Mark Haas   |   April 17, 2022

During this past season of Lent, I wanted to devote each day to something I love about the Catholic Church. Catholics observe forty days of Lent in preparation for the Easter Season. Here are my personal “Top 40 Catholic Things” for each day of Lent! In no particular order. I have also included a book recommendation for each topic.

#1: Ashes!  

On Ash Wednesday, you might see people with funny looking dirt-crosses on their heads. The ashes come from burnt palm branches used during the Palm Sunday Mass from the previous year. A minister will place ashes on your forehead and might say: “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” This is a quote from Genesis when God is delivering his judgment to Adam and Eve after they eat from the Tree of Knowledge. Receiving ashes is a humbling way (“Humble” = “of the earth”) to begin a season of self-mastery and penance. Also, the ashes demonstrate to God our interior renewal by an exterior sign. “So, get your ash in church!” -Fr. John Finnell

Book recommendation: Liturgical Question Box by Peter J. Elliot

#2: Lent!  

The early Church began observing 40 days of Lent around the 5th century. In the Bible, 40 represents a time of preparation: Moses spends 40 years in Egypt & 40 days on Mount Sinai; Jonah preached 40 days to Nineveh; Ezekiel laid on his right side for 40 days to symbolize the sins of Judah; Elijah fasted for 40 days; Goliath taunted Israel for 40 days; Jesus fasts in the desert for 40 days. During Lent, Catholics will typically give up meat on Fridays, and perhaps something else (coffee, sweets, social media, etc.). The purpose for this is for a greater focus on the Lord, and a mastery of the body over temptation. I will be giving up my pillow at night during Lent - and it will be great to get it back on Easter Sunday!

Book recommendation: Lent-Easter Awaits Us by Pope Benedict XVI

#3: Education!

It was during the High Middle Ages (13th cent.) that the Catholic Church invented the modern university system. The institution that we recognize today - with faculties, areas of study, exams, degrees, undergraduate and graduate studies - comes directly from Catholic Europe. According to historian Lowrie Daly, it was "the only institution in Europe that showed consistent interest in the preservation and cultivation of knowledge." Indeed, prior to universities, Catholic religious (nuns) had been educating children; specifically those who were poor and under-privileged. Today, U.S. Catholic schools save tax payers $24 billion dollars/year. 99% of students graduate high school; 84% attend a 4-year college. ( Thank you Church for education!

Book recommendation: Idea of a University by John Henry Newman

#4: Wine!  

Catholics have historically loved wine. Indeed, the Bible loves wine! Wine represents wisdom (Prov. 9:1-5; Sir. 17-21). Wine represents law and marriage feasts (Song of Solomon 1:2-4,4:10,5:1,7:2). The prophet Isaiah speaks to a gathering of all peoples for a “great feast of wine, when God will come to save them” (Is. 25:6-9). The prophet Amos foretells the days when God will restore the Davidic kingdom, as “new wine will drip from the mountains and flow from all the hills” (Am. 9:13). And of course, Jesus himself changes water into wine. (Jn. 2:1-11) Cheers!

Book recommendation: The Fourth Cup by Scott Hahn

#5: Science!

It is a curious myth that the Catholic Church is somehow hostile toward science. The founder of the scientific method was a Catholic priest: Fr. Roger Bacon. The founder of geology: Fr. Nicholas Steno. The founder of Egyptology: Fr. Arthanasius Kircher. The first person to measure the rate of acceleration: Fr. Giambattista Riccioli. The Big Bang Theory was theorized by Fr. Georges Lemaitre. Catholic scientists have founded a diverse range of scientific fields: Nicolaus Copernicus pioneered heliocentrism, René Descartes founded analytical geometry, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck prefigured the theory of evolution with Lamarckism, Friar Gregor Mendel pioneered genetics. The Vatican has its own space observatory in Castel Gandolfo, Italy. Pope John Paul II insisted upon the necessity of both science and religion. And Pope Francis has a Masters Degree in Chemistry. (Also: the Galileo controversy is widely misunderstood. Not enough room to cite here.) Thank you Church for science!

Book recommendation: Science Was Born Of Christianity by Stacy Trasancos

#6: The Mass!  

“It would be easier for the world to survive without the sun than to do so without the Holy Mass.” (-St. Padre Pio) If you ever walked into a Catholic Mass for the first time, it might seem a bit strange - and that is partly the point. The Mass is otherworldly (Heavenly, even). Things will probably look, smell, and sound different. At the Mass, the faithful are fed with the Word of God (Mt 4:4) in the Holy Scriptures, and fed with the Word of God made flesh (Jn 1:1) in the Holy Eucharist. Bread and wine is changed into the Body and Blood of Jesus. It is quite edifying to step outside of the world for one hour/week. “We do not want a church that will move with the world. We want a church that will move the world.” – G.K. Chesterton

Book recommendation: The Spirit of the Liturgy by Joseph Ratzinger

#7: The Sign of the Cross!  

It’s easy to spot a Catholic by the sign of the cross (touching the forehead, chest, and shoulders). This is actually a prayer, which designates someone as a Christian (literally “little Christ”). It demonstrates to others (including the evil one) that you are claimed for Christ. From the earliest times, Christians have made the sign of the cross. St. Basil tells us that the apostles themselves taught the sign of the cross. There are many customs around the world concerning this prayer. One of my favorites is said within the Hispanic community: “By the sign of the holy cross, from our enemies, deliver us, O Lord!”

Book recommendation: If Your Mind Wanders at Mass by Thomas Howard

#8: Universality!  

Catholic means “Universal.” Upon founding His Church (Mt. 16:18), Jesus instructs the apostles to “Go forth into all nations baptizing them.” (Mt. 28:19) The apostles (“apastolos” meaning “to be sent”) go in all directions to evangelize this Church on earth. During any given Mass, the same scripture readings are generally read around the entire world. Catholics now makeup 1.34 billion people, globally - 18% of the world population. Other Christians sects makeup an additional 13% of the world. Also, the Moon has a Bishop and a Diocese! Thank you Church for your universality!

Book recommendation: Catholicism by Robert Barron

#9: The Bible!  

The Christian world truly has the Catholic Church to thank for the Holy Bible. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Catholic Church definitively established the canon of scripture (the table of contents of the Bible) in 382 A.D. at the Council of Rome, which was convened under the leadership of Pope Damasus. Catholic monks diligently preserved hand-copied pages of scripture for centuries. In 1080, bible chapter numbers were assigned by a Catholic Bishop, Stephen Langton.  The first printed bible was printed by a Catholic, Johannes Gutenberg, in 1455.  Indeed, each Catholic Mass includes over 120 scripture references. Thank you Church for the Bible!

Book recommendation: Where We Got the Bible by Henry Graham

#10: The Eucharist!  

For the first 1,500 years after Jesus, virtually the entire Christian world succinctly believed that Jesus Christ was truly present (Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity) in the Holy Eucharist (the Communion Bread). Jesus himself describes this Eucharistic bread: “I am the bread of life…Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life…For my flesh is indeed true food, and my blood is indeed true drink.” (John 6:35,54-55) God’s plan of salvation is presented through the consumption of food: Adam and Eve eat forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden; Moses instructs his people to eat a spotless lamb, and make unleavened bread to eat on their journey; God sends bread manna from Heaven to feed the Israelites in the desert; Jesus Christ is born in Bethlehem (which means “City of Bread”); into a feeding trough where animals eat. Thank you Church for the Bread of Life!

Book recommendation: The Lamb’s Supper by Scott Hahn

#11: Mary!

Mary was the first Christian: the first follower of Jesus. Indeed, no human being could love Mary more than Jesus does. The Bible says that “all generations will call her blessed” (Lk. 1:48). The bible designates Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant: The Ark of the Old Covenant held (1) The Word of God in stone, (2) the rod of Aaron, our ancestral priest, (3) the bread manna from heaven. Mary holds within her womb (1) The Word of God made flesh, Jesus Christ, (2) the High Priest, Jesus Christ, (3) The Bread of Life, Jesus Christ. St. John describes what the Ark looks like in heaven: “A woman clothed with the sun, with a crown of 12 stars.” (Rev. 12:1) The Israelites didn’t worship the Ark, rather they worshiped the contents of God within the Ark. Catholics don’t worship Mary, rather they honor her; and they worship the contents within her womb: Jesus Christ.

Book recommendation: Hail, Holy Queen by Scott Hahn

#12: Medical Care!  

Nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale once said: “What training is there to compare with that of a Catholic nun.” During the Middle Ages (500-1500 AD), monasteries, bishops’ houses, and convents became key medical centers. Today, the Catholic Church is the largest non-government health care provider in the world. It has around 18,000 clinics, 16,000 homes for the elderly and those with special needs, and 5,500 hospitals, with 65% of them located in underdeveloped countries (US Inquirer). In the U.S., one in six patients are cared for in a Catholic hospital.

Book recommendation: Life Issues, Medical Choices by Janet E. Smith

#13: The Rosary!  

The word “rosary” comes from Latin and means a “garland of roses,” the rose being one of the flowers used to symbolize the Virgin Mary. The rosary is a non-obligatory prayer devotion that is available to all Christians! The rosary consists of saying 3 bible-based prayers: Our Father (Mt 6:9-13), Hail Mary (Lk 1:28;42), and Glory Be (Rom 11:33-36). As you say these prayers, you then meditate on the entire life of Jesus from the Incarnation to the Ascension (the Mysteries). Why is this essential you ask? It’s not! But it’s quite edifying. A typical rosary is 53 beads, but a traditional full rosary (all of the original 15 Mysteries) is 153 beads: “So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of 153 large fish.” (Jn 21:11)

Book recommendation: The Secret of the Rosary by Louis De Montfort

#14: Saints!  

Catholics believe that death is not the end. Those who enter heaven are alive through Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:5). As we run the race here on earth, the saints in heaven are cheering us on as a great cloud of witnesses (Heb 12:1). The Bible shows the saints offering prayers with incense rising up before God (Rev. 8:4). Jesus himself speaks with the righteous dead during His glorious transfiguration with Moses and Elijah (Mt. 17:2). Catholics venerate images and statues of saints to remember their Christian witness. God himself loves statues, and commands the construction of two giant golden angels to be constructed on the Ark of the Covenant (Ex. 25:18). Just as you might kiss the pictures of your loved ones, and not worship the Kodak paper, so Catholics honor the memory of saints using images and statues without worshiping the material. Thank you Church for your Saints!

Book recommendation: Angels and Devils by Joan Carroll Cruz

#15: Purgatory!

The word “purgatory” is not found in the Bible. This is not a problem, as the word “Trinity” is not found in the Bible either, yet it is a unanimously observed doctrine among Christians. The concept of Purgatory is quite biblical. As a basic principle, we know that “nothing unclean can enter heaven.” (Rev. 21:27) St. Paul describes a particular man who built his foundation on Jesus Christ: The foundation materials of wood, hay, and straw (his works on earth) are burned away. St. Paul says this man, who had died, will be saved, but only as through fire (1 Cor. 3:11-15). This implies something happening after death, and before heaven. He was purged (purgatory) of his earthly things. It’s fitting to get cleaned up before entering into heaven. Thank you God for purgatory!

Book recommendation: Purgatory is For Real by Karlo Broussard

#16: Adoration!

Eucharistic Adoration has exploded over the last ten years - especially among young people. It’s a simple concept: You sit with Jesus, who has been made present in the Holy Eucharist. The Host is made visible in a beautiful Monstrance (Latin meaning “to show”). Catholics will often spend a Holy Hour in Adoration. The Holy Hour was started by Jesus, who asked the apostles to spend an hour with him in prayer within the Garden of Gethsemane (Mt. 26:40). Sometimes there is music; oftentimes there is silence. I am especially moved by the images of World Youth Day. The entire event is often attended by about 3 million Catholic young people. That’s nearly 2 times the population of WV.

Book recommendation: The Holy Bread of Eternal Life by Peter Kwasniewski

#17: The Priesthood!

What a debt we owe to the many priests - past, present, and future - who sacrifice their very lives to be soldiers for Christ. - "But they can’t get married? That’s weird." - Well, that’s true for the Latin Rite of the Church. Scripture actually designates celibacy as something (that can be) preferable in the spiritual life. Saint Paul (a celibate) says, “Are you free from a wife? Do not seek marriage…The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs.” (1 Cor. 7:27-34) And from Jesus (also celibate): “Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of God.” (Mt. 19:11–12) I am in awe of the sacrificial life of a Catholic priest.

Book recommendation: The Priest is Not His Own by Fulton Sheen

#18: Social Outreach!

In the spirit of Matthew 25:35-40, the Catholic Church feeds, clothes, shelters, and cares for more people than any other institution in the world. The Church runs 5,500 hospitals, 18,000 clinics, 16,000 homes for the elderly and those with special needs, with 65% of them located in underdeveloped countries (US Inquirer). In the U.S., Catholic Charities agencies form the nation’s largest charitable social service network, providing services to nearly 10 million unduplicated clients annually. Catholic charity accounts for 17-34% percent of all nonprofit social outreach (Politifact). Thank you Church for helping all people, regardless of color or creed!

Book recommendation: Introduction to Catholic Social Teaching by Rodger Charles

#19: Music!

The documented history of music essentially begins with the Catholic Church. The Church was the first institution to invent a system of writing musical notes on paper. A form of sung speech begins to develop in the early church called plain chant (unison singing on one line). This “style” of singing is still hailed by the Catholic Church today as par excellence in musical delivery within worship. A very close second to chant (as stated by the Church) is sacred polyphony (singing multiple lines in harmony, perhaps not at the same time). And of course there is a rich tradition of hymnody! After celebrating the first Mass, Jesus himself sings a closing hymn, and then enters into his Passion (see Mark 14:26). Thank you Church for a rich history of beautiful music!

Book recommendation: The Sound of Beauty by Michael Kurek

#20: Popes!

Jesus changed Simon’s name to Peter (meaning, “rock”), and then founded His church on this rock (Mt 16:18). He then gives Peter the keys to the kingdom (Mt. 16:19), and a promise of divine assistance to the "end of the age" (Mt. 28:20). Jesus calls Peter by name more than any person in scripture. Peter led the first council in Jerusalem (Acts 15) and announced the first dogmatic decision to the Church (Acts 15:7-11). It was Peter who first preached to the crowds after Jesus ascended (Acts 2:14-40), and worked the first healing in the Church (Acts 3:6-7). When Jesus gives the “keys” to Peter, it is a fulfillment of Isaiah 22:15-22: “And I will place on his shoulder the key of the House of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.” This unbroken line of Peter extends 266 popes to Pope Francis. Yes, he’s just a human being. No, all of his opinions are not always correct. He is simply a steward to the Church on earth.

Book recommendation: Jesus, Peter & the Keys by David Hess, Scott Butler, Norman Dahlgren

#21: Prophecy!

The prophecies from the Old Testament concerning the coming of Christ are truly chilling in detail: Genesis 3:15 and Isaiah 7:14 say he will be born of a virgin. 2 Samuel 7:14-16 says that he will be of David’s line. Daniel 7 and 9 say when he would be born. Micah 5:1-2 say where he will be born. Psalm 22, Isaiah 53:3-12, Wisdom 2:18-20 say how he would live and die. Everything comes true.

Book recommendation: Doors of Mercy by Jeffrey Kirby

#22: Beer!

The Catholic Church has a rich history of great beer. Before the invention of water-purification systems, fermented beverages were often the preferred sanitary drink. During this time in history, monasteries would often make beer for those in need. Even today, Carmelite, Benedictine, and Trappist monks make some of the most celebrated beers in the world. Saint Arnold of Metz, patron of beer said: “From man’s sweat and God’s love, beer came into the world.” Cheers!

Book Recommendation: I’m Catholic. Now What? by Shawn McAfee

#23: Lord of the Rings!

This was my favorite book even before I realized how Catholic it was. The LOTR is the 2nd most printed book in the 20th century (2nd to the Bible). J.R.R. Tolkien weaves the faith into a fantasy novel that never mentions God, religion, or a church. Consider things like: Elvish lembas bread (“Lembas” in Elvish = “Bread of Life” [Eucharist]); Boromir’s confession to Aragorn (the King) before he dies; Frodo carrying the weight of the Ring (Sin) to the top of Mount Doom (Gulgatha); Gandalf rising again in white (Resurrection); and SO MUCH more. Take time to read what Tolkien himself claims to be a “Fundamentally religious and Catholic work.”

Book recommendation: Frodo’s Journey by Joseph Pierce

#24: Babies!

A popular theory by Paul Ehrlich began in the 1970’s suggesting that the world was hurtling toward overpopulation. Today, those theories have all been concisely expunged. The global growth rate is approaching below-replacement levels, and many countries are already there. Japan, Germany, and Lithuania are bracing for a population implosion within the coming generation; China recently lifted its 1-child policy; Russia will pay $7,600 for any citizen who births a child. U.S. birth rates hit a record low in 2022. Experts claim a need of 2.2 children per household to sustain the U.S. economy long term. In fact, about half of U.S. states reported death rates higher than birth rates in 2020. For the Catholic Church’s part, she has never said, “have as many children as humanly possible.” Rather, the Church says “be open to God’s plan for your family.” Thank you Church for babies!

Book recommendation: Good News About Sex and Marriage by Christopher West

#25: Crucifixes!

A crucifix is a cross with an image of Jesus on it. This is common to see within Catholic Churches. The purpose of this is not to remember something morbid or grotesque. Rather, it is an opportunity to remember the most important moment in history: Jesus demonstrates the ultimate sign of love by his death on the cross, thus destroying sin and opening the gates of heaven. Jesus even carries the cross into his Resurrection, as we see the glorified Lord with the wounds in his side, hands, and feet. (See Jn 20:27) “We preach Christ crucified…the power of God; Do not allow the cross to be emptied of its power.” (1 Cor 1:23;17) Bishop Fulton Sheen said: “Keep your eyes fixed on the crucifix, for Jesus without the cross is a man without a mission, and the cross without Jesus is a burden without a reliever.”

Book recommendation: Inside the Passion of the Christ (Film) by John Bartunek

#26: Latin!

Oops I said a bad word :) … There is a misconception that Latin was done away with after the Second Vatican Council. In fact, the documents state: “the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, pp. 36) The majority of the U.S. is part of the Latin Rite. Of course, the vernacular language is now permissible (no quarrels here!). However, It is quite fitting for a universal church to have a universal language. Latin is actually quite unifying: One could potentially sing and pray with any Catholic, in any country around the world using this ancient mother tongue. Documents from the Vatican are published first in Latin before they are translated into vernacular languages; this ensures accuracy and clarity. The Mass is actually ripe with English, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. Deo Gratias for Latin!

Book recommendation: Vatican II: The Essential Texts by Norman Tanner

#27: Early Christians!

Before the Bible was complete (382 AD), the early Christians taught from a book called “The Didache” (50-90 AD). This early catechism book outlines the basic moral codes of Christianity: “Do not murder; do not commit adultery; do not fornicate; do not steal; do not deal in magic; do not kill a fetus by abortion; seek daily contact with the saints; do not start a schism; hold fast to the traditions; in church, confess your sins.” In his early apologetic work, “Apologia” (153-155 AD), Justin Martyr writes about an active Church practicing Baptism, Homilies/Sermons, Distribution of Communion, Intercession to Mary and Saints, and Authority. The term “Catholic Church” was first used by Ignatius of Antioch in his “Second Letter to the Philadelphians” in 107 AD: “Where the bishop appears, there let the people be, just as where Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.”

Book recommendation: The Fathers Know Best by Jimmy Akin

#28: Papal Elections!

If you have ever witnessed the suspense of a Papal election, you know how awesome it is! The process is fairly straightforward: The College of Cardinals (about 200 clerical representatives from around the world) meet to elect one amongst themselves. Once they have a two-thirds majority, there is a new pope. (A similar process takes place in the Book of Acts 1:23-26 when Matthias is elected to replace the Apostle Judas, the betrayer) If there is not a majority, black smoke is released through a chimney. If there is a new Pope, white smoke emits from the chimney. Wooo!

Book recommendation: Pope Fiction by Patrick Madrid

#29: Cathedrals!

“Cathedral” comes from the word “cathedra” or “chair.” It is the chief church of a diocese, in which the bishop takes his teaching chair, signifying authority. “Teach them everything I have commanded you.” (Mt. 28:20) Jesus himself speaks of the Jewish High Priests who would teach in the chair of Moses: “You must be careful to do everything they tell you.” (Mt. 23:2) Sometimes, cathedrals will be designated as “basilicas.” A cathedral is a bishop’s church; a basilica is a pope’s church. Regardless of the semantics, in my opinion, they are some of the most beautiful buildings in the world.

Book recommendation: Timeless: A History of the Catholic Church by Steve Weidenkopf

#30: Incense!

Holy smokes, I love the smell of incense in a church. I’m immediately transported to another world, which is much of the goal within Catholic worship: the Mass is otherworldly, as heaven comes down to touch earth. Scientists link a strong connection between the sense of smell to memory. An 80-year-old Catholic might smell incense, and be immediately taken back to their 9-year-old first Holy Communion day. Biblically speaking, incense is used as a symbol for prayers rising to heaven (see Ps. 141:2 and Rev. 8:4). Incense is typically saved for solemn feasts and special occasions, however it can be used at any Mass at the discretion of the priest.

Book recommendation: What’s the Smoke For? by Johan van Parys

#31: Bishops!

Jesus gave the 12 apostles authority (Mt. 10:1) to make binding decisions on earth (Mt. 16:19). St. Paul - a bishop - highlights the importance of traditions being handed down (see 1 Cor 11:2 and 2 Thes 2:15). In the books of Acts (1:21-26) we see the apostles acting swiftly to replace Judas the betrayer. These successors to the apostles were quickly termed “bishops.” These bishops were conferred their office through the laying on of hands (see 1 Tim 5:22). You can even track the apostolic lineage of your catholic bishop today at this website! When you see a catholic bishop, you are witnessing a living apostle. Woah!

Book recommendation: Why is THAT in Tradition? by Patrick Madrid

#32: Confession!

Why in the world would someone audibly confess their sins to a priest? The short answer is that Jesus set it up this way. Jesus forgives the sins of a paralytic in Matthew 9:2, and the people there recognized that He had now “given such authority to men.” (Mt. 9:8) Upon healing a leper, Jesus tells the man to “go and show yourself to the priest.” (Lk. 17:14) St. Paul later acknowledges that Jesus indeed “gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” (2 Cor. 5:18) On the Day of Resurrection, Jesus breathed on the apostles (this had not happened since God breathed life into Adam), and immediately said: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven.” (Jn. 20:19) And finally, we see the early Christians confessing their sins - audibly - to the elders of the church (elders in Greek is “presbyters,” English “priests”): “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” (James 5:16)

Book recommendation: 7 Secrets of Confession by Vinny Flynn

#33: Advent!

Advent is the 4-week season just before Christmas. This season of waiting began around the early 5th Century. Advent is represented by the color violet, very much like the sky is a faint violet color just before the rising of the sun. It is in the darkness of advent that we anticipate the rising Son, Jesus Christ. Many people will light the 4 candles of their advent wreaths to correspond with the 4 weeks of the season. The evergreen, circular wreath symbolizes God’s unending love for His people. The candles represent the light of Christ. They get brighter with each passing week, as the dawn of Christmas approaches.

Book recommendation: Come, Lord Jesus by Mother Mary Francis

#34: St. Nicholas!

This is not merely a Tim Allen character. St. Nicholas was a real person! Nicholas was a 4th Century bishop in Asia Minor. One legend says that Nicholas was attempting to save three women from sexual slavery. He would sneak past their window at night and toss in some coins so they could purchase their own freedom. Some of the coins fell in socks that were hanging to dry by the fireplace. And now we have stockings! Our own kids love to place their shoes on the fire hearth in anticipation for goodies on the Feast of St. Nicholas every December 6. St. Nicholas, pray for us.

Book recommendation: Lives of the Saints by Alban Butler

#35: Nativity Sets!

St. Francis constructed the first Nativity set in Assisi, Italy on Christmas Eve, 1223. Renae and I were lucky enough to see the current nativity display in person! Today, many Christians set up Nativities in their yards and homes to commemorate the birth of Christ. Traditionally, Catholics leave the manger empty until Christmas morning. I find that a Nativity is a great way to keep “Christ” in Christmas. After all, “Christ” means “Anointed One”; Mass means “sending forth.” Thus, Christmas literally means, “sending forth the Anointed One.” Merry Christmas!

Book recommendation: Catholc Traditions and Treasures by Helen Hoffner and Deirdre Folley

#36: Stations of the Cross!

Tradition has it that the Blessed Mother would walk the footsteps of her Son’s passion after he ascended to heaven. In the Middle Ages, it became commonplace for Christians to make pilgrimages to the Holy Land to walk the final steps of Jesus in Jerusalem. Today, this site is called the Via Dolorosa ("the way of suffering"). By the 17th century, the Franciscans wanted to construct “stations” onto the interior walls of churches as a reminder of Christ’s Passion. During Fridays in Lent, it is common for Catholics to pray the Stations of the Cross privately, publicly, or sometimes with reenactment.

Book recommendation: Pocket Guide to the Stations of the Cross by Edward Sri

#37: Good Friday!

Good Friday is the Friday before Easter on which the Church keeps the anniversary of the Crucifixion of Jesus. “We preach Christ crucified.” (1 Cor. 1:23) There is a complete reading of the Passion of Christ from the Gospel account, which is quite moving. On this day, Jesus is not made present in the Eucharistic Bread (thus there is no Mass). Rather, the priest and often the people receive Communion that was consecrated on the previous day. In essence, the Church is made empty: like a tomb. There is rich simplicity, minimal music, and the prayer experience is quite visceral. One climactic moment is a procession forward to kiss the wood of the Cross. It is the perfect prelude to the joy of Easter.

Book recommendation: On the Passion of Christ by Thomas A’Kempis

#38: The Easter Vigil!

“Hey let’s start Mass with a bonfire outside.” “Yes, please!” The Easter Vigil is overflowing with symbolism and unique elements in worship. The Light of Christ literally comes into a dark church; the entire history of salvation is read; There is like a 5-minute “Alleluia” sung; new Catholics are Baptized and Confirmed into the church; and there is a reception afterward with delightful treats. Count me in! Also, this Mass is revered as the highest Mass in the liturgical year.

Book recommendation: Celebrating a Holy Catholic Easter by William Saunders

#39: The Resurrection!

There is compelling evidence that Jesus Christ died and rose from the dead. One obvious source is the scriptures themselves. Namely, the four Gospels and the epistles of St. Paul. These documents imply about 500 eyewitnesses. Many of these early Christian witnesses had nothing to gain from their testimonies. Indeed, they had everything to lose. Many were, in fact, killed for their faith (often in excruciating ways). Their lives could have been spared if they simply renounced Jesus and the Resurrection - they did not. The most compelling testimonies for me, however, are those of two hostile witnesses: Pliny the Younger and Josephus. These were two historians, at the time of Christ, who were sympathetic to the Romans, and did not (at all) appreciate the Christians. They both acknowledged the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Book recommendation: Jesus Shock! by Peter Kreeft

#40: Jesus!

Jesus Christ was perhaps the most unique religious figure to walk the earth. Unlike other religious founders - Buddha, Mohammad, etc. - Jesus was the only one to claim that He was actually God in the flesh. Christian convert C.S. Lewis keenly points out that given this claim, there can truly only be three realities of Christ: He is either (1) a Liar, (2) a Lunatic, (3) or Lord. Was He a masterful scam artist? Was He delusional? These are fair questions. A chronic liar is usually seeking to gain something. Jesus had nothing: no money, no house, no women, no fame. The lunatic argument doesn’t seem plausible. The historical evidence is such that even skeptics conclude Jesus was a wise man. Furthermore, the Gospels give accounts where Jesus’ audiences were amazed with the things he said, and he often read their minds. This is not lunatic-type behavior. He must be Lord. It’s worth thinking about! Happy Easter!

Book recommendation: The Philosophy of Jesus by Peter Kreeft