Whatever curious and interesting subject strikes my fancy, be it silly or serious, gets posted for your reading pleasure.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

I'm Keeping the Partridge, (and the Pear Tree Too!)

‘Tis the season to sing carols, fah la la la lah, la lah, lah, lah!

Yes, I just had to include all the fah, la, lahs.

(Image: "Partridge in a Pear Tree" by Lynn Bywaters)

Christmas wouldn’t be the same without all the sacred hymns and jingly secular tunes that reminds us of what the season is all about, including all the nonsense syllables like ‘fah la lah’, or the cryptic lyrics in some carols that have us wondering what they could possibly mean every year we hear them sung.  You’ve already guessed from the title I’m thinking in particular of the repetitive song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” listing an unusual and generous assortment of gifts presented from one sweetheart to another.  “On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me...”. 

I once read that the gifts were supposed to be symbolic of various points of Catholic doctrine, a hidden ‘underground’ catechism to help the  Catholics learn their faith at a time when practising Catholicism was criminalized in England in 1558 until 1829. That sounds like a logical and satisfactory explanation, right?

Now, I  have just read that the original article supposedly explaining the spiritual meaning of the lyrics was  only suggestive and did not present any historical facts!

In 1979, a Canadian hymnologist named Hugh D. McKellar published a piece entitled "How to Decode the Twelve Days of Christmas", concocting an explanation for each gift and how they represented the Catholic Faith.  McKellar offered no evidence for his claim and subsequently admitted in 1994 that the purported dogmatic associations were his own interpretations that the symbols suggested to him,  for 'evocative  symbols do not allow for any definitve explanation':

 In any case, really evocative symbols do not allow of [sic] definitive explication, exhausting all possibilities. I can at most report what this song's symbols have suggested to me in the course of four decades, hoping thereby to start you on your own quest.  (Hugh D.McKellar, "The Twelve Days of Christmas", The Hymn Vol. 45, No.4, October 1994)

To make matters worse, people assumed his explanations were the true intended meanings and innocently spread his conjectures as fact for years.  In fact, you still see these theoretical explanations of the lyrics floating around the internet and other sources:

Partridge in a pear tree: Jesus Christ, symbolized as a mother partridge that feigns injury to decoy predators from helpless nestlings.

Two turtle doves: Old and New Testaments

Three French Hens: Faith, hope, charity

Four Calling Birds: The Four Gospels

Five Golden Rings: The Pentateuch or Five Books of Moses (Genesis through Deuteronomy)

Six Geese a Laying: 6 days of creation

Seven Swans a Swimming: 7 Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Eight Maids a-Milking: 8 Beatitudes

Nine Ladies Dancing: 9 Fruits of the Holy Spirit

Ten Lords a-Leaping: 10 Commandments

Eleven Pipers Piping: The 11 faithful disciples
Twelve  Drummers Drumming: 12 articles of the Apostles Creed

Sad to say, there is no proof this was the original meaning of the song, and was in fact only a suggestive explanation.  If you’ve noticed, these are not just Catholic articles of faith, but also tenants believed by Protestants.  There is no reason to hide the meaning of the song as believers from either faith could sing it, even during the persecution times. 

Here are a few facts: the English version of the “The Twelve Days of Christmas” was first published without music in 1780 in a children’s book entitled “Mirth Without Mischief”, and the last order of the gifts were as follows:  8 Maids a’ Milking, 9 Drummers Drumming,  10 Pipers Piping, 11 Ladies Dancing, 12, Lords a Leaping.  The idea was the gift was to be grander than the last, so of course it would end with a bunch of festive, merrymaking aristocrats.  This order of gifts was retained in subsequent versions, but was mixed up as time passed.  The current version of the song we know including the mixed up gifts seems to have originated from an edition published in 1909 by Frederic Austin, who also changed the ‘four colly birds’ (blackbirds) to ‘calling birds’.

So, despite the cheery holiday tune, the real purpose of the song is not as lofty as we were led to believe.  There is evidence the song first originated in France, and when it arrived in England, it was sung by children as a silly forfeits game: each person playing the game had to remember their verse, and if they got it wrong when their turn came, they had to forfeit a kiss or a sweet.  Hence, the repetitive (and sometimes annoying!) nature of the lyrics.  In fact, the original French version there is no pear tree in the first line, just a ‘pretty partridge’.

Yes, I’m disappointed!  If there is a higher meaning to the lyrics, we may never know what it is for certain, the numbers associated with the gifts could be attributed to any of the mystic numbers associated with the Christian Faith.

 At least McKellar attempted to present a spiritual interpretation, and even if we can't give credence to all his proposed meanings, I refuse to relinquish one of the symbolisms ~ the pretty partridge and the pear tree.  It is one of the few images that bear a truly Christian meaning in the carol.


 (Image: French Partridge and chicks, by Archibald Thorburn, 1915)

When I think of a partridge, St. John the Evangelist, the Apostle beloved of Christ, immediately springs to mind.  According to the 'Acts of John' purportedly written by his disciple, Leucius Charinus, St. John used to be amused by a pet partridge, picking it up and stroking it, or watching it play and preen its feathers in the dust.  One day he was questioned by a hunter who wondered how so great a man like him chosen by God and working so many miracles could lower himself to playing with a little creature like that.  Finding amusement in something so simple should be beneath him! St. John just calmly asked the hunter what he had in his hand and the hunter replied he had a bow.  John then asked why it was not always stretched ready for the hunt, and the hunter replied if it was always strung it would lose its tension and cease to be useful.  John replied he was doing the same in taking some relaxation and finding some time for humble, simple amusements to ease his mind, for if he was always stretched at work his mind would eventually grow as slack as his bow and would not be able to obey the power of the Spirit.

The story is not just a reminder of the need to take some time off once in awhile, it recalls the virtue of humility as it was deemed base for St. John to find amusement and spend time with a simple creature like that.  As we return to the Christmas carol, what a wonderful reminder St. John’s partridge is, that Christ for love us came humbly as a baby ~ the Lamb of God was born in a stable and laid in a manger.

I’m also 'keeping' the pear tree even if it is a later English addition, for there is something quite intriguing as the song progresses: there is an unusual accrual of numbers that show the multiplied 'fruits' of humility if you examine the lyrics from another angle.

In the beginning only one tree and partridge is given as a present, yet by the end of the song, it is sung twelve times, and while the lady love may have been given a magnificent gathering of twelve lords a' leaping at the conclusion, they are mentioned only once.  The eleven regal ladies are presented only twice, the ten pipers three times, etc, according to the orginal order of the gifts. So, all the humble presents presented in the beginning multiply while the seemingly luxurious and pride-filled gifts actually dwindle in the end despite their number.  Of importance, the song begins and ends with the partridge and the tree, the Alpha and Omega of the entire carol: if we have Christ, we have a treasure indeed!  I cannot help but think of this passage in the Book of Revelation written by St. John:

“And he shewed me a river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb.  In the midst of the street thereof, and on both sides of the river, was the Tree of Life, bearing twelve fruits, yielding its fruits every month, and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no curse any more; but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and his servants shall serve him.” (Apoc. 22: 1-3)

I wonder if the heavenly fruits resemble a pear?

May all my readers have a blessed a peaceful Christmas and New Year!

Here are some Posts from ‘Christmas Past’:

* The Rich Man's Son, A Christmas Story 

If you like my blog, you may LOVE my books!

Saturday, 21 November 2015

The Mother of All Thanksgivings ~1492 AD?

When did the first Thanksgiving Day take place?  Were the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock and survived that brutal winter with the help of the local natives the first to celebrate our nation’s beloved day of gratitude to God in 1621 as we have been taught?
The answer is ‘nope’.

 (Image: The First Thanksgiving by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, c. 1914)

 For a number of several years now there have been various attempts to correct a popular misconception about American history on who the originators of the first thanksgiving are.  History shows it was not the Pilgrims, but the first intrepid explorers who made it through a perilous voyage to the New World. 

You may have already heard about some of these ‘First Thanksgiving Contenders’ put forward for consideration by eminent historians:

Don Pedro Menéndez  de Avilés: A Spanish explorer who landed on shore in Florida, September 8, 1565.  He named the new land “St. Augustine” in honour of St. Augustine on whose feast day the land was first sighted, August 28.  The native Timucua tribe welcomed the explorers peacefully.  The day the explorers came ashore, the Spanish thanked God with a Mass of Thanksgiving, the very first Catholic Mass to be said on what would become North American land, and afterwards enjoyed a feast with the natives. (For more information, read Prof. Michael Gannons work, The Cross in the Sand).

However, research shows that wasn’t the first Thanksgiving.


The French Huguenot (Protestant) explorer René de Goulaine de Laudonnière landed in Florida a year before Menendez de Aviles.  The Timucua tribe that would later celebrate with Menendez had welcomed them, causing René to order a feast of Thanksgiving be celebrated to God on June 30, 1564.

 Still, that may not be the first Thanksgiving either!

As the Jacksonville Historical Society Website points out:
Can we conclusively determine that Laudonniere’s 1564 feast is the mother of all American Thanksgivings? Probably not. It must be noted that many prior European explorers offered prayers of thanksgiving upon their safe arrivals in Florida, including Juan Ponce de León in 1513 and 1521, Pánfilo de Narváez in 1528, Hernando de Soto in 1529, Father Luis Cáncer de Barbastro in 1549, and Tristán de Luna in 1559. Also, assuredly, each of these explorers came into contact with native peoples and, most likely, would have had to rely not only on their kindness and goodwill, but also their food.” ( Click here to read their article, "America's Real Thanksgiving".)

True, all these explorers are contenders as having originated the First Thanksgiving, Ponce de Leon’s expedition dated 1513 seems to be the earliest candidate, but I shall now suggest another nominee that apparently has been completely overlooked as far as I can tell: I give you.....drum roll please .....


Christopher Columbus.   (Image: posthumous portrait of Columbus by Sebastiano Piombo c. 1520)

What!?  Yes, you read that.  Christopher Columbus.  During his second voyage in 1493, he set foot on what would become a United States territory, Puerto Rico, which was ceded to the US in 1893 by the Spanish government after the Spanish-America War.

‘But how can he have originated that first thanksgiving?’ you are probably thinking.  We have no record of a feast day of gratitude celebrated by him on what is now North American soil.  True, but I pose another question—does the first American Thanksgiving have to be celebrated directly on American soil to be considered the first Thanksgiving in the New World?

Since Christopher Columbus is the first of the European explorers to discover what would one day be called the Americas, (even though he didn’t know it then), his voyage across the sea was the mother of all exploratory voyages to the West.  Therefore he is the ‘primordial founding father’ of our American nation in a manner of speaking. In a that sense he is the ‘first American’ of us all.  Of importance, he gave thanks, and had every reason to.

I won’t go into long details about his early biography and bore you to death, (you can Google that yourselves!) but I cannot help but mention his dogged determination in seeking patrons to fund his daring expedition to achieve what was once thought impossible.

Contrary to popular misconception, the learned scholars of Columbus’ time had figured out that the world wasn’t flat like a Spanish tortilla, they understood that technically it was possible to sail to the rich lands of the Far East by taking a western route, the problem was no one knew exactly how large the earth was, (or that there were another couple of hitherto unknown continents in the way! Surprise, surprise!)   Could an expedition be stocked well enough and last the lengthy voyage in that vast territory of hundreds of thousands of leagues of ocean yet uncharted?  In the end the general consensus was that such a voyage may be possible but unfeasible on a practical level.


(Image: The Yale world map by "Henricus Martellus Germanus" (Heinrich Hammer), probably from Florence 1490-92.  This is a map of the known world before Columbus' historic voyage: Europe and Africa to the left, the Far East on the right.  By then, scholars knew the earth was round, but had no idea how large the 'Ocean Sea', our Atlantic ocean was, and if a westward crossing to Asia was possible.) 

However, Columbus not only believed it was possible, but he was fully determined to be prove it could be done.  Making extensive studies of historical and geographic texts, both ancient and modern, he made his own calculations on how long a journey to China and India might take, and that is where he encountered many of his difficulties.  His league estimations for such a journey were deemed way too short of the theoretical mark proposed by the scholars of his time, and therefore no one wanted to risk their capital funding an already hazardous and uncertain expedition led by someone who seemed not to have the foggiest notion of what they were planning to undertake.  This may be a crude comparison, but it is not that different from the latest idea concocted up by idealistic space exploration enthusiasts ~ vis to send a handful of determined citizens volunteers selected by an open application process on a one-way, no-turning-back, lifetime ticket to set up a permanent colony on Mars. In other words, The Mars One Project.  True, theoretically it could be done, and if it could be pulled off, it would be a groundbreaking feat for the annuals of history and science, but it also appears quite insane where practical purposes are concerned!

View of Astronauts and Mars One Colony   

(Image: conceptual art of the Mars-One colony project.  Photo credit, Bryan Versteeg.

 Well, Columbus was attempting something along the same lines.  He did not give up on this dream to sail west and  spent years attempting to secure a patron.  He first went to King John II of Portugal in 1485, but was refused not only on account of his miscalculations, but also because the King’s explorers were busy attempting the Cape of Good Hope route to Asia around the southern tip of Africa and would not be enticed by the dubious half-baked promise of a ‘West Passage’.

Our persistent would-be explorer next went to Spain where he was fortunate to find influential noble supporters, but his most important followers would prove to be the Franciscan friars at the monastery La Rabida near Palos, especially Brother Juan Pérez, former official of Queen Isabella.  Columbus was eventually introduced to the Spanish court in 1486 and a special commission was set up to investigate his proposals, however, the commission took much time deliberating and investigating his calculations.  At least he had the Spanish court interested: for a time they were intrigued with his idea, and to prevent him from going to another patron, he was awarded a meagre annual allowance to tide him over.  Good boy, stay put.  Here’s some pocket money for you.

Yet, rather than sit around as the special committee in Spain dallied, Columbus went to the Portuguese court again with his daring project in 1488, but was turned down.  He didn’t give up and travelled to Venice and Genoa, but was refused there too and received no encouragement whatsoever.  He even sent his brother Bartholomew Columbus to King Henry VII in England to see if that monarch might be interested in a Western Route to the Indies, that too proved a failure.

Columbus again tried the Court of Spain, and while the committee continued to waste time blowing hot air and weigh in against his voyage, the crown ordered in 1489 that Columbus be given free food and lodgings in any city or town under their domain.

Okay, it was another foot in the door, an indication Spain was not yet out of the picture, even if he was being treated like a ward of the state with no proper job to do!  In fact, he wasn’t treated very well, he could barely make ends meet with the allowance he had been granted, following the Spanish court everywhere as a person with no fixed abode, accepting the order of free lodgings granted by the charity of the court.  No doubt he took this shabby treatment all in the spirit of a good son of St. Francis of Assisi ~ he was a member of the Third Order after all.  In fact, Columbus often appeared before the court dressed in his humble brown robe of the Franciscan order to the point he was mocked for his ragged appearance, and indeed, his sanity was further questioned on account of it!


 (Image: The Franciscan Monastery of Rabida. Photo by Miguel Ángel 2007.)

However, he didn’t give up and entered several more years of lobbying and negotiations with the Spanish court despite the negative outlook.  When he still wasn’t getting anywhere, he decided to try the French court and set out on foot for France in 1491, stopping by the Franciscan La Rabida monastery where he once again shared his plans with Brother Juan Pérez, before continuing to France.  France too turned down his proposals, and we can only imagine the frustration he was feeling by then!   

In 1492, Columbus appealed to the Spanish court while it was residing in Cordoba and was rejected—again.  If we were with him, by now after all these years we might just advise the poor blighter to give up, he did his best, right?  We might tell him to have a nice pity-party for himself, then get on with his life!  In fact, he was at the breaking point.  Leaving the city on a mule, he was on the brink of despair when lo and behold, he was immediately sent for: the queen had miraculously changed her mind!  Some accounts say King Ferdinand had intervened in Queen Isabella’s decision to reject Columbus’ proposal and she agreed to fund the expedition, (the king took credit for the idea, naturally), while in other records the credit of changing the Queen’s decision belongs to Brother Juan Pérez of the Franciscan La Rabida monastery, her former adviser.  Apparently, after listening to Columbus’ plans before his journey to France, the good brother decided to make a special appeal to the royal court on Columbus behalf, and was heard.

At last!  Success!  Gracias a Dios!  Thanks be to God!

The dream of finding a direct westward route to the Indies was now within his grasp!  When the expedition was finally ready to set sail, Columbus chose a very specific date to depart, August 3rd.  Why?  Because before he set sail he wanted he and his men to celebrate on August 2nd and give thanks for this great event with those who never gave up on him despite all the obstacles, the Friars and people of Palos. (Info: Juan Manzano y Manzan, Cristóbal Colón).

 (Image: bust of Brother Juan Pérez, photo by Miguel Ángel, 2007)

First of all, August the 2nd was and continues to be a very important feast day for the Franciscans, the feast of Our Lady of the Angels, and Columbus was a Third Order Franciscan.  It is the anniversary of the dedication of the birthplace of the Franciscan Order and the day of a special Indulgence, the Portiuncula Indulgence.  (Click here to read more.)   That day in 1492 was certainly an important day of feasting to the brothers and local residents of Palos, especially as Our Lady of the Angels was declared their special Patroness against the perils of the sea fifty years earlier by Pope Eugenius IV.  We can only imagine the thanksgiving jubilation on the day before Columbus departed after all the tribulations he went through, and that he wished to celebrate with them.  Anyone familiar with Spain could easily guess there would have been a Mass, and a procession with the famous Marian statue of the monastery, the "Virgen de los Milagros" the Virgin of Miracles.  There would of course have been feasting.  There’s nothing like a fiesta!  Columbus then withdrew and spent the entire night in prayer, apparently before the statue of Our Lady of Miracles, preparing for his momentous journey across an ocean never before charted.



 (Left: The Portiuncula, Italy.  Chapel dedicated to Our Lady of the Angels rebuilt by St. Francis, the birthplace of the Franciscan Order.  Right: The statue of Our Lady of Miracles at the Rabida Monastery in Spain.  Below: Chapel of La Rabida Monastery, Photo by Marc Ryckaert, 2007)


So, that celebratory day held on August 2, 1492 in Rabida / Palos, the Feast of Our Lady of the Angels, may have been the Mother of All Thanksgivings. It may not have been held on American land, but is nonetheless our first American Thanksgiving ~ if it were not for Columbus’ determination, his venture may never have taken place, and someone else may have been granted the honour of becoming the first 'founding father' of modern America.

Of course, for those who insist that for the ‘First Thanksgiving’ to be recognised as such it should at least have taken place somewhere in the New World, we would have to turn our attention to the day Columbus first set foot on San Salvador in 1492.  After weeks of sailing with no sight of land, the men were getting afraid to the point our explorer was facing the prospects of a brutal mutiny.  He finally promised that if they did not sight land by the feast day of Our Lady of Pillar, October 12th, he would turn the ships around, and sure enough, on that very day he reached dry land.  In thanksgiving, he knelt and said the following prayer:

“O Lord, eternal and omnipotent God, Thou hast, by Thy holy word, created the heavens, the earth, and the sea; blessed and glorified be Thy name; praised be Thy majesty, who hast deigned that, by means of Thy unworthy servant, Thy sacred name should be acknowledged and made known in this new quarter of the world.”    (Info: Irving, Washington. A history of the life and voyages of Christopher Columbus. Paris: A. and W. Galignani, 1828. p. 237.)


(Image: Columbus, kneeling, claims the island of San Salvador for Spain.)


The Credo, and the Te Deum praising and thanking God were also said in addition to other multiple prayers of thanksgiving.  That counts as a thanksgiving celebration, doesn’t it?  Of interest, the first sighting of he New World on the feast of Our Lady of Pillar is also apropos in conjunction with Columbus’ dream and his unrelenting perseverance to achieve it despite all the obstacles.

Circa 40 AD, the Apostle St. James the Greater had embarked on a mission to spread the Gospel to the pagans in what is now recognised as Spain,  however, despite all his efforts, he had barely made a few converts and was disheartened by the meagre results.  In what is now Zaragoza, Our Lady appeared to him on top of pillar surrounded by Angels with the baby Jesus in Her arms.  She encouraged James, telling him that the people of Spain would convert and that their faith would be as strong as the pillar on which she was standing.  She gave him the pillar in addition to a wooden statue of her image and  requested that a chapel be built on the spot.  Of interest, theologians note that judging from biblical texts and holy Tradition handed down, the Mother of God was still alive on earth when this visitaion took place, so, it was not an apparition, but a miraculous bi-location event.

 Virgen del Pilar.JPG

(Image: Our Lady of the Pillar, Zaragoza, Spain.  The wooden statue sits on the famous jasper pillar draped in a special mantel donated by devotees.  The pillar is further covered by a bronze case, also covered by a silver case, seen below the mantel.  Our Lady of Pillar has been designated the Patroness of the Hispanic World as her feast day coincides with the discovery of the New World.  Photo by Archivaldo, 2007)

Like St. James whose missionary efforts met with disheartening results in the beginning, Columbus faced similar trials.  In addition to his dream of discovering a new western passage, records also indicate he was inflamed with missionary zeal and the desire to spread the Gospel to the pagan lands of the Far East.   How fitting considering his first name ‘Christopher’ means ‘Christ-Bearer’!  Of course, we cannot help but notice a connection between the first thanksgiving feast day of Our Lady of the Angels in Palos and that of Our Lady of Pilar surrounded by Angels.  Just after Columbus had been granted funding for his expedition after years of rejections and ridicule, picture him coming to the brink of the ultimate failure in the venture as his men grew afraid and threatened to mutiny, then, to find victory was again right before him on the horizon at the last minute!  Prayer and perseverance wins all.  We can imagine how heartfelt his Thanksgiving was that day of Our Lady of Pilar when San Salvador was sighted.

In all, if we consider Columbus as having celebrated the two Mother of All Thanksgivings, the Mother of all Mothers was at the heart of them both!

Of course, a time-honoured tradition of looking back on the Pilgrims of future New England as having been the originators of the holiday will not be effaced so easily, especially as it might chagrin a number of people to think that the early thanksgivings of America were predominately  Catholic!  However, as long as we remember what the holiday is all about, thanking God for the blessings He sends and the graces He has given to help us weather our storms in life, whatever they may be, then we have the right spirit of the holiday, no matter what event we believe is the first of them.  We all receive many graces amongst the tribulations of this world, and God expects us to come and  thank Him.  Remember the Gospel of the ten lepers, when only one returned to thank Him for His mercy.  Our Lord said: “Were not ten made clean? And where are the nine? There is no one found to return and give glory to God, but this stranger.” (Luke 17: 17-18)

Thank the Lord for everything, for without Him we have nothing.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

If you like my blog, you may LOVE my books!

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Remember Remember the Dead in November

(Image: 'The Forerunners of Christ by with Saints and Martyrs'  by Fra Angelico, c. 1423-1424)

  Halloween madness.  Once again a portion of the Western World will celebrate black magic witches, vampires, zombies and ghouls, but forget the important days that follow in November: All Saints and All Souls.  Mother Church in her wisdom replaced the ancient pagan harvest festival of Samhain with days truly worthy of recognition, but how on earth did Christians especially Catholics allow themselves to get sucked back into the traditions associated with the heathen druids?  Is it that easy to get bribed by a night of gaudy dress-up and free candy?  (Guilty, I loved dressing up as a kid and getting the sugary loot.)  No more!  We’ve sold ourselves and our children cheap.   It’s high time we doff the devil and monster costumes ~ imitation is the highest form of flattery they say.  Instead of celebrating Hell’s champions it is far better to honour the Saints and Holy Souls, the heroes of Heaven and earth.

After moving to Portugal, we were delighted to see that it is on the day of All Saints November 1, that the children go around and ask for treats.  Some houses give candies, but others give coins,  €0.20  cents was considered good at one point, about $0.50 US cents-worth a few years ago according to the rate of exchange then.  Mothers sew lovely hand-made drawstring pouches for the children to collect their goodies in.  Handicrafts are still practised here big-time, you often see ladies passing the time crocheting and embroidering lovely designs onto their dishtowels.  When the children come ‘treating’, some have two of these bags ready, one for  the candies, the other for the money.   The funny part is, it is not considered inappropriate to go collecting all the goodies for babies too!  Some mothers are very enterprising, rolling their little ones in the strollers, collecting the treats or coins for them before they are even walking!

 (Image: drawstring bag, a ‘Saco por bolinhos’, 'sack for cakes'.)

In the old days, they asked for ‘little cakes’, in fact, the feast is also called the ‘ Dia dos Bolinhos’, Day of the Little Cakes.  The children sing out a sing-song call asking “Bread for God”, or other similar chant.  The women would hand out small round compact sweetbread rolls made of crushed walnuts, plus a few whole almonds and raisins, spiced with cinnamon and lemon or orange peel.  At least, that is what we can taste in them!  It is possible these cakes are particular to our region, they may have different ones depending on what area of the country you’re in.  Since the ones we receive are almost like ‘hard rock buns’, we find it is easier to slice them thinly from top to bottom and make Italian-style breakfast biscotti rather then slice from left to right as you would for a normal roll.  (Perhaps that’s how they are traditionally eaten anyway, but we’re just winging it.)   Toast the slices lightly, or eat it plain, they are quite tasty with tea or coffee.  Of course, we do something untraditional for the Portuguese and add some butter, yummy!


(Image: Traditional bolinho of our region.)

At first, we thought that the treat-giving was only for children as would be on Halloween in the States, but no, it is a day of celebration for all, neighbours give gifts of the little cakes to each other.  We don’t know how to actually bake the traditional cakes, you can buy them at the stores these days, but somehow that seems a bit insulting when all the women in our village are excellent bakers and do them from scratch.  So, they were quite amused when we shared Irish buns and other similar tasties based on northern recipes with them.  Considering the hard economic times we discover the adults are now just concentrating on giving to the kids, we don’t see the neighbours running around with the cakes as much as they used to.   Times are hard for everyone.

Speaking of which, All Saints in Portugal is also a day of charity for we discovered  that people in need would also come asking for ‘cakes’, but in reality needed a little more than just cake. If you translate some of the old traditional sing-song chants you can see it is call for charity: “Bread for (the love of) God, Child of God, Bread of God, Little cake in the bag, Go with God.”  If someone gave a cake or offering, the children used to sing a blessing (if I get my translation right!)  “May this house be filled with corn bread,  for here live good people,  may this house be filled with wine, for here lives someone saintly.”  If you were stingy and refused to give, your lack of charity was rewarded with the following chant: “May this house be filled with garlic, for here lives a scarecrow, may the house be filled with ‘grease’ (i.e. Extreme Unction oil), for here lives someone dead.”  I don’t think the kids sing these anymore, at least we haven’t heard them.

We were surprised several years to find elderly ladies or mothers with adult children suffering from Down Syndrome or other mental and physical challenges would ask for cakes, but  we saw they had huge bags and were trying to get some extra groceries without having to actually ‘beg’.  Old Age pensions and unemployment allowances are pitiful here in Portugal, so we learned to have a few care-bags ready in case someone showed up needing them. 

Sadly, one of the major changes to All Saints Day in Portugal is that it is no longer a national holiday, thanks to the current economic crisis.   Portugal was one of the few countries that had a treaty with the Vatican ensuring that important Holy Days of Obligation were kept as national holidays, which not only allowed people time to celebrate and be with their families but to fulfil their obligations and go to Mass.  However, this blasted socialist government convinced the Vatican that having people work those days would help bring the country out of its economic woes, and so the Vatican agreed to change the treaty, up until 2019 I think.  Now parents have to work and can’t take their kids around ‘treating’, they must go on the closest Saturday.  It’s already very confusing that the Church in Portugal has moved most of the days of obligation to the closest Sunday they fall on thanks to godless governments and godless laws! This year we think the kiddies will come on Sunday since  November 1 falls on that day.

(UPDATE: January 2016: I have just discovered Portugal is bringing back the Holy Day of All Saints and  Corpus Christi!  Thanks be to God!  http://www.theportugalnews.com/news/religious-holidays-return/37102)

Of course, many who are not Catholic may wonder why the need for this ‘obligatory’ celebration of the saints?  Is that not ‘worshipping’ the saints?

All Saints – Feast of the Glorious ‘Dead’

On All Saints we celebrate not only all the angels and known canonized saints one more time, but also all the unknown and unsung heroes.  We admire and venerate the ones who made it, who beat the devil and the world by remaining faithful to Christ and His grace.   Apart from Christ and His Blessed Mother, saints did sin and fell many times, but despite their sins they rose up to continue the fight and never deserted.  Oscar Wilde once observed every saint has a past and every sinner a future, basically a saint is a sinner who kept on trying as the saying goes.   They are our Glorious ‘Dead’, the spiritual warriors we should imitate.  It is for this reason a Catholic will have pictures of saints about them and also pray to them, it is not idolatry.  If it were, then pious citizens had better demolish the war memorials raised in honour of our veterans in Washington DC.  What!?  Tear down  something as iconic as the Marine Corp memorial?  Unthinkable, right?  Catholics feel the same way about the icons and paintings of saints. By the way, the word ‘iconic’ comes from ‘ icon’, more food for thought!

(Image: Marine Corp Memorial)

So, since it is not considered idolatrous nor dishonourable to a nation or its leaders to raise images with the purpose of remembering those who gave their all for their country, dare we treat the saints any less who gave their all for God?  If we honour all that is praiseworthy in a nation by honouring its heroes, we also honour God by honouring the saints who were faithful to Him. They remind us that we too may make it if we keep up the good fight.

Not only are the saints both known and unknown our heroes, but they are also our friends and ambassadors.  When we pray to the saints we don’t pray to them as we would to God, but to them as very powerful mediators favoured by God who know how to present our requests to Him in an acceptable manner that they may be more readily answered.  Here’s another analogy for you: we may reasonably assume a decorated war veteran, a five star general let’s say, has a better chance of speaking with the president than an unknown citizen.Our citizen has a letter he wishes to send to the Commander and Chief but knows it may just get a glance and perhaps get tossed in the pile of never-ending correspondence.  His request may lay about for awhile, or may even get ditched in the trash can since the President is busy with other important matters.  The citizen is smart however and asks a respected general to present the letter on his behalf.  Will not the president grant an audience to that respected general all dressed up in his formal uniform and decorations faster than to the average Joe Bloke?  Perhaps the nation’s leader is not willing to read the letter, but then, what if the general did something completely unheard of?  Imagine him taking off all his stars, medals, bars and stripes, place them on the letter and humbly ask Mr. President to please consider this missive as if he had written it himself.  How can the president say no?

Image result for rotten appleOur prayers to the saints work the same way.   Our prayers are so often lacking in attention or based on too much worldly self-interest, they are like apples riddled with wormholes.  The angels and saints know how to polish them up a little, uniting the good intentions of our petitions with their own glorious merits, placing the rotten apple on gold platter so to speak, so God is more willing to accept the offering!         

 True, God likes us to pray to Him and know Him personally, but we also know from Scripture He wishes us to be completely united in charity with everyone in the Church, to help and love one another, and that includes the saints in Heaven who are part of the Church Triumphant.   St. Paul taught that faith and hope are no longer needed in Heaven, but charity ~ love ~ is the reigning virtue that will never die.  “Charity never falleth away.” (1 Cor. 8)   If anyone were to say “There is nothing but selfishness and certainly no love in Heaven,” we would all think them mad, but that is exactly what is being said when people declare God is displeased when we pray to His holy ones and ask for their help.

 I for one cannot imagine a saint who lived and preached charity to their brethren while they lived on earth to then look down at the earth in all its misery and say, “It’s your problem now, we’ve done our bit, we’re just going to bask in all this blessedness.  Hoof it yourselves.”  That would be the height of selfishness!  On the contrary, the saints eagerly desire our salvation and earnestly pray to God on our behalf, and it does not demean the Almighty in the least to accept our requests at their hands for it is an act of charity, and as we know, God is Love itself.    There is no selfishness, ingratitude or hate towards mankind in that celestial place of bliss, it is one of the foremost reasons why Heaven is that wonderful place of perfection.  The saints who helped to save souls while on earth will continue to do so in Heaven.  We might dare say they are zealously inflamed with the same motto of loyalty and brotherhood that is ingrained the hearts and minds of our marines ~ never leave a man behind.

After celebrating the Glorious ‘Dead’ and paying them tribute, we next turn our thoughts towards the Suffering Dead, those incarcerated in God’s debtors prison.

November 2, All Souls Day

Unfortunately, there are some Holy Ones who have not made it to Heaven yet, the Souls of Purgatory.  These souls have died in God’s grace and did not deserve Hell, but are not pure enough to enter His Beatific Presence.  They are detained in Heaven’s purifying ‘Debtors Prison’ until all the debts due to their sins are purged away.

Sin carries with it a set of consequences: guilt is contracted that stains the soul and incurs a temporal debt that must be paid to atone for the affront committed against God’s Almighty holiness. Confession cleans the soul of guilt, but not the temporal debt. For an example, let’s say a little boy breaks his neighbour’s window.   The boy is sorry and asks for forgiveness and it is granted, but the window still has to be paid for.   When we sin, God is eager to forgive when we are earnestly sorry for our failings big and small, but the debt must still be paid.  We can do that now by our prayers, alms and sacrifices here on earth, or, we must go to God’s ‘debtor’s prison’ after we die, which is a place of temporary suffering.  However, we can no longer do anything to help ourselves once we are there, the time of merit passes when we die.  We can pray for others, but not for ourselves.  We have to rely on the prayers of the saints in Heaven and also on the prayers and sacrifices of the faithful on earth to help shorten our time or lessen our pains, or else we will be stuck there to endure the price of our sins until the time of  imprisonment is up. (That is, if we escape Hell, but that’s another epistle!)

Contrary to what some people think, there is Scriptural basis to this doctrine on Purgatory.  In the Old Testament, we find there was a pious tradition of offering prayers and alms to the temple for those who had died.  Judas Maccabeus offered alms for sacrifice for the eternal repose of  a band of Jewish soldiers that had been slain.  They had committed grave errors by taking for booty gifts that had been offered to the idols of their enemies and were slain in punishment.  However, despite having sinned through greed, Judas did not believe they were damned, they were loyal valiant soldiers who fought for God despite their weaknesses and are described as having ‘fallen asleep in godliness’:  “And because he considered that they who had fallen asleep with godliness, had great grace laid up for them.  It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.” (2 Machabees, 45-46)   The soldiers were in God’s grace, yet still ‘bound’ by their sins: bound in Purgatory.

Christ Himself revealed through parables that there indeed was a spiritual debtor’s prison where every debt had to be paid: we recall the parable of the king who demanded an account of all his servant’s debts and forgave one servant his outrageous debt of 10,000 talents, yet the servant turned around and throttled a man who owned him 100 pence and refused to forgive the debt, throwing his wife and children into prison until the 100 pence was paid.  The king was angry when he heard this and reprimanded the evil servant, saying he should have shown the same compassion that he had been shown.  In the end the king ordered that the unmerciful servant be thrown to the torturers until his giant debt was paid. Did you read that?  Not just any debtors prison but to torturers!  Jesus then finished His parable with the following reminder: “So also shall My Heavenly Father do to you, if you forgive not every one his brother from your hearts.”  (Matt: 18:35)  So, there is a ‘prison’ filled with ‘pains and tortures’ reserved for those with great spiritual debts, but unlike hell, there is an ‘until’ included in the narrative ~ the prison is only temporary.

The torments are terrible indeed: there have been numerous stories throughout Church history of the Holy Souls having received permission from God to appear on earth and beg for help from their friends and loved ones.   They gave accounts of what sins imprisoned them there, how long a sentence they were given, and what sacrifices and good deeds that needed to be done in order to free them sooner or lessen their pains.  However, the tortures is what clings to the mind the most upon hearing these accounts: Purgatory is often described as a place filled with fire similar to Hell for they must go through the refining fire before they become pure gold. In addition to fire, there are other tortures that depend on the nature and gravity of the sins committed, some are purified in a place of freezing ice, others souls feel as though they have limbs that are  pulled apart over and over.  Some souls are placed in a section of Purgatory in which demons are allowed to enter and torment the soul, another place is filled with slime and vermin.  Some souls are loaded with burning chains, others feel their tongues being continually pulled out. The list is endless! However, the greatest pain of Purgatory is the sense of separation from God, the soul now knows God and that it is saved, but cannot approach Him yet.  The ‘lightest’ place of Purgatory only has this suffering, but it is still a torment for a soul as it is a hair’s breadth from Heaven, yet not allowed to enter until all its faults are purged.   For more information, I highly recommend the book Purgatory: Explained by the Lives and Legends of the Saints by Fr. F.X. Schouppe, S.J.  (Tan Publishers.  ISBN: 0-89555-301-5).

Still doubt the existence of Purgatory?  Want to see some physical evidence of a Holy Soul?  You might be interested in the ‘Little Museum of Purgatory’ in Rome, you can learn more about it by clicking HERE. This webpage by Margaret C. Galitzin features all the exhibits with their stories.  Here is one item in the exhibit and its story from the same website, just to give you an idea:

Tabletop Fr. Panzini
 "These marks were left on a small wooden table by the deceased Fr. Panzini, former Abbot on the Benedictine Olivetan Order in Mantua. On November 1, 1731, Fr. Panzini appeared to Ven. Mother Isabella Fornari, Abbess of the Poor Clares Monastery of St. Francis in Todi as she sat at her work desk. He told her he was suffering in Purgatory.

 As evidence of his state, he placed his flaming left hand on the table top and left a hand mark, and then he etched a cross on it with his finger. Before he disappeared, he touched the sleeve of her tunic with his right hand, leaving a burn mark on the tunic that passed through it to the chemise, all the way to the flesh. There is a clear mark on the chemise, which is stained with blood from the burn Mother Fornari received. The tunic and chemise are displayed in another exhibit.

The Abbess reported this visit to her confessor, Fr. Isidoro Gazata, a Holy Cross father. He wrote a report and ordered her to cut from her tunic and chemise the parts where the burn marks were made and to give them to him to keep. He also preserved the tabletop with the scorched hand mark and cross. These artifacts were examined by theologians and other experts of the Diocese, and determined to be of supernatural origin."

You might also like to read another blog post of mine, “St. Patrick’s Purgatory”click HERE.

However, God wants us to have a healthy fear of His judgements, but He doesn’t want us to be so frightened we lack trust in His Mercy.  As we learned in the parable above featuring the cruel servant, those who are merciful will receive mercy.  If we truly live the Our Father, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” our Purgatory will be short if not cancelled out.  “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” (Matt. 5:7) Also, “For with the same measure that you mete withal, it shall be measured to you again.” (Luke 6:38)

  Jesus also gives hope by revealing we can win ourselves powerful friends with our earthly goods and ease this time of punishment if not obliterate our purgatorial debts entirely before we die.   In another parable He tells a story of an unjust steward who wasted his master’s goods and was called to task upon his bad management.  The master ordered him to get an account ready for he was firing him.  The steward realised he was not able for any other type of work and was too proud to beg, so he decided to win himself some friends who would help him when the time came for him to leave his post.  Shrewdly, he went around to all his master’s debtors and diddled the books in their favour, wiping off significant portion of their debts.  The master learned about this, and although he was being cheated, he couldn’t help but praise the crafty planning of the steward.  Jesus then remarked, “the children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light.” (Luke 16:8)

 In other words, Christ was not praising the theft or deceit, but how cunning the man was at self-preservation, pointing out the children of the light should be taking a leaf out of the worldly man’s book and apply it to the spiritual world to secure their eternal welfare.  Jesus then continued: “And I say unto you: Make unto you friends of the mammon of iniquity, that when you shall fail, they may receive you into everlasting dwellings.” (Luke 16:9)

Huh?  What does that mean? Christ says to make friends with the souls in Purgatory, those who were once too attached to the earths goods but not worthy of damnation and need purification, just like the dead soldiers Judas Maccabeus offered the alms for.  If we do good works and know how to use our earthly goods wisely to help the souls in purgatory, they will do the same for us when they are saints in Heaven.  As stated earlier, there is no ingratitude in Heaven, the new saints we help to get out of Purgatory will be among the first to lend us their aid.  In fact, they already pray for us while in Purgatory, and because of their acute pains their prayers for others are always heard. In turn, God is pleased when we remember the Holy Souls, the Church Suffering.  To help them with our prayers and good works is considered one of the Seven Spiritual works of Mercy, we are ransoming the captive souls in the prison of Purgatory.  What you do will also be done unto you. 


(Image: stained glass window in St. John the Baptist Church, Obereschach depicting the angels helping the souls in Purgatory with the rosaries and prayers said by the faithful.  Photo by Andreas Praefcke.

It is for this reason the Church dedicates November to the Holy Souls beginning on the 2nd, we are reminded to pray for our loved ones who have gone before us and also for those who have no family members left on earth to pray for them.  How can we  leave them to languish in a fiery prison?  We not only lessen their time or free them from purgatory, but we are also helping ourselves in the long run by our acts of Mercy.  In fact, you need not wait just for November, we can help them all year round.

Ways to Help the Souls in Purgatory, (and also lessen our own time in many instances).

The Holy Mass:  Just before November, it is the custom in many Catholic churches to remind the faithful to write out their ‘dead lists’ naming all the souls of their dearly departed and to bring them to church so they may be remembered at the November 2nd Masses.   Having a Mass specially said for a soul dear to you, or for all the members of your family is the greatest good work you can do for them because it the Sacrifice of Christ on Calvary offered in an unbloody manner to God the Father.  Yes, Calvary happens each and every time the Mass is said, it is no mere ritual or symbolic memorial.  It releases souls faster from Purgatory than anything else. You can have a Mass offered for your departed ones outside the time of November too.

(Image: A  Latin Requiem Mass being offered on All Souls Day
 at St. Mary Magdalen's, Brighton, England.  Picture by Ray Burke .)

The Portuguese have a lovely tradition, or, it’s one that’s particular to our parish, I’m not sure: a ‘pilgrim shrine’ of the Holy Family visits every house, and goes around all year so every one gets a turn once or twice a year.  It is small enough to fit on a side table and the neighbours pass it onto the next person whom it is to visit.  There is a slot for offerings that go towards Masses.  One visit of the shrine is to have Masses said for the people of the parish, but the shrine is also sent around for Masses for the deceased.  It’s lovely to have the Holy Family come for a visit! 

(Image: a typical Portuguese Holy Family Shrine, photographer unknown.) 

However, if for whatever reason you cannot have Masses specially offered on a regular basis, for instance, many priests have a huge back-up list and you may wait a long time to take your turn, the next best thing is to attend Mass yourself so your loved ones are not waiting forever for help.  Just attend your normal Sunday Masses, even extra daily ones, and offer your Mass intention and Communion with Jesus for the souls dear to you.  True, the souls will get all the superabundance of the Mass if the priest offers it specifically in his prayer intention for that particular Mass, but offering your own Mass intentions at any Mass will give the Holy Souls immense relief.  The most powerful time of the Mass is at the Consecration, and that is when you offer your intention, also when you receive Communion when you have the Living God with you.    

The Rosary: The next most powerful prayer after the Mass.  Souls are greatly helped by the rosary.  It is not a made-up prayer, but based on the Gospel.  Satan hates the rosary, it is the one devotion that knocks him flat.

There’s more!  Other Prayers and good works, especially those with Indulgences attached to them:

Okay, you if are Catholic and already knows all this yadda yadda yadda, just skip on down to the conclusion to see what a Portuguese graveyard looks like, (although this might be a great re-fresher for you!).  If you aren’t Catholic but couldn’t be bothered with this section, scroll down to see a Portuguese graveyard, (but now’s your chance to read some more about our beliefs you probably didn’t know about). 

So, what is an indulgence?  Every prayer and good work has three parts attached to it: 1) the act of praying or doing something good which earns us merit in heaven, 2)  the reason why it is done or offered, and 3) the hidden ‘treasure’  or indulgence we earn to pay off our debts or for those in purgatory, which Christ makes available to us through the application of the satisfaction He rendered to the Father by His sacrifice on the cross.

For instance, if we give alms to the poor, we are 1) doing something good, if we do it with the right intention i.e. the love of God and neighbour, 2) we gain merits that add to our glory in heaven, and 3) we earn spiritual treasure to pay off our hidden spiritual debts.  Prayer works the same way: we are doing something good, we have good intentions and hope that what we praying for is good and will receive an answer, and we also earn hidden treasure to pay off Purgatory, even before we are dead.  However, we can only gain indulgences for ourselves or the Holy Souls, we cannot give them to another living person.

The beautiful thing about indulgences gained through prayer is even if we do not pray for the Holy Souls directly, that is, if we spiritually wish to give the indulgence to the Holy Souls and not to ourselves while praying for something else that’s important, such as the conversion of sinners, we still gain merits for ourselves and our request is heard, but the Holy Souls are given the indulgence.  Of course, the Souls will receive a double-whammy of help if you pray and offer the indulgence for them!

BUT!!! The indulgence can only be gained if the person performing the good act or prayer is in the state of grace: otherwise, the actions only help towards conversion, but the merit and indulgences are made void.  If you want to gain full merits and indulgences, go to confession, people! Hint! Hint!

More About Attached Indulgences:

Attached Indulgences are specially granted concessions, they are ‘partial indulgences’ and ‘plenary indulgences’.  Sometimes you will see instructions like ‘partial indulgence of 300 days every time when said, plenary on the usual conditions’ printed at the end of specific prayers. 

The one people get confused about is the partial indulgence: for instance, the first instruction shown above does not mean you get 300 days off your term in Purgatory.   It means the Church is being lenient and grants you a concession of having performed 300 days penance for your sins, or for those whom you are offering it for in Purgatory.   

In the early days of the Church, grave sinners who repented, especially those who were converts and the excommunicated but penitent were required to do long public penances before it was assured that they truly desired to return to a Christian life.  Penances were often declared with a considerable period of time attached, such complete fasts on bread and water alone.  Sometimes, the days would be cut short as an act of mercy and when it was evident the person was truly committed to make a fresh start.  However, in the case of grave and lengthy penances, it could lead to despair, and so the act of mercifully cutting the days of penance short grew into the custom of granting indulgences.  A seven year penance sentence could be cut down to the 300 days like our prayer example above if a penitent fulfilled the conditions, much like a parole from prison.  Now in confession, a priest only gives you a few prayers as a penance, but it is only a token to get you started, it does not pay all the temporal debt due to those sins, which is known to God alone.  The debt to sin is huge, but the Church allows you to cut your debt of penance down if you say more prayers, do good works, especially if you follow the indulgence instructions attached to certain prayers.

The sad part is, with partial indulgences we don’t truly know how much we actually take off our time from Purgatory, we just shorten our time of performing penance here, which is why plenary indulgences are so important.         

A plenary indulgence is the Mother Load of Indulgences, the Big Bonanza!  Plenary means all your purgatorial debt is cleared!  Bishops can assign partial indulgences to prayers, but only the Pope can declare what can grant a plenary indulgence.  Of course, every time you sin you begin to pile up debts beginning from the last time you gained a plenary indulgence, but you can chip away at them with partial indulgences, or wipe them away again with another plenary indulgence. You can only gain one plenary indulgence a day for yourself.  However, depending on the conditions, you may gain many a day for the souls in Purgatory.

Here are a few ways you may gain Plenary Indulgences:

Whenever you see ‘plenary on the usual conditions’ printed with a prayer, it means you have to say the prayer for the time specified in the instructions, say prayers for the Pope’s intentions, (which is left to the discretion of the individual), go to confession during that time and receive Communion with the intention of gaining the indulgence. Sometimes one cannot get to confession on the same day as Communion, so unless the directions are specific, you may to go to confession within seven days of when you intend to fulfil all the conditions attached to a plenary indulgence.

  Certain prayers are required to be said vocally aloud in the place assigned to gain the indulgences attached to them, i.e., vocally participating in Mass during the assigned sections, saying the Angelus aloud, etc.  So if you’re curious about indulgences, it would be good to do a little research into a prayer that has indulgence instructions attached to them just to make sure what needs to be done.  You can find anything on Google these days!

Jubilee Years are granted special indults by the Pope. Every twenty-five years, special shrines are dedicated to the purpose, and as long as you fulfil the conditions of confession, Mass, and prayers for the Pope’s intentions, give alms, do one day’s fasting, and visit the appointed shrines, you gain the plenary indulgence.   The Pope can also declare an extra Jubilee Year for special occasions, such as his accession to the Chair of Peter, etc.  Pope Frances has just announced a Year of Mercy for 2016 and has granted it Jubilee status.  We have to wait and see which major world shrines shall be appointed as Jubilee sites to fulfil the plenary indulgence conditions.

However, every year a plenary Indulgence is granted on the Feast of Mercy, the first Sunday after Easter.  All you have to do is go confession and Mass and receive Communion on that day in any church, and you will be granted the plenary indulgence.  The Church has granted that you may go to confession within the seven days if you cannot do it on that Sunday.

Certain pilgrimage sites are granted special indulgences, and sometimes the conditions vary.  If you visit them on the appointed day, are in the state of grace after going to confession,  receive Communion, and pray for the Pope’s intentions, you gain the indulgence.  For example, visiting the Holy Land while following these conditions will grant you a plenary indulgence, especially making the Way of the Cross.  You can also gain a plenary indulgence on the usual conditions if you make the way of the Cross that have been canonically erected elsewhere.

 Visiting the shrine of St. Francis of Assisi, the Portiuncula and all public chapels of the Franciscan order and Poor Clares on August 2 will grant a plenary indulgence.  First, the penitent must have been to confession and Mass, and pray for the intentions of the Holy Father and visit the chapels on that day with the intention of gaining the plenary indulgence.  One need not attend Mass or go to confession in that chapel that day, just as long as they have attended somewhere, and then visit a Franciscan or Poor Clare chapel.  It is the one time you can gain more than one plenary indulgence: starting from August 1st (the night before), as often as you go to confession and to Mass and visit a  public Franciscan chapel, you can gain the indulgence.  You can only gain the Portiuncula Indulgence once for you own temporal debts, after that, they may be offered for someone else, a departed loved one or to the souls of Purgatory in general.

St. James of Compostella is also another indulgenced pilgrimage site.

The Feast of Our Lady of Ortiga just outside Fatima on July 1st is another plenary  indulgence pilgrimage site.

This is only small list of indulgenced pilgrim sites.  If planning to visit a holy site, do some research to see if indulgences have been attached to it and if there is a specific feast day you have to attend to gain them.

Papal Blessings: anyone who receives the Papal Benediction after having been to confession, Communion, and prayer for the intentions of the Pontiff, will receive a plenary indulgence.  The most well-noted Papal blessings are the Urbi et Orbi addresses to the world from the balcony of St. Peter’s at Easter and Christmas, which are now televised. Sometimes, bishops and priests are permitted to give a Papal blessing to their congregations for special occasions or events.

(Image: Pope Francis giving an Urbi et Orbi Papal Blessing)

Blessed objects may also be granted special indulgences: crucifixes, rosaries, medals, etc. can be granted special blessings to gain indulgences via the blessing of the Pope, or any priest who has been granted to authority to give them the Papal indulgence blessing. For instance, a crucifix may be granted a special blessing to impart a plenary indulgence at the hour of death.  (Just a reminder, holy objects still have to be blessed whether or not a priest has the authority to give a Papal indulgence-blessing,  or they will be spiritually ineffective.)  In one special instance, rosaries and crucifixes that have touched the Holy Sites of the Holy Land are automatically granted the Papal Indulgence.

Having on object with a Papal blessing is very important, for a plenary indulgence may be gained at the hour of death by those who have received the sacraments, invoke the Holy Name of Jesus and receive the Papal Blessing or keep beside them an object with the Papal Blessing. If the person is too ill to receive the sacraments at the last hour, or cannot speak aloud the Holy Name, it is enough make a sincere act of contrition and invoke the Holy name in their heart and have the blessed object near them.  But in any case, complete conformity to the will of God is necessary to gain this important indulgence.  This last hour indulgence is the only one which cannot be given to the souls in Purgatory, it is specifically for the person dying, unless you have Made the Heroic Act of Charity. (More on that later.)

 However, there are some tricky conditions attached to indulgenced objects with the Papal Blessing: if a specially indulgenced object is too worn out to where it is ready to fall apart, lets say an indulgenced rosary is missing half it’s beads, the indulgence is null.  The same with any holy indulgenced object that has been sold.  It may be given away, but not sold off: that would be committing the mortal sin of simony, selling off God’s graces. Also, you cannot lend out an indulgenced object to anyone else so they may gain the indulgence, it is only for the owner: if it is lent out, it will also lose the indulgence.  Why this last condition exists, I’m not sure, perhaps to remind the faithful they cannot leave the salvation of the souls to someone else, we all have a responsibility to help ourselves, like parable of the wise virgins who refused to give out their oil to the foolish ones.  If people want indulgenced objects, they must take the pains to get them for themselves.  Plenary Indulgences are not all that easy to be won, one still has to do some work for their salvation.

Certain Confraternities are Granted Special Indulgences: For instance, those who sign up to the Brown Scapular confraternity of the order of the Carmelites and wear the Brown Scapular.  Our Lady appeared to St. Simon Stock in 1251 AD and declared that anyone who wore the brown scapular would not suffer eternal fire, i.e. Hell.   She appeared to Pope John XXII about fifty years later and declared she would come to release anyone who wore the brown scapular from Purgatory on the first Saturday after their death. In order to avail of the release from Purgatory, those who wear the scapular must remain chaste according to their state in life, and say the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin.  If they cannot do that, reading the Canonical office will suffice, and if they cannot say the office, they must  observe all fasts proscribed by the Church, and also abstain from all meat on Wednesday, Fridays and Saturdays.  Again this is one of the rare times the promise can only be given to the wearer, and not to the souls of Purgatory in general.  Even if you cannot fulfil these conditions, at least you will still be granted the grace of assurance of salvation, but you have to enrol with the Brown Scapular Confraternity.   If your brown scapular wears out, you may get another one without having to get it blessed, (but personally, I prefer to have it blessed anyway.)  If the straps wear out, you can replace them, the brown cloth parts of the scapular do not have to have their original straps. The scapular must be of brown wool, so if you see ‘Brown scapular medals’ I’m not sure if these will carry the same blessings.  Just be safe and buy the wool scapulars.

Another wonderful sacramental to have is the Pardon Crucifix, the indulgences both partial and plenary were granted by St. Pius X  in order for the faithful to obtain pardon from God and to encourage forgiveness of one’s neighbours.  There are many promises attached:

1)      Whoever carries the Pardon Crucifix may gain an indulgence, (partial).
2)      An indulgence is gain every time they devoutly kiss the Crucifix.
3)      Whoever says the following invocations before this crucifix gains a partial indulgence: ‘Our Father who art in Heaven, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.’  OR ‘ I beg the Virgin Mary to pray to the Lord our God for me.”
4)      Whoever, habitually devout to this crucifix will fulfil the necessary conditions of Confession and Holy Communion, may gain a plenary indulgence on the following feats: on the Feast of the Five Wounds, The Exaltation of the Holy Cross, the Immaculate Conception, and the Seven Dolors of the Blessed Virgin.
5)      Whoever at the moment of death, fortified with the Sacraments of the Church, or contrite of heart, in the supposition of being unable to receive them, will kiss this Crucifix and ask pardon of God for his sins, and pardon his neighbour, will gain a plenary indulgence.

Also, the indulgence attached to the crucifix may also be applied to the souls in Purgatory.  It needs to be blessed by a priest, but does not need a Papal Blessing.

Sufferings and Sacrifices: even with the indulgences we may gain, we cannot escape the sufferings sent to make us holy or prevent our relapse into sin.  However, we may still offer them to atone for our sins, or for the souls in purgatory.  We also gain merit when we suffer patiently, even when we give the indulgences to the Holy Souls.

 (Image: Christian Knight, artist unknown)

The Heroic Act of Charity: Okay, this is the ‘Grand Daddy’ of all sacrifices and is not for wusses!  Since it is a great act of mercy and charity to help the souls in Purgatory, it is possible to make what is called the Heroic Act of Charity.  You sacrifice every indulgence you gain known and unknown by your prayers, good deeds and sacrifices throughout your whole life and reserve none for yourself, but not only the indulgences you gain for yourself, but all indulgences and help that will be sent to you by your loved ones and the saints in heaven after your death.  You agree to suffer your full time in purgatory so that others might be freed.   You may still offer your prayer intentions for another person or requests, e.g.  for the salvation of sinners or for your Uncle Bob so that his operation goes all right, but you relinquish all the indulgences you gain into the hands of the Blessed Virgin that she may give them to the Holy Souls most in need.

This pious practise has been granted extra privileges by Popes Benedict XII, Pius VI and Pius IX.

1)      Priests who have made the Heroic Offering are allowed to say Mass for the Dead on a ‘privileged altar’ every day of the year and not just on the prescribed days.  What is a privileged altar?  It is one set aside just for Masses of the Dead that has been granted plenary indulgence status, in every cathedral there is a privileged altar, and also in many parish churches and churches belonging to an Order. Sometimes they are indicated with the inscription ‘altare privilegiatum’ The privilege must be renewed by applying to the local bishop every seven years.  The soul for whom Mass is offered on a privileged altar gets a plenary indulgence, but the Mass for the Dead can only be said on certain days.  (However, with the suppression of the Latin Mass, I wonder if this practise is still continued.)  Nevertheless, the conditions of the Heroic Act allow the priest to say the Mass for the Dead on any day of the year on a privileged altar. 

2)      The faithful in the state of grace who have made the Heroic Act may gain a plenary indulgence for the souls in purgatory only, every time they receive Communion, provided the visit a public Church or Oratory and pray for the intention of the Holy Father.

3)      The faithful may also apply to the Holy Souls all the indulgences which are not otherwise applicable to them by virtue of concession, (for example, the Papal Blessed objects), and which have been granted up to the present time, or which shall be granted in the future.

If we chicken out, we are not under pain of mortal sin, we may revoke the Heroic Act at any time, and we may also renew it again.  However, why be a wuss?  The Heroic Act is also the ultimate act of trust in the Divine Mercy, for those who are merciful will obtain mercy.  We may not be dooming ourselves to a long Purgatory by giving up every indulgence, we are doing the exact opposite by our charity.  For instance, St. Gertrude the Great was so mournful at the hour of her death, having realised she had given all her indulgences and good works to the Holy Souls and reserved nothing to pay her own debts.  Christ appeared to her and said, “Be reassured, My daughter, your charity towards the departed will be no detriment to you.  Know that the generous donation you have made of all your works to the holy souls has been singularly pleasing to Me; and to give you a proof thereof, I declared to you that all the pains you would have had to endure in the other life are now remitted; moreover, in recompense for your generous charity, I will so enhance the value of your merits of your works as to give you a great increase of glory in Heaven.”

The Heroic Act

“O Holy and adorable Trinity, desiring to co-operate in the deliverance of the souls in Purgatory, and to testify my devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, I cede and renounce in behalf of the holy souls all the satisfactory part of my works, and all the suffrages which ma be given me after my death, consigning them entirely into the hands of the Blessed Virgin, that she may apply them according to her good pleasure to those souls of the faithful departed whom she desires to deliver from their sufferings.  Deign O my God, to accept and bless this offering which I make to Thee at this moment.  Amen.”

One need not say it every day, but it is good to renew it from time to time.

There are so many ways to help the Holy Souls and ourselves, even if we do not make the Heroic Act, we must not forget that all prayers and good works grant indulgences even if we don’t know for sure how much indulgence is gained.  We also lessen their pains.  Giving alms, especially to the missions helps the holy souls when given with that intention.  Lighting candles for them is an act of charity that gives them relief.  Sprinkling holy water on the ground alleviates their fiery pains.

 There are hundreds of prayers, pious acts and blessed objects I could list, but I will conclude this blog post with the good deed of visiting the graveyards.  It is a charitable deed to visit the graves of our loved ones and pray for them where they are buried.  Keeping graves clean and tidy is also a charitable act, especially for those who have no one left on earth to take care of them: when we clean up a grave yard, we are inspired to pray for those who have no one.

(Image: typical villiage cemetery in Portugal) 

In fact, you can gain a plenary indulgence for souls buried in a graveyard: if you go to Mass and Communion, visit the graveyard on November 2 the Feast of All Souls, say 7 Our Fathers, 7 Seven Hail Mary’s, 7 Glory Be’s for the souls while visiting the yard, pray for the Pope’s intentions, and go to confession within the seven days with the intention of fulfilling the conditions, the dead in that graveyard who may still be in Purgatory are granted the indulgence.
Yes, in Europe, people visit their dearly departed and do not shun them out of some weird dread.  True, it helps get one’s priorities in check, but despite the gothic look of some graveyards, I find they never inspire me with horror.   We often met so many nice people in the graveyard of my mother’s home town in Ireland when we would visit my deceased grandparents and take care of their grave on weekends.  My mother once declared we should set up a park bench and have a picnic, it was so nice a time, not sad at all with all the gabbing!  In Portugal the tradition continues, the graves are always visited and very well kept, Saturdays are usually the big day to visit dead relatives and bring flowers, but All Souls day is absolutely beautiful.  The graves which are somewhat French in design  are miniature works of art in marble or granite, especially those with tiny chapels built above them, but on that day they are given a special touch for they are covered in flowers and lit with candles.  It is a lovely sight to see at night, not eerie at all.

Remember remember the dead in November.

They will not forget us and even pray for us while they are still in Purgatory.

Here are a few more cool-looking Portuguese cemeteries for you, and yes, in case you were wondering, people are buried above ground in the little grave-chapels, just like in New Orleans.

Image result for portuguese cemetery