers of the day affect me in a powerful and personal way. That Mass I can celebrate in the National Shrine of Saint John Paul II, also here in Washington, D.C.

My co-author, Mike Aquilina, shares my love for the Easter Vigil and for the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul. He has a particular devotion to all the saints of the early Church, and he keeps their feasts in a special way, as he also keeps the Memorial of the Guardian Angels. The beauty of the calendar is that we hold it in common, and yet it becomes something different and beautiful in every Christian life, assuming the contours of each personality and each person’s particular vocation and graces from God.

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How to “Choose” a Patron Saint

how to choose a patron saint

Are you looking for a Patron Saint or heavenly intercessor? We receive emails nearly every week asking how to go about choosing a Patron Saint.

Some people have the benefit of being named after a particular saint by their parents (their Baptismal name). But not everyone has a given name that is both Christian and shared with a heavenly protector.  Your “Name Saint” is a beginning, but also having other Patron Saints is a beautiful way to grow in the Faith.

The Saints are an incredible treasure of the Church; they are our heavenly family. They have walked where we walk, and they have lived the struggles of this world. They rejoice as they await our arrival in eternity, and they share in the desire to help us reach heaven.

Most Catholics have numerous “favorites” or go-to saints for a variety of life events and circumstances. Whether you are trying to pick a Confirmation saint or you are looking for other special intercessors in your life, having a relationship with members of your heavenly family is a good idea!

There is a saying in the Church that we do not choose our saints; they choose us. But as in all things, we allow the Holy Spirit to work more fully when we cooperate with God’s grace. To do this, we must keep an open mind and heart, and prayerfully listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

Open yourself to the promptings of the Holy Spirit by considering these things when “choosing” your Patron Saints:



God has given us all the gifts we need to serve Him in a very specific way in the world. This invitation to us is called our vocation, or our station in life. It is written on our hearts, and He waits for us to respond to Him there.

At this time in your life, what do you see as your vocation, and how would you like to live it in a way that better glorifies God?

If determining your vocation seems difficult, ask yourself, “Who am I today as a child of God, and how is He asking me to serve Him daily in the world?” Pray asking the Lord to reveal this to you. Then listen as the Holy Spirit prompts and inspires you.

Perhaps you are a mother, wanting to love more generously and unselfishly? A wife in a difficult marriage? You may be a father who has lost your job and is struggling to provide for your family. Are you recently widowed and asking God to show you His plan for your life? A single person praying for God to bring you a holy, Catholic spouse? Are you experiencing a call to the religious life? Consider the saints who are patrons of these beautiful vocations and others.

Examples: St. Joseph is the patron saint of fathers, St. Anne is the patron saint of mothers and homemakers, St. Agnes and St. Philomena are the patron saints of virgins, and so on.



The work we do in the world is a pathway to our sanctification. When it seems trying or tiresome, it is all the more fruitful if we offer it back to God in love. There is a patron saint for every occupation you can imagine. Some occupations claim more than one patron saint. From accountants to zoo-keepers, there is an intercessor for us all.

For example, St. Francis de Sales is the patron saint of journalists and writers, St. Matthew is the patron saint of accountants, St. Michael is the patron saint for police officers, and so on.



Saints are the patrons for particular causes including almost anything you can imagine from sports, to hobbies, to areas of interest in the world around us. An attribute of their death may even be the factor that determines their patronage. The saints led varied and beautiful lives as they responded to the invitation of Our Lord. We can invoke their help and feel close to them because of shared personal characteristics, hobbies and interests.

For example, St. Francis of Assisi is the patron saint of nature and animals, St. Cecelia is the patron saint for music, and so on.



Are you struggling with an illness? Waiting to hear the results of a job interview? Looking for your lost wedding ring? Expecting a baby? Preparing for travel? Yes, there is a saint who is waiting to intercede for you in whatever you are experiencing today. Sometimes the life stories of the saints include incidents that result in their patronage. When we can identify with these details and shared situations, we feel a kinship or closeness to a particular saint.

For example, St. Monica is the patron saint of difficult marriages and wayward children, St. Christopher for travel, St. Joseph of Cupertino for tests and studies, St. Gerard for expectant mothers, and so on.



Above all, pray asking the Holy Spirit to guide you as you begin considering your Patron Saints. You may be surprised and amazed at the ways in which you will find each other. Remain open, aware and waiting, so that you will recognize the promptings.

Once you establish relationships with special saints, your spiritual life will take on a depth and richness you have not experienced before. The Communion of Saints is a treasure trove of the Church. Open it, and you will be under the protection of the heavenly court. Your family in heaven awaits you!

You can find a list of many popular saints including a selection of medals, prayer cards, and other items associated with each on our Patron Saint Index here.

Continue reading 6 Ways to Deepen Your Relationship with Your Patron Saint.

How to Choose A Patron Saint2
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UPDATED: 9 New Catholic Gifts with the Nun (ن) Symbol


In the writings of the early Church Fathers we find that the first Christians, before they received the name “Christians,” were commonly called “Nazarenes” by their Jewish neighbors because they were followers of Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 24:5).


The Arabic letter Nun (ن) is the first letter of the word Nasara (Nazarenes), a derogatory term that Muslims have still used for centuries to refer to Christians.

The letter ‘Nun’ (pronounced noon) has been used in Iraq by Islamic militants to identify and target Christians, along with their homes and businesses, in an effort to eliminate the most ancient Christian communities from their region. The tactic is reminiscent of how the Star of David was used by the Nazis against the Jews.


As a result of this violence, a wave of solidarity has risen. The Nun symbol, while used by Islamists to instill terror, is being spread across social media and used around the world as a symbol of solidarity with these persecuted Christians.


In the town of Mosul, where Chaldean Catholics have been living peacefully for two millennia, Christians were given the ultimatum to convert or die. Many have fled for their lives, and over 100,000 are still stranded, homeless, and in need of our material support in addition to our prayers. We should stand united in Faith with their grave plight in the face of the monstrous brutality that continues to be perpetrated against them.



Here at The Catholic Company we want to join this effort of solidarity. We’ve developed 9 items with the Nun (ن) symbol that our customers can purchase for themselves or as gifts to help raise awareness about the persecuted Church in the Middle East. Click on the image below or view them here.

Ten percent of the proceeds will go to Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy Father, which serves the displaced Iraqi Christians and other persecuted Christians around the world.

Please join us in supporting this organization. #WeAreN














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6 Ways to Deepen Your Relationship with Your Patron Saint



Cultivating a deeper relationship with your patron saint(s) is one way to grow in your faith and in communion with the Church of the past and the present. These intimate friendships help connect us to heaven, even as we struggle down here below. It is a great consolation to know that we have the heavenly court urging us on and interceding for us before the throne of God. Here are 6 ways to deepen your relationships with your special Patron Saints:




1. Pray daily asking the intercession of your saint(s). Find special prayers to them, or written by them, and keep prayer cards, statues, medals, or other kinds of images of them with you. These serve as a reminder of their virtues, holiness and special gifts.

Your patron saint desires to pray you into heaven. As you proceed through your day, ask for their intercession that you will imitate the qualities you admire in them, that you will desire to possess the virtues they exemplify, and that you will endure the details and trials of your life with love and patience as they did.

Just as we ask our friends in the world for their prayers, in the same way we ask our brothers and sisters in eternity. Because they are before the throne of God, their prayers are even more powerful. Talk to them as you would a friend sitting right beside you. They are truly present if we call to them.

St. Paul the Apostle

St. Paul the Apostle

2. Read about your special saints. Read good books written about or by your favorite saints. We grow in our relationship with someone when we spend time together; this is true for your relationship with your special saints too. Ask your saint to help you learn about their life through these written accounts.

As you learn more about your saints, you will grow in your appreciation for their virtues, struggles and character. You will enter into a more intimate relationship with them as you see how they grew in holiness. Then you will feel more inspired to pray, asking for their intercession through the day-to-day events of your own life.


3. Celebrate the feast days of your patron saints. Nine days prior to their feasts, begin a novena to your favorite saint(s). Most of these prayers can be found online. If not, you can compose your own and include elements you’ve read about their life.

Fasting precedes feasting. It is a traditional practice to fast on the day prior to a saint day, and to feast on the day of.  So on the day before your saint’s feast day, consider fasting (from food or from other things) to keep a holy vigil in anticipation of the day.  Even making small gestures of sacrifice to help keep the day holy will bring graces and deepen your relationship and communion with your saint. Offer these up in thanksgiving for the graces the saint has helped obtain for you – past, present and future.

Consider going to Mass on your saint’s feast day as well and offer your Mass in thanksgiving for their intercession. Celebrate that evening with your family by serving a special meal or dessert and telling the story of the saint you are celebrating. Honor them and give thanks for the consolations they provide you.


4. Visit the shrines of your favorite patron saints. There are many in the USA that most people do not even know exist. You can often venerate the relics of your saints at their shrines. Do a little research and find what special saint of yours may have a shrine near enough to visit. You can even make this a yearly pilgrimage.

By visiting their shrines you bring your intentions to your saints in an even more intimate way. Ask others if you can take their special prayer intentions with you on your pilgrimage and present them to your patron saint asking for intercession.


5. Schedule a retreat during the feast day of your patron saint and ask that saint to help you grow spiritually and receive the graces God wants to give you.  You may ask off of work or plan a vacation around a special holiday, so why not do so around the feast day of your favorite heavenly intercessor?

Ask your patron saint to intercede for you and help you make a good retreat. Bring books or materials written by or about your saint if that is possible. A silent retreat where you spend time with God alone, and also with your patron saint, can be a rich and fruitful experience.


6. Make your saints known and cause them to be invoked. Tell others your stories of intercession and ask to hear theirs. Share special prayers and novenas to your saints. Suggest your saints to others in their times of need, especially if your saint is the patron of their specific cause, and keep on hand holy cards or prayers that you can give away when the Holy Spirit creates that opening.



By following these suggestions you can allow the Holy Spirit to work to promote the power of your saints before the throne of God. The Communion of Saints binds together the blessed of Heaven, the Holy Souls in Purgatory, and the Faithful on earth.

We share in the graces won by the saints, and they share in the Lord’s desire for us to reach Heaven. They are one of the greatest treasures of our Church, and they are our inheritance.

The saints are a beacon in a darkening world, lighting the way for us all. Enrich your faith by deepening your friendship with your patron saints. They have so much to teach us.

How do you go about choosing a patron saint? Continue reading our advice on How to Choose a Patron Saint.



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What Do You Love Most About Being Catholic? Our Facebook Fans Respond

10612926_10152482624033387_9014642839277578895_nLast week we shared a post on our Facebook page asking our fans what they love most about being Catholic. We received over 2,000 uplifting comments!

To put a spring in your Catholic step today and to find out what your brothers and sisters in Christ appreciate about your shared faith, take a moment to read through a handful of them below.








Click the image:

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Prayer is Stronger than the Atom Bomb


“Prayer is more powerful than the atom bomb.”
— Fr. Hubert Schiffer, Hiroshima survivor

August 2014 marks the 69th anniversary of the atom bomb dropping on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, initiating the end of World War II. You may have heard the miraculous story of Fr. Hubert Schiffer and three of his fellow Jesuit missionary priests who survived the atomic blast by faithfully praying the rosary. The bomb exploded just 8 blocks from the Jesuit Church of Our Lady’s Assumption in Hiroshima.

“Suddenly, a terrific explosion filled the air with one bursting thunder stroke. An invisible force lifted me from the chair, hurled me through the air, shook me, battered me, whirled me ’round and ’round like a leaf in a gust of autumn wind.”

The four priests lived in a rectory within the radius of complete atomic destruction. After the shock of the blast they looked around and saw NOTHING; for miles in every direction, thousands of people were dead and every building was destroyed … Except for the four priests and their rectory. Although wounded, they survived, and afterwards suffered no radiation sickness.


“It took only a second: a flash—fearfully frightening—and Hiroshima, home of half a million people, was wiped off the earth. What was left was only darkness, blood, burns, moans, fire and spreading terror.”

Asked why they believe they were spared, when so many others died either from the explosion or from the subsequent radiation, Father Schiffer spoke for himself and his companions:

“We believe that we survived because we were living the message of Fatima. We lived and prayed the rosary daily in that home.”

With all the fighting and tension that is happening all over the world today, Are we living the message of Fatima? Are we praying for peace? Can we make a difference by praying the Rosary every day? Can we save lives through this powerful devotion?


The answer to all these questions should be, YES! At Hiroshima we can see Mary’s protective hand at work. And she continues to beg us to pray for her intercession.

Not only are we called to pray, but also to spread this beautiful and saving devotion to those around us. Hand someone a rosary and ask them to join you in prayer for Mary’s protection during these dark and evil times.

Link to PDF of "The Rosary of Hiroshima by survivor Fr. Hubert Schiffer

Link to a PDF download of “The Rosary of Hiroshima” by bomb survivor Fr. Hubert Schiffer

“What we need today is a Crusade of Prayer, the spirit of prayer everywhere, a renewal of our deepest trust and confidence in God’s providence. Our Blessed Mother promised that when we heeded her plea for prayer and Christian action, the world would have peace.

We may feel that our humble efforts cannot have such a tremendous effect upon the world, but let us think for a moment about the power of a river, sweeping everything before it. That river is made up of tiny drops of water, and because numberless tiny drops of rain have fallen into it, the river has become a force that carries heavy ships and changes deserts into fruitful farms and gardens.

So, too, will the Perpetual Rosary Crusade—the recitation of the rosary for peace by countless persons all over the world become an immense and irresistible spiritual force for peace. In this universe there is nothing else that forms a common ground for the peoples of the world except the love of God, charity, and the spirit of prayer. Our Blessed Mother’s rosary is a bond which unites the heart strings of the world.”

“This is the Message of Hiroshima: Prayer in every heart, prayer on every lip, prayer moving the work of every hand throughout the world. It is this spirit of prayer that will bring us peace in this world. Will this come true?—The answer is up to you.”    — Fr. Robert Schiffer, 1953



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Preparing for a Catholic Marriage: 6 Tips from a Soon-to-Be Bride



It’s easy to go off the deep end with wedding planning.

A few months after my February engagement, I patted myself on the back, a little proud that I had not succumbed to what I consider an over-the-top wedding culture. I just couldn’t understand how couples let the glossy, sales-pitchy bridal magazines suck them into thinking that their wedding day is all about stuff.

My back pat came too soon.

One night, after meeting with some very sweet vendors, I found myself in tears over my iPhone calculator, trying to figure out how to nearly double my wedding budget. Exclusively for reception décor. I could eat rice and beans for six months…

At dinner that night, I unloaded my anxiety on my fiancé and both my parents. We have a major problem, because we certainly can’t get married without multiple heated tents, and apparently we need a dance floor large enough to land a helicopter, and rental lighting is worth more than my car, and THE GUESTS ARE GOING TO STARVE!

Simultaneously, my dad and fiancé laughed, pulling me out of crisis mode. “We’re not trying to host a three ring circus.” (…so only two tents then?) Just like that, it hit me that I had slipped down the materialistic slippery slope.

Thank God for reality checks. I ended the night laughing, too.

It would be a great wedding. Not only because a beautiful wedding actually can be affordable, but mainly because it is a holy sacrament, because all our loved ones would be there with us, and because at the end of the day, the two of us would be a new family.

Too often, the reception is all we think of when we think ‘wedding.’

While attending a good friend’s wedding recently, it struck me that, while their reception was fabulous, the ceremony itself was stand-out lovely. It was a pleasant reminder of what mattered most.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no issue with elaborate wedding receptions. In fact, I think they highlight just how special weddings are. But it’s a shame when the reception details become more important than the sacrament of marriage itself.

So how do you keep the right perspective in preparing for your Catholic wedding? Our engagement has been full of joy and, aside from a few of my own little melt-downs like the one above, pretty low on stress. Although I can’t claim the benefit of hindsight yet, here are some things that have helped us so far:


1. Pray together.

Spiritual preparation is important for starting out your marriage on the right foot. It’s nothing totally new; we’ve always prayed together. But prayer gets deeper when you are praying with and for the person you are going to become one with. We’ve noticed how much closer we have become since our engagement began – it’s tangible. Plus, your joint prayer life now will set the tone for your spiritual life in marriage.

2. Don’t forget your future spouse.

This seems obvious. However, as funny as it sounds, it can be easy to lose sight of each other in the midst of wedding planning. Remember that your engagement period isn’t just to give you enough time to book vendors and order a dress. It’s meant to prepare you for the sacrament of marriage and for life together. It’s a unique and lovely stage in your relationship. Don’t rush through it or wish that it was over already. Continue to find ways to show your love, and take time to appreciate the other.

3. Talk it ALL out.

Although you probably have a very good idea of where your significant other stands on most matters, don’t leave anything unsaid or unasked before the wedding. It is much easier (emotionally and practically) if you understand each other’s specific expectations for marriage before the wedding.

Our diocese’s Engaged Encounter and the meetings we’ve had with our celebrant have brought up topics that we had of course discussed before, just not always in such detail. Talking at length about everything from family history to our own future family expectations turned out to be really enjoyable.

Answering basic questions about ourselves felt sort of fun and novel, like a first date conversation. And hearing each other’s answers to harder questions gave us a very detailed idea of what the other hopes for in our marriage.  It made us more aware of each other’s needs and more appreciative of each other’s strengths. Despite having dated for years and knowing almost everything about each other, we still learned things.

4. Enjoy the planning.

While a wedding involves a solemn vow, it should also involve plenty of lighthearted moments and fun. If possible, avoid burnout by spreading the planning over the course of months. Then you’ll have time to mull over ideas and to decide what is important to each of you. Feel free to laugh at the differences in each other’s taste, but do concede to the other when you can tell that he or she would really like something a certain way…be mutually flexible and gracious.

5. Put special thought into the ceremony.

Be deliberate in choosing the readings, hymns and other aspects of the wedding ceremony. Again, the sacrament is what matters most on your wedding day. What I did not realize until recently is that it is the bride and groom, not the priest, who are the ministers of the sacrament of marriage. You are not just participants, but the actual ministers of the sacrament. How incredible! It makes sense to put thought and effort into showing how special the ceremony is to you.

6. Pray, hope and don’t worry.

Offer up any glitch in your plans, and let it go. If you run out of time to craft those 197 handmade favors, don’t sweat it. Your guests will still love you, and frankly, probably won’t even notice. And if the organist doesn’t show up? That kind of glitch is a little harder to swallow. But a good marriage takes an enormous amount of trust in God, so the wedding prep period is the perfect time to practice.

Someone told me recently that seeing couples full of life and dedicated to having holy marriages gives them a lot of hope. Maintaining a spirit of joy throughout your engagement and into your marriage is a gift not only to your future spouse, but also to your families and those around you.

Just remember that you’ll need God’s grace to do it!

Holy Matrimony

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A Quick Guide to the Symbols of Irish – Celtic Jewelry


A Guide to the Symbols of

Irish – Celtic Jewelry

and their Christian Meaning

Ireland is home to some of the most intricate and interesting art known in human history.  Attributed to the ancient Celtic people, it is mysterious and rich in meaning with sign, symbol, and metaphor.

Due to Ireland’s embrace of Christianity and Catholicism centuries ago, it is not surprising that many of these symbols were given new and deeper religious significance, used by the missionary saints as handy catechesis tools to illustrate Christian doctrine for the pagan inhabitants of the island.

In modern times, much of this interesting symbolism is commonly found in Irish jewelry. Just as Christianity gave new meaning to these ancient and formerly pagan symbols, many of these still represent elements of Christian faith to those who wear them. As a result, today Irish jewelry is internationally popular and is worn by more than just people of Irish or Celtic decent.

So, just what are these various symbols of Celtic jewelery, and what do they mean?

Here is a quick guide to the meaning behind some of the most popular Irish/Celtic symbols commonly used in jewelry that evokes the essence of Ireland: the Trinity knot, the Celtic knot, the Celtic spiral, St. Brigid’s Cross, the Celtic cross, the Tree of Life, and the Claddagh.

Find the Irish jewelry featured in this post and more here.

Trinity Knot

The Trinity Knot (also known as the triquetra) is an ancient Celtic symbol comprised of one interconnected line with three distinct ends. Once having pagan meaning, the symbol was adopted by Christians as a good illustration of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.

The symbol received its common name, the Trinity Knot, and came to demonstrate the three-ness in one-ness of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Sometimes the Trinity Knot is also circumscribed by a circle symbolizing eternity. This symbol often was used as an architectural adornment in ancient monasteries and is today commonly found in necklaces, rings, bracelets, and other Catholic jewelry pieces.3003409

Celtic Knot

The Trinity Knot is one of the many varieties of Celtic knotwork -  stylized and woven lines and knots used extensively for artistic decoration.  These lines and knots symbolized the interconnectedness of all life and is often found with depictions of animals, plants, or humans.  Celtic knots were adapted by Christians and used in monuments, such as stone high crosses, and the beautiful ornamentation of illuminated manuscripts (Sacred Scripture) painted by the Irish monks.  Taken from its pagan earth-centric meaning, they served a new purpose in the illustration of the eternal, Christian God as the author of all creation.3013497

Celtic Spiral

Similar to the Celtic knot, the Celtic spiral stands for continuous growth and unity and oneness of spirit.  The gaps between the spirals stand for the gaps between life, death and rebirth.  More specifically, the symbol also stands for eternal life.  The roots of this symbol are ancient. The spiral may be formed from single, double, triple or quadruple swirls. When Christianity came to the land, the spiral was adopted by the island’s Christian monks as a decorative motif in their distinctive Celtic-inspired illuminated manuscripts and also symbolized eternal life or the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. 3013860

St. Brigid’s Cross

St. Brigid is the patroness of Ireland and as such her cross is a symbol of Irish Christian heritage.  It comprises a woven square in the center and four radials tied at the ends. The legend behind this popular cross is that St. Brigid was making the shape of a cross from a bunch of rushes. Her chieftain father, who in some accounts lay dying, saw her making the cross and was miraculously converted to the Christian faith.  The St. Brigid Cross has remained special for Irish Christians through the centuries, especially around the saint’s feast day when it is displayed in her honor.


Celtic Cross

In Ireland it is a popular legend that the Christian Cross was introduced by Saint Patrick.  The distinctive Celtic Cross is unusually mounted on a circle, a symbol of the sun and the circle of life, and often featuring Celtic knotwork or other symbolism.  It has often been claimed that Saint Patrick combined this symbol of Christianity with a circle to give the pagans an idea of the importance of the Cross of Christ by linking it with the idea of the life-giving properties of the sun.  Other interpretations claim that placing the cross on top of the circle represents Christ’s supremacy over the pagan sun, symbolizing the God-man’s death and resurrection, therefore His power over creation. These Celtic symbols received new meaning when Christianity spread through the island. The Celtic Cross is now the main symbol of Irish Christianity.


 Tree of Life

The Tree of Life is another common Celtic motif used in ancient Ireland that illustrates the interconnectedness of all forms of creation.  The tree was a source of basic sustenance, it provided food, shelter, and fuel.  Because of this it was also believed that trees had other spiritual mystical properties. However the tree is also an important symbol of Christianity. The Tree of Life is a Christian symbol representing eternal life through Christ.  In the biblical story of creation, God planted the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden, from which humans were banned after the Fall.  The Book of Revelation recounts how the sacrifice of Christ, made on the wood of a tree, restored access to the Tree of Life.



One of the most well-known legends of Irish Christianity is how St. Patrick used the shamrock during his missionary work to illustrate the Three-Divine-Persons-yet-One-God doctrine of the Holy Trinity. While other symbols already existed and were “baptized” by the saints and given new meaning that pointed to the Christian God, the shamrock became famous because of Saint Patrick.


Claddagh Ring

The Claddagh is one of the most popular ring designs today.  Although not an ancient design, it is still old enough to be an Irish tradition, dating to the 17th century. The Claddagh is a traditional Irish symbol of two hands clasping a heart, with the heart wearing a crown. Together the hands, heart, and crown represent love, friendship, and loyalty.  You can find the claddagh symbol on all kinds of jewelry and many other gift items, but it has become an especially popular ring design to be exchanged between friends, the affianced, and spouses.


Irish jewelry is not only beautiful but also rich in meaning.  It is a wonderful way to illustrate how man, unaided by Divine Revelation, picks up on, or can sense and know only dimly, the eternal and mysterious aspects of life and creation. So that when Divine Revelation is taught, such as by the Irish missionary saints, what is incomplete and imperfect is given new, deeper, and more perfect meaning.  For Christians, Irish symbolism illustrates the Light of Christ and the truth of Christianity.

A Quick Guide to the Symbols of Irish – Celtic Jewelry

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8 Ways to use Holy Water


“From long experience I have learned that there is nothing like holy water to put devils to flight and prevent them from coming back again. They also flee from the Cross, but return; so holy water must have great virtue. For my own part, whenever I take it, my soul feels a particular and most notable consolation.”

– St. Teresa of Avila


When we read this quote from St. Teresa of Avila, we should be reminded of the importance of holy water. As a recalling of our baptism and our baptismal promises, Catholics dip their fingers in the holy water and make the Sign of the Cross when entering the church.

Our baptismal promises included renouncing Satan and disdaining sin. However, we probably rarely bring this to mind and take holy water for granted most of the time.  Because we use it so regularly, it’s any easy thing to do.

We must remember that this water is blessed by God in virtue of Christ’s baptism.  The  Catholic  Church  possesses  enormous  power  of  imparting sacramental grace, and holy water as a sacramental receives its power through the prayer and authority of the Church.

The rite of blessing said over water by the priest to make it holy contains prayers of exorcism.  It can banish demons, heal the sick, and send unwarranted grace upon us, and yet most of the time we cross ourselves with this water without even thinking about how holy it really is.

Read the priest’s profound prayers of blessing over holy water here and find a downloadable PDF here.

The fact of the matter is that holy water is a powerful sacramental and we ought to use it daily.  To prevent us from using it without thinking, we should consciously find ways to use it more.  Holy water can be used to bless people, places, and things that are used by humans in their goal of glorifying God with their lives.

Here is a list of eight ways to use holy water in your everyday life:



1. Bless yourself –  This suggestion is obvious, but if we are only blessing ourselves with holy water on Sunday, then aren’t we missing out on the rest of the week?  You can never have too much grace or blessing in your life.  Use holy water daily.  Keeping a holy water font in the home is a great idea so that you, your family, and guests can be blessed in the comings and goings from your home.  Keep the font right by the front door to ensure you never leave home without it.

2. Bless your house –  If you haven’t taken the time to bless your house with holy water, then no time is better than the present.  Your home is the domestic Church and is in need of spiritual protection.  You can sprinkle holy water in your home yourself, or have a priest formally bless your home using holy water as part of the blessing ceremony.

3. Bless your family – Use holy water to pray and make the Sign of the Cross over your spouse and children before they go to sleep at night. Bonding the family to each other and to God in this way is a great family tradition to adopt. Keep a holy water bottle by the bedside for this purpose.

4. Bless your work space – If you work outside of the home, sprinkling your work space with holy water is a great idea, not only for spiritual protection on the work front, but also as to sanctify your daily work for the glory of God.

5. Bless your car – The car is probably the most dangerous place where you spend a significant amount of time daily. Never underestimate the power of holy water applied to your vehicle to keep you safe from harm’s way, when used in faith and trust in God.

6. Bless your vegetable garden – It was a common practice in the Middle Ages for people to sprinkle their vegetable gardens with holy water.  In times when people were very dependent on crops for their livelihood, lack of rain or early frosts could be devastating. Using holy water to bless and sanctify the plants that would be used for the family’s sustenance showed their reliance on God’s grace.

7. Bless the sick –  If you know of any sick friends or family, then blessing them with holy water probably counts as a corporeal and a spiritual work of mercy.  If you visit the sick in a hospital or nursing home, bless their living space with holy water as well and leave a holy water bottle with them as a comfort in their time of need.

8. Bless your pets – Many parishes on the feast of St. Francis of Assisi have a rite of blessing for pets. Pets are loved companions for individuals and families and often provide a great service to them, and even these can be blessed with holy water because all creation has the end of giving glory to God. This also applies to livestock and farm animals that provide labor, livelihood, and nourishment to humans.


Find our selection of holy water bottles and holy water fonts here.


Here is a simple prayer to say when using holy water:

“By this holy water and by Your Precious Blood, wash away all my sins, O Lord. Amen.”

There is no specific prayer to pray when using holy water, other than the Sign of the Cross, “In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” You can also pray an Our Father or even the St. Michael the Archangel prayer when using holy water. Keep in mind that the holy water has already been blessed by the prayers of the priest.


How do you use holy water?

Holy water is one of those beautiful gifts (and weapons) from God to keep us sanctified and holy in our daily lives, and to keep the things we regularly use sanctified and holy. Hopefully if we stop and think of what a generous gift holy water is for us, we will use it more frequently, thoughtfully, and gratefully! Some parents even use holy water to bless things their children regularly use, such as bicycles and school books.  If you have other creative and faithful ways you use holy water to sanctify your everyday life, please comment below.





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A Tourist’s View of St. Mary Major Roman Basilica

August 5th is the feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome (Santa Maria Maggiore), also known as Our Lady of the Snows.  It is one of four major (papal) basilicas, and Rome’s largest and most important church dedicated to Saint Mary.

It is already a major tourist destination, but now even more so as Pope Francis has on quite a few occasions prayed there before an icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the most important and precious image of Mary for the people or Rome, just as he did following his election and before his trip to the Holy Land.

This icon of Mary is said to have been painted by St. Luke himself.

Pope Francis St Mary Major

This church also carries another precious treasure—a relic of the crib or manger of the Nativity of the Baby Jesus. Tradition holds that the wood on which the Son of God slept was brought to the church in the 7th century.

Since I visited Rome earlier this summer and got a few snapshots and video with my smart phone, I thought I’d share!


 Saint Mary Major


St. Mary Major is one of the first churches built in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was was built in the 5th century following the Council of Ephesus which dogmatically proclaimed Mary the Mother of God.  This project was a restoration of a previous church built on the site, Rome’s Esquiline Hill.

The first church here was founded in the 350′s by Pope Liberius and financed by a Roman patrician and his wife. Legend has it they were a childless couple that decided to leave their fortune to the Blessed Virgin. Our Lady appeared to them in a dream and told them to build a church in her honor on this hill.

Legend has it that the plan of the church was outlined by a miraculous snowfall in the scorching summer heat of August  (possibly in the year 358 A.D.). The legend is commemorated every year on August 5th, the feast day of the dedication of the basilica, when white rose petals are dropped from the dome of the church during the Mass.

Pope Sixtus III had the church restored/rebuilt to commemorate the declaration of St Mary’s Divine Motherhood by the Council of Ephesus in 431.


Here is how the ancient church looks from the outside [this photo Wikimedia commons]

Santa Maria Maggiore


The view when you walk in.



The main altar up close. You can see the apse in the background and the main altar in the foreground. Underneath is the relic of Jesus’ crib behind a lower altar.


Close up view underneath the main altar where the relic of the Christ’s crib is located.


Here is video to give you a sense of the space:


To the left of the main altar you can see the side chapel where Pope Francis often prays, as shown in the first photo above.


To the right of the high altar is the domed Blessed Sacrament Chapel. The tabernacle dates from 1599. It is enormous and held aloft by four bronze angels.


Here is video of the beautiful Tabernacle:


St. Mary Major is one of the most important churches of the Catholic Church and a jewel of our faith heritage. To see more, the Vatican has a great virtual tour which you can see here.

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