Category Archives: Catholicism

In Defense of Octaves

This year, I am discovering a new pet peeve into which the Holy Spirit has been roped. The Holy Spirit and I are basically besties, so that has me particularly miffed.

I’m annoyed at any holiday (church or secular) being dragged out longer than one day. Except, that is, for the ones that are already multiple days. It is not “still Pentecost.” It’s not even still Easter. We need to let it go.

Keep Calm and Let It Go

Time for a liturgical calendar lesson, and with less bitterness and confusion than the last one! (At least I think so.)


The Catholic Church’s liturgical calendar contains several seasons:

  1. Advent, beginning on the First Sunday of Advent, which is the Sunday closest to the Feast of St. Andrew (November 30)
  2. Christmas, beginning on the Nativity of the Lord (the day most people just call “Christmas”)
  3. Ordinary Time, beginning on the day after the Baptism of the Lord (which is the first Sunday after Epiphany, whenever Epiphany is celebrated)
  4. Lent, beginning on Ash Wednesday
  5. The Triduum, beginning with the evening celebration of the Solemnity of the Lord’s Supper (a.k.a. Holy Thursday)
  6. Easter, beginning with the Easter Vigil
  7. Ordinary Time, beginning on the day after Pentecost and resuming (not restarting) the numbering from January

The year begins with Advent, so Christmas is before Easter in time (although not in importance). Kendra and I had a fun chat about that a few years ago.

Note that the Triduum and Easter seasons begin when those particular Masses start. Earlier in the calendar day, the previous season is still in effect. At noon on Holy Thursday, it’s totally still Lent. At the moment the liturgy begins in the evening, it’s not technically Lent anymore.


The highest celebrations on the calendar are called “solemnities” (“solemn” as in “extra fancy,” not as in “sad.”) That means:

  1. The solemnity is celebrated on the evening before the day as well as on the day of the feast. Christmas Eve is probably the most well-known of these evening-before celebrations, properly called “vigils.” (You may also have heard of Halloween, a.k.a. All Hallows/Saints Eve.)
  2. Any feasts or memorials that would usually fall on either day get knocked out of the way and ignored from about 4 p.m. the day before to 11:59 p.m. the day of. (The technical term is “suppressed.”)
  3. If the solemnity is also a holy day of obligation, you satisfy your obligation to attend Mass by attending any Mass in any Catholic rite at any time during those 32 or so hours.

Some solemnities also begin liturgical seasons. Not every season begins with a solemnity (e.g. Ash Wednesday begins Lent but is not a solemnity). Not every solemnity starts a season (e.g. the Ascension of the Lord always falls during Easter, but there’s no Ascension season).


Two solemnities during the year are celebrated as “octaves.” They are the Christmas octave and the Easter octave. That means:

  1. They have all 3 characteristics of solemnities listed above. You know the evenings-before as Christmas Eve and Easter Vigil (curiously, not “Easter Eve”).
  2. The vigil Masses have special readings and prayers that are only used during the vigils. The day-of Masses have different readings and prayers, although they are similar.
  3. The 7 days after Christmas Day and Easter Sunday are all also solemnities.
  4. For the remaining 7 days of the octave, Mass is celebrated as though it is still Christmas Day and Easter Sunday. The prayers all say “today,” Easter octave Masses end with “Go in peace, alleluia, alleluia,” and so on. That makes 8 days total, a.k.a. an octave (like an octagon).
  5. After the octave ends, the season continues, but with less solemnity/fanciness. The remaining days of the season are not automatically solemnities.

If you pray any part of the Liturgy of the Hours daily, it’s hard to miss an octave. You literally pray the exact same psalms from Christmas Day and Easter Sunday every single day for eight days. It feels a little monotonous, but boy, does it stick!

My Pet Peeve

Pentecost has a special vigil. I’ve never heard of it actually being celebrated anywhere, but parishes have the option of using all of the vigil-specific readings and extending the liturgy with additional songs and periods of quiet reflection. It would be like the bookend to the Easter Vigil. And it would probably be awesome. But it is not an octave.

Let the octaves be octaves, and let other holidays just end. I am not a fan of saying that you’re celebrating a holiday after the holiday (unless it’s an octave, which means it’s not “after”). You don’t have a Halloween party on November 2. (I did go to one on November 1 a few years ago; I dressed as St. Michael and considered it an All Saints Day party.) You don’t get ashes on the Thursday or Friday after Ash Wednesday. Nobody was still celebrating Memorial Day yesterday.

This all came up because I’ve heard more than one well-meaning Catholic suggest that it’s still Pentecost. It’s not still Pentecost. Pentecost only gets one day. It’s Ordinary Time now, and that’s kind of a bummer after the glory of Easter, but we didn’t receive the Holy Spirit to just sit around. We’re supposed to go!

So go! Celebrate living with the Spirit of God inside you! If you’re really itching for something special to celebrate, it will be Trinity Sunday in a few days, and then Corpus Christi, and then the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts…. Wow. That is a good plan for curing your post-Easter blues. It’s like the Church knows what she’s doing or something.

A Response to “Should Children Make Up Their Own Minds About Religion?”

I did not grow up in church. That surprises people who have only known me as an involved Catholic, but it’s true. My mom’s side is the Catholic side of the family, and they’re only occasional churchgoers. My dad’s side is mostly non-churchgoing, and they’re not Catholic. When I go home for Christmas, I go to church alone.

I received my Sacraments of Initiation on the typical schedule, for which I am grateful. Even though my parents didn’t go to church, they made me go to CCD. When they had more children and we got older, we went to Mass, too. The years preceding Confirmation (when we were going to Mass every week) kick-started my faith into the life I live now. I got to experience what being a Catholic was actually like, and that turned out to be something I wanted.

I say all this to make a point: even when you don’t force children to follow any particular religious path, they have to make up their minds eventually, and they’re going to need a foundation to start from. I lived it. I saw it multiple times when I was teaching RCIA. And I read it, supported by argumentation, in the First Things essay by Jason Stubblefield, “Should Children Make Up Their Own Minds About Religion?”

Should Children Make Up Their Own Minds About Religion? A Reponse at

Photo by Olaf Meyer.

Read the rest at Austin CNM.

The First Steps on the Road (Review: “Loved As I Am”)

To love is to do what is best for the beloved. Some people are easy to love, especially when we have great affection for them besides. Some people are rather more difficult to love.

Consider God’s love for us. We rejected him from the very start of humanity, and we reject him individually now, in varied ways, every day. Perhaps the most complicated form of rejection is the refusal to accept God’s love or even to believe that it is available to us. We have to be better before we can be loved, we think, or God won’t love us until we’re good and perfect and never make mistakes. That won’t happen this side of heaven. What will get us to heaven is embracing the love of the God who stands waiting for us constantly, always seeing us and loving us just as we are and desiring more for us than we could ever imagine. It is this journey from feeling unloved and forgotten to finding great joy in the love of the Father that Sr. Miriam James Heidland, SOLT, shares in Loved As I Am: An Invitation to Conversion, Healing, and Freedom through Jesus.

Loved As I Am

Read the rest at Austin CNM.

Learning to Follow (A Reflection on “The Three Parts of Dance & the Trinity”)

I’m learning to dance. I’ve always loved to dance, even since I was the little girl in shiny gold shoes tearing it up at my uncle’s wedding. True story. I did tap and ballet for about a year when I was four. Since then, it’s been all about freestyle. I have rhythm, which helps a lot, and I make it up as I go. Even when I had a partner, dance never united us.

When I was in college, I had a great group of Catholic friends. One Saturday night, we took the Metro to the Adams Morgan neighborhood of D.C. for free salsa lessons at a nightclub. That was my first real experience of social/ballroom dance, and it was glorious. My moves finally had a purpose. I had a plan. Everything started to click.

A couple on the dance floor. The Theology of Dance connects a hobby with the union of the Holy Trinity.

Photo by Luke Addison at flickr.

Last fall, I participated in dance lessons hosted by Single Catholics Serving Central Texas. I’ve lived in Texas for almost five years, but that was my first introduction to two-step, believe it or not! I was also able to reignite the smoldering embers of my collegiate salsa fire and learn a few new salsa patterns. It was a particularly special experience though, because, now that I have several more years of an active Catholic life under my belt, I can see the connection between God and dance much more clearly.

Read the rest at Austin CNM.

Holy Saturday: The Day of Quiet

It has been a very quiet day. I went grocery shopping, did my laundry, and the dishwasher is on its second cycle today (once to clean dishes, once to clean the dishwasher), so there has been noise, but no music, and very little talking. That seems to be consistent with the character of this holy day, the day it is until the Easter Vigil begins in a few hours.

At Spirit & Truth on Monday, my friend Travis gave an overview of Holy Week. Most of it was a review for me (and most of us gathered there, I hope), but I learned a few interesting factoids

In particular, he pointed out that we think of Good Friday as the only day of the year when Mass is not celebrated, but strictly speaking, that applies to Holy Saturday, too. Just as Lent ends when the Holy Thursday Mass begins (launching us into this mini-season of the Triduum), Good Friday runs only from midnight to midnight. Holy Saturday ends when the Easter Vigil begins, and there is no daily Mass for Holy Saturday.

Thus, today is a day of liturgical quiet as well as a day of environmental quiet.

It is my tradition to pray the Office of Readings for the Liturgy of the Hours on this day. I only make an effort to do that today and All Souls’ Day (when I pray the Office for the Dead). It’s special to me because the non-Biblical reading is titled “An ancient homily on Holy Saturday.” It contains some of the most beautiful imagery of salvation I’ve ever encountered, and it moves me greatly every time. It’s later in the day that I hoped to post this, but I hope that if you read it after the Easter season has begun, you will still take time to reflect on the work of our Savior between his awful death and his triumphant Resurrection.

a stone angel with a garland of flowers in front of a cross

Something strange is happening. There is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the Cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: ‘My Lord be with you all.’ Christ answered him: ‘And with your spirit.’ He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.’

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in Hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I in you; together we form one person and cannot be separated.

For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

Rise. Let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.

God bless you! Christ is risen; he is risen indeed!

Best Confession Ever: 5 Things You Should Do Before Confession (and 5 While You’re In There)

I go to Confession. I am not always “in great need of Confession,” as a priest once phrased it, but I have found it to be good for me. I go once a month whether I really think I need to or not, and there is always a particular routine I follow. I like routines.

Even if you’re not as frequent a penitent as I am (or you go more often), Lent is a penitential season. The Church places a particular emphasis on the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation (popularly known as Confession) during this season, recommending it in her precepts. If you’ve been putting off Confession for a while, or even if you’ve already decided to go before Easter, here is some advice for having the Best Confession Ever.

1. Figure out how long it has been since your last Confession.

Maybe it’s been a while: several weeks, a few years, or since your last major sacrament. I was in those shoes once. I can tell you from experience that it gets significantly easier if you go more often. You have less time to get into trouble!

Isolating that time frame is also useful because the gravity of your sins can change depending on the passage of time. If you’ve told 6 lies and stolen things from work twice and drank too much 3 times, and your last Confession was 3 weeks ago, that’s a much bigger deal than if it was 3 months ago.

2. Review your life since your last Confession.

I start by looking at my calendar. That usually jogs my memory of my most recent poor choices. This is when my gratitude for the sacrament rises exponentially.

This is also the time to do an examination of conscience. I highly recommend doing that before you leave home if you are going to the church specifically for Confession. Should the line move quickly, you’ll be prepared. If you’re on a retreat or at a Reconciliation/Penance Service, there will probably be a designated time for your examination. My favorite is based on the Ten Commandments and focuses on specific actions I might have committed that break them. I have never made it through that list without spotting something familiar. That may or may not be a good thing.

Read the rest at Austin CNM.

Clothes On, Heart Full (Review: The Thrill of the Chaste, Catholic Edition)

In my happy journey through every book on chastity known to Christian man, I made a stop at The Thrill of the Chaste back in 2012. The book had been out for years; I tend to be a later adopter. My favorite aspects of that edition were Eden’s utterly realistic experience and her comments about the loss of innocence. Through the wonders of the Internet, Eden herself found my review, complimented me on it, and revealed that she had been working on a new book about healing from sexual wounds through the lives of the saints. By reaching out to me, she sparked the great relationship I have with her current publisher, Ave Maria Press. I have been edified by the books I have read since, and I hope you all, dear readers, have enjoyed my writing about them.

I knew Eden had entered the Catholic Church after publishing The Thrill, and I was delighted to see in My Peace I Give You that there was still more for her to share about finding peace and redemption through embracing a chaste lifestyle. And who doesn’t love saints?

"Living chastely is a bold challenge to modern culture, because it proves that people are not automatons but human beings with free will." —Dawn Eden

Imagine my delight to find that the very same Dawn Eden, chastity advocate and new(-ish) Catholic, had revised her initial reflections on converting to chastity in a new, Catholic edition of The Thrill of the Chaste. It’s been some time and many books since I first encountered her story, and I am pleased to note that the infusion of Catholicism only enriches her witness.

Read the rest at Austin CNM.

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