With every passing year I realize more deeply how joyful our religion is. The more one penetrates into what it means to be Catholic, the fuller life becomes.
There is one great art that we are taught from our childhood and for which we cannot be grateful enough, and that is how to celebrate feasts.
The little ones grow up hearing again and again: “Today is the feast of St. Joseph.” “Next week is the feast of the Annunciation…the feast of St. John…the feast of the Holy Family…the feast of the Assumption.” And these are not words only.
Soon the children discover that these days have a truly festive character. Later, when they grow up and learn to use their own missals, they find that Holy Mother Church prepares a feast for us almost every day of the year. Naturally, these feast days are not equally important.
Two of them, the anniversaries of Our Lord’s Resurrection and of the Descent of the Holy Ghost, are of such magnitude and solemnity that the Church assigns a whole week to them. She wants to teach her children to take time for celebrating.
What a necessary lesson for us of the fast-living twentieth century, when time has become money and the most important event in people’s lives–their wedding–has been reduced from the ten-day celebration of old to a ten-minute formality at the Justice of the Peace!
For Easter and Pentecost the Church permits no other feast to interfere. This is called “a privileged octave of the first order.”
There are other great feast days, such as Epiphany and Corpus Christi, Christmas, the Ascension, the feast of the Sacred Heart, and the feasts of the Blessed Mother, which also have an octave, and at least a commemoration of the feast is made each day.
If the first place is given to the feasts of Our Lord, the second is given to those of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Then come the holy angels, and they are followed by the saints who had a share in the plan of the Incarnation, as St. Joseph, St. John the Baptist, Peter and Paul and the other Apostles, whose feasts are always celebrated with special solemnity.
Then we are told to celebrate as a feast the dedication of churches, the anniversaries of the martyrdom of the saints, the commemoration of holy popes, bishops, teachers of the Church, confessors, virgins and all holy women. According to their importance these feasts will be more or less solemnly celebrated; but even a simple feast day is a feast day.
Once in a while there is a day in the calendar when we do not celebrate a feast. This is called a “ferial day.” During most seasons these are few and far between, and it is all the more striking, therefore, to come to the six weeks of Lent and find that the Church has prepared a special Mass for every ferial day and wishes her children to refrain from celebrating feasts during these weeks of penance. That makes the great Alleluia, which introduces the feast of the Resurrection, all the more jubilant.
Living through this cycle of festive events every year, one cannot help but learn that one should not just live one’s life, or spend one’s life, or go through one’s life, but celebrate one’s life.
Whether the days are filled with bliss or mourning, we have learned to live almost each one as a special feast day. As the Introit of many a Mass bids us: “Gaudeamus omnes in Domino, diem festum celebrantes.” (“Let us all rejoice in the Lord, celebrating this festival day.”)
If the time from the First Sunday in Advent until Pentecost seems like one long uninterrupted celebration of the greatest mysteries of our faith, the time from Pentecost to the end of the Church Year appears much more sober.
This second half of the Church Year is referred to in Austria as “The Green Meadow” because of the green color of the vestments on the Sundays after Pentecost, whereas, until then, they had been violet, red, or white.
If the festive character of the first part of the year is comparable to the mountain chains of the Alps or Andes, the single feasts in the months after Pentecost are like isolated peaks towering above the green meadow.
“I do not know any among the ordinary conditions of life as good and desirable as that of a life of service or of daily labor. A life of labor has always been considered, by spiritual persons, most favorable to the soul. To have nothing which we are obliged to do may seem very fine to our worldliness and love of ease, but it is most dangerous. You know the old saying: ‘The devil finds work enough for idle hands to do.’ It is most true. Idleness opens the door for the worst temptations.” –GUIDE for CATHOLIC YOUNG WOMEN by Rev. George Deshon, 1863