Refresh your knowledge of the Catholic Faith and Catechism

(20) The Origin of Christmas: Was Christ born on December 25?

The earliest mention of the birth of Christ being celebrated goes back to 336AD. The true birth date of Christ cannot be known with certainty. By the end of 2nd century, different groups of Christians had different dates: January 6, April 19 or 20, May 20, November 18 and March 28. So, how come we now celebrate Christmas on December 25? There are at least two theories as to why we celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25. The most plausible one is this: The Romans, following the Julian calendar, regarded the winter solstice, as falling on December 25. On that day they celebrated the birthday of sun-god – “Sol Invictus” (the invincible sun). The Fathers of the Church, compared Christ with the sun (cf. Mal 3:20 – sun of justice). Hence the early Christians, as a way of rejecting the pagan religion and emphasizing that Christ was the true sun, began to celebrate Christ’s birth on December 25. It is well known that Charlemagne was crowned emperor of the western Christian empire on Christmas Day, December 25, in 800AD. So there is a long history of Christmas being celebrated on December 25.

For more information see this article in the Catholic Encyclopaedia.

(19) The Miraculous Medal – what’s it all about?

According to the Vatican’s Directory onPopular Piety and the Liturgy”, this medal is the most widely used medal.  It all started with a vision to St. Catherine Labouré on November 27, 1830. She saw Our Lady standing on a globe, crushing a     serpent beneath her foot (Gen 3:15). Rays of light streamed from her outstretched hands (symbolizing graces) and the words “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee” were written on an oval frame. The frame then reversed and revealed an “M” with a cross on top. Beneath the “M” were the hearts of Jesus (crowned with thorns) and of Mary (pierced by a sword (Lk 2:35). Twelve stars surrounded these figures (Apoc 12:1).  A voice told Catherine to have a medal struck according to this model and graces were assured to those who wore it around their necks. On June 30, 1832 the Archbishop of Paris gave permission to have this medal struck and since then innumerable conversions and physical cures were attributed to it that led to name the medal “miraculous”. Papal approval came following the instantaneous conversion of Alphonse Ratisbonne, a Jew who had been hostile to Catholicism, to whom Our Lady of the Medal appeared in Rome on Jan. 20, 1842. This Medal is not to be regarded as a magic charm but requires a humble and tenacious commitment to the Christian message, faithful and persevering prayer and a good Christian life.

(18) The meaning of “Advent”.

The name means “coming” and that tells us something about the meaning of the season. It’s time to prepare for the coming of the Lord. This originated in Spain and Gaul around 4th century, at about the same time that the feast of Christmas began to be celebrated. It commemorates the long wait in the Old Testament for the coming of the Messiah. It also reminds us to prepare for Christ’s second coming (Rev 22:17) (CCC 524). A new Liturgical Year begins with Advent.
Originally, Advent stretched for six Sundays before Christmas (as the Eastern Orthodox Churches still do) like Lent, for 40 days. Pope St. Gregory the Great (591-604) reduced it to 4 Sundays. It is a “period for devout and joyful expectation” and also a time for “conversion”. “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” being the key line (Mt 3:2). The liturgical colour of violet used during this time reminds us of this penitential aspect. The Third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday), suggests a lessening of this penitential aspect and it calls to “Rejoice” as Christmas is close at hand, with the colour changing from violet to “Rose”. Why then the 4th Sunday goes back to “violet” is a good question to ask but don’t expect a logical answer! Gloria” is skipped during Advent though “Alleluia” is not.

See also the following references from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) and elsewhere.

"Come, Lord Jesus," 2853
coming of Christ and the Last Judgment, 1040
coming of God's kingdom brought on by signs and miracles, 542, 1505
corning of God's kingdom and the defeat of Satan's kingdom, 550
coming of the Holy Spirit and Pentecost, 729, 732
expectation of the coming of Christ, 840
preparation for Christ's coming, 522-24
"Thy kingdom come," 2816-21, 2859
transfiguration as a foretaste of Christ's glorious coming, 556
uncertainty of the time of Christ's glorious coming, 673-74, 1040, 2772
See Consummation; Expectation

(17) Masses for the faithful departed.

Why do we do that? The offering of Mass for the repose of the soul of the faithful departed is linked with our belief in Purgatory. We believe that if a person has died fundamentally believing in God but with venial sins, then God in His divine love and mercy will first purify the soul. After this purification has been completed, the soul will have the holiness and purity needed to share in the beatific vision in heaven.
While each individual stands judgment before the Lord and must render an account of his/her life, the communion of the Church shared on this earth continues, except for those souls dammed to hell. The Vatican Council II affirmed, “This sacred council accepts loyally the venerable faith of our ancestors in the living communion which exists between us and our brothers who are in the glory of heaven or who are yet being purified after their death…” (LG, No. 51). Therefore, just as we pray for each other and share each other’s burdens now, the faithful on earth can offer prayers and sacrifices to help the departed souls undergoing purification, and no better prayer could be offered than that of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

For more depth and detail, see Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) paragraph 946 – 962 (Communion of Saints) and 1030 – 1037 (Purgatory).

(16) Do we have to believe in Angels?

First of all, we must know that the word “Angel” is the name of an office and not a nature. These holy spirits in heaven are always spirits but in no way can they always be called “angels” or “messengers”. They are “angels” only when something is announced through them. Those who make minor announcements are called “angels” and those who make important ones are called “arch-angels” (like Michael, Gabriel & Raphael).

Secondly, the doctrine that every individual soul has a guardian angel has never been defined by the Church and so, is not an article of faith. However it is present in both the Old & New Testament. As Jesus says: “See that you never despise any of these little ones, for I tell you that their angels in heaven always gaze on the face of my Father in heaven”.

Finally, there are “good angels” and “wicked angels”.

For more depth and detail, see Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) paragraph 328 – 336

(15)  What are the effects of the Sacrament of the “Anointng of the sick”?

This Sacrament provides the sick person with the grace of the Holy Spirit by which the whole person is brought to health, trust in God is encouraged, and strength is given to resist the temptation of the evil one and anxiety about death. If necessary, it also provides the forgiveness of sins and the completion of Christian penance. A return to physical health may even follow.

For more depth and detail, see Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) paragraph 1520 – 1523

(14) What is the meaning of the sacrament of “Holy Orders”? Which are the chief powers given to the Ordained?

Through this sacrament, Jesus Christ bestows on certain members of the Church a permanent charism of the Holy Spirit for special service of the people of God. It is called “Orders” as it comprises 3 steps or grades: (i) Deacon, (ii) Priest & (iii) Bishop.

For more depth and detail, see Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) paragraph 1537 – 1538

The chief powers bestowed are:

(i) Deacons – to administer baptism solemnly, to distribute Holy Communion, to assist and bless marriages, to preach the Gospel and exhort the people and to officiate at the funeral services.

(ii) Priest: In addition to those of a Deacon – to shepherd the faithful, to celebrate the Eucharist, Penance and Anointing of the sick.

(iii) Bishop: In addition to all the above – Bishops are marked with the fullness of the Sacrament of Orders. They are the original ministers of Confirmation, Sacred Orders, moderators of penitential discipline, govern the Church entrusted to them as vicars and ambassadors of Christ (Constitution on the Church, Vat Council II, 26-29).

For more depth and detail, see Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) paragraph 1554 – 1571

(13) “Extreme Unction” & “Anointing of the sick”; What’s the difference?

Essentially, both are the same. However, the term “Extreme Unction” has been made obsolete and replaced with the “Anointing of the Sick” since Vat. Council II. The younger generation might have never even heard the word “Extreme Unction” and some from the older generation cannot still get used to the new word! The change in name became necessary in order to clear the misconception — that the anointing was a “ticket” to die as it was given at the eleventh hour (hence perhaps the word “extreme”) and to stress that the sacrament by its very nature, administered to the seriously ill and/or the aged, is rather to pray for the healing of the soul and even the body.

PS: Perhaps, anointing all the extremities of the body also might have contributed to its name “extreme” unction.

For more depth and detail, see Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) paragraph 1499 – 1532

(12) CONFIRMATION. It is the Sacrament by which a baptized person receives the seal of the Holy Spirit as preparation for the witness of a mature Christian life.

The Holy Spirit gives us the 7 Gifts: (i) Wisdom, (ii) Understanding, (iii) Counsel [right judgement], (iv) Knowledge, (v) Fortitude [courage], (vi) Piety [reverence] and (vii) Fear of the Lord [wonder & awe]).

With these “gifts” we are called to bear the “fruit of the Spirit” shown through (i) love, (ii) joy, (iii) peace, (iv) patience, (iv)kindness, (v) goodness, (vi) faithfulness, (vii) gentleness (meekness) & (viii) self-control (Gal.5:22-23)

For more depth and detail, see Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) paragraph 1285 – 1321

(11) What are the 3 Rites of Reconciliation, when are they used and how do they differ from one another?

(a) 1st Rite – In this Rite a penitent has a one-on-one confession with the priest and receives an individual absolution. This is the most commonly used rite.

(b) 2nd Rite – This Rite starts with a communal celebration. This includes Singing, Scripture Readings, Reflections, Examination of Conscience and a common conclusion after the penitents have individually confessed their sins to the priest and received individual absolution. This Rite is usually held during an important time of the liturgical year (eg. Lent or Advent).

(c) 3rd Rite – This Rite is used only in rare cases. If a huge number of penitents would go without an absolution for a long period of time, due to lack of priests, a General Absolution is given by the priest, after a proper joint preparation. This is done with due permission of the local Ordinary and mostly in remote missionary locations where priests may visit once in a long time.

For more depth and detail, see Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) paragraph 1422 – 1498

(10) What is necessary in order to receive Holy Communion worthily and what is the so-called Eucharistic fast?

It is necessary:

(i) to be in the state of grace (1Cor.11: 27), that is, be free from any serious sin that would destroy our friendship with God, and

(ii) to observe the Eucharistic fast.

Priests and faithful must abstain from food and drink for one hour before Holy Communion. Water, however, does not break the fast. The sick and aged (not necessarily bedridden) should abstain from food and alcoholic drink before communion for approximately a quarter of an hour; the exact time should not be a cause for scruples.

(9) How often should we receive Holy Communion and how many times per day can we receive?

The Precepts of the Church command us to receive Holy Communion at least once a year during the Easter time. However, it urges us to receive frequently and even daily. The code of Canon Law (c.917) allows us to receive more than once per day (twice, maximum). It says: “A person who has received the Most Holy Eucharist may receive it again on the same day only during the celebration of the Eucharist in which the person participates”.

For more depth and detail, see Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) paragraph 1388 – 1390

(8) The Holy Eucharist. The holy eucharist is the chief sacrament instituted by our Lord at the Last Supper where, under the appearance of bread and wine there is present the humanity of Jesus Christ, united with his divine presence. The holy eucharist is also called:

(a) the “blessed sacrament” – because it is the most excellent of the sacraments;

(b) the “sacrament of the altar” – because it is consecrated and usually reserved upon an altar;

(c) “holy communion”, which means the receiving of the holy eucharist, usually in the church;

(d) “holy viaticum” (provision for a journey) – a special name for holy communion when received in danger of death.

For more depth and detail, see Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) paragraph 1328 – 1332

(7) Three Eminent Good Works: Apart from Good Works of Mercy, the Catholic Catechism also talks about Eminent Good Works. They are called “eminent” because they are remarkable above all others for the precious fruits they produce. They are specially pleasing to God because we devote and give to God all that we are and all that we have. By prayer we offer Him our souls and hearts. By fasting we offer our body with all its powers and senses and by almsgiving, we use for God’s glory, honour and service, our earthly possessions.

1. Prayer

2. Fasting

3. Almsgiving

(6) The Theological Virtues: Unlike Cardinal Virtues, which are obtained by dint of our effort and when not maintained within good limits, we fall into what we call a vice (the opposite of a virtue), Theological Virtues are not obtained by us. They are “infused” in us through Divine Grace and they never turn into vice even if sought in unlimited amount. Catholic Catechism talks about 3 Theological Virtues:




For more depth and detail, see Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) paragraph 1812 – 1829

(5) The Capital Sins: Having spoken about 4 Cardinal Virtues, we now mention the so-called Capital Sins. The word Capital comes from the Latin “Caput” which means the “head”. This implies that the Capital Sins are the “head” or the cause of all other sins.The Catechism of the Catholic Church mentions 7 Capital Sins. They are:

1. Pride

2. Avarice (Greed)

3. Lust

4. Anger (Rage)

5. Gluttony

6. Envy

7. Sloth

For more depth and detail, see Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) paragraph 1865 – 1869

(4) The Cardinal Virtues – Ever heard of them? They have nothing to do with a Cardinal or a Bishop! They are called “Cardinal” because they are the main or the primary moral virtues on which our spiritual life depends. It comes from the Latin word “Cardocardinis” which means a “hinge”. They are 4 in all:

1. Prudence (judge correctly)

2. Justice (repay exactly what we owe),

3. Temperance (restraint of our desires or passions)

4. Fortitude (strength to do what is right).

For more depth and detail, see Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) paragraph 1804 – 1811

(3) Works of Mercy:

The 7 Spiritual works of Mercy are:






6. BEAR WRONGS patiently.

7. PRAY for the LIVING & the DEAD

For more depth and detail, see Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) paragraph 2443 – 2449

(2) Works of Mercy: How many are they? They are 14 in all – 7 Corporal and 7 Spiritual.

The 7 Corporal Works (acts) of mercy are:

I. To feed the hungry.

II. To give drink to the thirsty.

III. To clothe the naked.

IV. To shelter the homeless

V. To visit the sick.

VI. To visit the imprisoned.

VII. To bury the dead.

For more depth and detail, see Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) paragraph 2443 – 2449

(1) The Five Precepts of the Church:

I. To attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation.

II. To observe the days of abstinence and fasting.

III. To confess our sins to a priest, at least once a year.

IV. To receive Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist at least once a year during Easter Season.

V. To contribute to the support of the Church.

For more depth and detail, see Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) paragraph 2041.


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