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Catholicism - Festivals and Celebrations

This GCSE RE quiz on Catholicism takes a look at festivals and celebrations. Just about everybody loves a Festival (with the possible exception of Dickens’ infamous Scrooge, until almost the end of ‘A Christmas Carol’) ~ Catholics as much as anyone. Indeed, besides the fairly obvious ones such as Christmas and Easter, they enjoy opportunities to celebrate perhaps a richer range of feasts (and occasional fasts) than many other religious observants.

As with many faiths, these celebrations can broadly be divided into those that come round almost regardless, annually (e.g. Harvest), and the once-in-a-lifetime ones such as First Communion and the Nuptial Mass. The former occasions form part of the cycle of the Liturgical Year, itself evolved from a number of sources including Judaeo-Christianity (Easter and Pentecost) and the rhythm of the meteorological and agricultural year.

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The various key moments in the earthly life of Jesus (Christmas and Easter, preceded respectively by the penitential preparatory seasons of Advent and Lent) provide the Temporal Cycle, and the death anniversaries (usually) of His diligent followers the Saints make up the Sanctoral Cycle.

Alongside all this, individual congregants will be born, reach relative maturity within the faith community, maybe marry or take Holy Orders, and eventually die; and their Church has the wish, and the liturgical wherewithal, to help them mark such milestones.

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  1. Catholics are obliged to make attendance at Mass a part of their wider observance of Christmas. Four such Masses are usually on offer, though we have mis-titled ONE of these ~ which one?
    The coming-of-Light symbolism is genuine and (dare we even say?) transparent enough, but its usual English title is simply Mass at Dawn. Comparable observances are also associated with Easter in some faith communities ('new light, resurrection, springtime, fresh beginnings' etc.). The Catholic Church holds eight days of festivities beginning with Christmas (the Octave) including Childermas (marking the massacre of the Innocents on Herod's orders), Holy Family Saturday, and the feast of the Epiphany (the coming of the Magi ['three kings'] to offer the infant Jesus their emblematic gifts)
  2. We believe Jesus' earthly life to have been a little over 30 years, but the modern liturgical year telescopes its events into barely half as many weeks. It is unlikely He was actually born 'at Christmas' in the now-familiar sense of 25 December, not least since sheep would not have been out on the hills in midwinter; but if (for present purposes) we at least accept that He was born on earth at all, obviously there must be an anniversary somewhere. Midwinter is a good symbolic time to mark this, with its almost primeval awareness of winter having waned its farthest and thus the promise (or premise!) of a new natural cycle to emerge.

    At any rate, the further 'book-end' for the Jesus story as a whole is fairly obviously Easter, preceded by Good Friday, linked in turn to Jesus' own ancestral observance of Passover, which in turn is tied to the first Full Moon after the spring equinox (hence, in Europe and elsewhere, the coincident timing with spring imagery: daffodils, rabbits, lambs etc.)

    What is the name of the solemn religious day that marks the start of Lent ~ the penitential preparatory season of '40 days and nights' towards the somewhat moveable date of Easter, each spring?
    On this day, also in imitation of the ancient Jews who signalled their contrition by wearing sackcloth (ouch!) and daubing themselves with ashes (both dirty, itchy and pretty visible), Christians, with Catholic ritualists well towards their collective forefront, take confessional stock of their personal and spiritual lives and have the sign of the cross marked on their forehead during a special Mass. The ash is itself made by burning spare leaves from the previous year's Palm Sunday. There is also a tradition of fasting (going entirely without food), at least on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, or at least a number of modern ~ and perhaps rather more symbolic ~ equivalent gestures, such as abstaining from the meat of warm-blooded animals on Fridays (the Crucifixion weekday)
  3. During Lent and Holy Week, a Catholic church's set of narrative sculptures ~ The Stations of the Cross ~ come into their own, and indeed are the only statuary not to be veiled at this solemn season. They depict key stages of the Passion narrative. How many such Stations are there in the sequence?
    You may find it valuable to look these up and revise your knowledge of this crucial narrative to all Christians
  4. The Catholic Church marks numerous other important festivals during the year, but whose links to specific dates are not so obvious. Trinity Sunday, for instance (as in the Protestant churches) ~ celebrating One God in Three Persons ~ always falls ... when?
    Pentecost marks the coming of the Holy Spirit to empower and commission the Disciples ~ the 'birthday of the Church' ~ as Jesus had foretold. This therefore comes a few weeks after Easter, though in fact it also harks back to an old Jewish observance. Only 'after' that has happened within a given liturgical cycle, does it make fullest sense to celebrate the Trinity, reuniting the Spirit with the Father and Son. Corpus Christi Day ('the Body of Christ') then follows on the Thursday of the ensuing week
  5. Catholics devote a lot of attention to the Blessed Virgin Mary ('mother of Our Lord'): here are some of the more major Marian festivals, in the usual order of their occurrence within the secular calendar year. In which of these, as listed below, is there a significant mistake?
    The Visitation is celebrated on 31 May (by which stage, in the original story as told in Scripture, Elizabeth is six-months pregnant, while Mary is ~ by our calculations, based on Church-promulgated data ~ 9 weeks). The significance of the story is that John 'quickens' (makes his first identifiable, responsive movement) within Elizabeth's womb on this occasion, making Mary a uniquely recognisable intermediary according to God's purposes
  6. Down the centuries, the Church has acquired quite an army of Saints ~ individuals honoured for their devotion to God and His work, commemorated annually on their feast-days and prayed-through by believers (e.g. St Jude, patron of lost objects and causes). New saints are identified and eventually canonised, according to due process, almost all the time: at point of writing, the current Pope has canonised Mother Teresa of Kolkata who is now officially a Saint. To those of us brought up to think of saints (primarily the Apostles, perhaps) as ~ mainly ~ historical men in stained-glass windows 'through whom the Light shines', as supposedly one little child once perceptively put it, it feels odd to that someone one remembers from television news footage is now a fully-fledged Saint.

    Here are the Feast Days of our usual EQ number of just four key Saints ~ you may spot a further connection between them. Which ONE of them has been allocated the wrong feast-day?
    St Andrew (patron of Scotland ... by which time you'll probably have recognised the connection between these corners of the British Isles) is honoured on 30 rather than 15 November
  7. Other, more Biblical Saints are honoured ~ not only by Catholics, and you may have seen church buildings named after them, perhaps with the intention of their communities echoing the inspirational behaviour of the name-saint. ONE of the following is not Biblical: which one?
    Philip Neri lived in Renaissance Italy (1515-95; barely a quarter of the way back from our days to Gospel times)
  8. The Catholic Church has created or otherwise accumulated so many saints, that it would be confusing to refer to them simply as 'St. X' as the forenames tend to recur (e.g. when a devout couple have their child baptised Stephen in honour of a / the previous St Stephen, and then such are his own later devotional works that he in turn becomes 'St Stephen [+ surname]' or 'St Stephen of [placename]'). One of the following founded the Society of Jesus, better and more crisply known as the Jesuits: who was he?
    You may recognise Ignatius' (probably) most famous prayer of all, including the phrase about 'fight[ing] and not heed[ing] the wounds'
  9. Other saints were canonised for their particularly diligent and potent work as pastors ~ rather than necessarily having been martyred, i.e died for (rather than 'merely in') their faith. The specific objects of their patronage can be updated by the Church in the light of evolving circumstances, as in the following examples ~ ONE of which (as usual) is wrong ... which one?
    St Martin has plenty else on his eternal hands in respect of poverty / beggars, alcoholism and horse-riders. St Isidore of Seville (560-636) has, since the turn of the Millennium, had an Order founded in his honour which, among other works, promotes him as Patron Saint of the Internet. No doubt those of us currently 'meeting minds' across the ether owe him a nod, but surely he faces an uphill struggle against the deeply unspiritual 'tide of filth' that we all know is out there, and which arguably has driven much of the growth of the Net in recent years ...
  10. It was ~ at least until fairly recently ~ the tradition within other faiths and denominations, that a young person marked their transition toward adulthood within the faith community at an age broadly commensurate with the bodily changes of puberty. Thus not least do we read of Jesus Himself on a pre-barmitzvah pilgrimage to Jerusalem just as He was entering His teens (though the average age of puberty may well have been rather further into people's teens back then, with less plentiful nutrition and hygiene / medicine). In the Catholic Church, however, it has long been cherished practice for well-pre-pubescent children to partake of their First Communion. Even if you are not yourself a Catholic, you will perhaps have seen gatherings around a girl of (say) 8 years old dressed almost like a bride or bridesmaid, or at least, cherished photographs of such occasions. Such a child is not cognitively mature enough to assimilate the full richness of relevant doctrine, but the following are all insisted on ... apart from which rogue ONE, as usual?
    Unlike in many Protestant contexts, First Communion does not have to wait until after Confirmation (by a bishop), nor be conditional upon that. So: Confession, yes; but Confirmation, no

Author: Ian Miles

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