Liturgical Living for Busy Families in February
Welcome to February, friends, the month of the Holy Family! In this post, you’ll find information about and simple, but intentional, ideas for celebrating a few of the feast days the Catholic Church observes this month. The liturgical season of Lent also begins this month, so I’ve included some ideas on how to get the most out of this grace-filled, penitential season in your own life and as a family.
All Month Long – The Holy Family
Preparing for Lent – Septuagesima , Sexagesima , and Quinquagesima Sundays
February 1 – St. Ignatius of Antioch and St. Brigid of Kildare
February 2 – The Presentation, the Purification of the Virgin Mary, St. Simeon, & Candlemas
February 3 – St. Blaise and St. Anna
February 4 – St. Joan of Valois and St. Veronica
February 5 – St. Agatha
February 6 – St. Dorothy and St. Paul Miki and Companions
February 8 – St. Josephine Bakhita
February 9 – St. Apollonia
February 10 – St. Scholastica
February 11 – Our Lady of Lourdes
February 13 – St. Modomnoc
February 14 – St. Cyril and St. Methodius…and St. Valentine
February 16 – Mardi Gras
February 17 – Ash Wednesday
February 22 – St. Peter’s Chair
February 23 – St. Polycarp
Be sure to tag me @thecontemplativehomemaker on Instagram or Facebook in your feast day festivities and use the hashtag #contemplativehomemaking. I’d love to see how you’re celebrating! Happy feasting!
All Month Long – The Holy Family
The Church spends most of the liturgical year in what we call “Ordinary Time.” Amongst the hopeful expectation of the Advent season, the joyous heights of the Christmas and Easter seasons, and the somber, penitential seasons of Lent and the Triduum, there lies Ordinary Time. During Ordinary Time, the Church focuses mainly on the three years Jesus spent preaching and working miracles prior to His crucifixion and resurrection. Before Jesus entered His public ministry, however, he spent thirty years quietly preparing for His mission, and He did it like all of us: as part of a family.
The Holy Family, consisting of St. Joseph, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and Jesus, is “the prototype and example for all Christian families,” as Pope John Paul II remarked in Familiaris Consortio. Many of us will never do great and noticeable deeds for Christ, becoming world-renowned for our charity like Mother Teresa or known for our great preaching like Venerable Fulton Sheen. Our place of greatest impact for the Kingdom will in our own families, in the way we witness Christ to our parents, siblings, spouses, and children. Our work will be quiet and hidden but no less powerful or redemptive, just like the work of the Holy Family in Nazareth those first thirty years of Christ’s life. The best way we can accomplish this work that God has called us to do is to do our best to model the virtues of the Holy Family in our own families.
This month take time to read Pope St. John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation, Familiaris Consortio. Reflect on the areas where your family acts as a witness to Christ and give thanks for God’s grace in allowing you to do so. In your reflection, also take time to notice those areas where you can better reveal God’s love as a family. Thank God for revealing those areas of brokenness to you and take time to come up with a “Family Plan of Love.”
As Dan and Stephanie Burke of Apostoli Viae describe it, a Plan of Love is similar to a Rule of Life. It’s simply an intentional way of living that includes specific commitments of things you do every day to honor the Lord and those He has placed in your care. Organize your Plan by dividing your commitments into two broad categories: Love of God and Love of Neighbor.
For the Love of God category, resolve to take on certain practices each day such as time for mental prayer and set vocal prayers, daily family rosaries, daily mass, spiritual reading, or nightly examens. Make a list of vices you can conquer individually and as a family and come up with mortifications to help overcome these vices. If your family watches too much TV or spends too much time on other forms of media, start cutting it back. If your family schedule is too hectic and doesn't leave enough time for spiritual things or family downtime, prayerfully discern which activities you need to cut out. Other ideas include abstaining from meat on Fridays year-round and adhering to a set bedtimes and exercise routines to make sure you’re all at your healthiest.
For the Love of Neighbor category, look to the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy and see how you can undertake more of these as a family. Add a prayer for the Poor Souls in Purgatory to your blessing before meals, find time to volunteer at your local soup kitchen or homeless shelter once a month, sign up to take meals to families who have welcomed a new baby at your parish. Within your family, resolve to give daily compliments to each other and make sure you’re taking time to hug and kiss each member of your family when they wake up in the morning or walk through the door each night. Sharpen your listening skills, and really actively listen to your family members when they speak to you rather than multitasking.
Every month, take time to review your Plan of Love as a family, continually addressing weak spots and resolving to go forward again for those areas where you might have slacked off. You can also make an Act of Consecration to the Holy Family as a family and ask their intercession to help you in your Plan of Love.
Preparing for Lent – Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima Sundays
Septuagesima Sunday is the ninth Sunday before Lent and marks the beginning of the Septuagesima season, which is made up of three Sundays: Septuagesima (which means seventieth), Sexagesima (which means sixtieth), and Quinquagesima (which means fiftieth), and continues until Ash Wednesday. Quadragesima (which means fortieth) is the season of Lent that starts on Ash Wednesday. The numbers are not exact but function more symbolically. In 2021, Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima Sundays fall on January 31, February 7, and February 14, respectively (you’ll want to check the Church calendar for the dates for future years).
In the Preface to one of the volumes of The Liturgical Year dedicated to Septuagesima, Dom Guéranger referred to Septuagesima as a season of “transition, inasmuch as it includes the period between two important Seasons, – Christmas and Lent." In the old Tridentine Calendar, the Alleluia and the Gloria would not be sung at Mass anymore until Easter Sunday (the new General Roman Calendar does not omit them until Lent begins).
Though the new calendar does not emphasize Septuagesima anymore, it is still an appropriate time to turn our minds to the coming season of Lent, take stock of where we are spiritually, and plan our Lenten disciplines so that they will bear as much fruit as possible. Our Lenten disciplines of fasting, almsgiving, and prayer should be geared toward helping root out vices and cultivate virtues rather than taking on some arbitrary act like giving up chocolate. Programs like Exodus 90 or group Bible studies can be helpful to some extent, but because we each differ in our spiritual strengths and weaknesses, discerning which Lenten disciplines will be most fruitful for your spiritual life is not a one-size-fits-all undertaking. As such, we truly do need to take time to develop a plan tailored to our particular spiritual needs.
As a general rule of thumb in planning your Lenten disciplines, resolve to take on one purgative type practice that you will joyfully give up on Easter morning and one spiritual practice you hope to keep a regular part of your spiritual life even after Easter morning. For purgative practices, spend time figuring out what your root sin is, then plan your disciplines with a mind to conquering this sin over the course of Lent. More frequent confession, nightly examens, and detaching yourself from unhealthy relationships or avoiding near occasions of sin are great places to start. For ideas to help grow your spiritual life that will last beyond Easter, consider making commitments to daily Mass attendance, spiritual reading, or daily mental prayer. Two books I recommend for help in these areas are Dan Burke's Into the Deep and Navigating the Interior Life.
Dom Guéranger writes, “After having spent the three weeks of Septuagesima in meditating upon our spiritual infirmities, and upon the wounds caused in us by sin, —we should be ready to enter upon the penitential season, which the Church has now begun. We have now a clearer knowledge of the justice and holiness of God, and of the dangers that await an impenitent soul; and, that our repentance might be earnest and lasting, we have bade farewell to the vain joys and baubles of the world. Our pride has been humbled by the prophecy, that these bodies would soon be like the ashes that wrote the memento of death upon our foreheads.”
February 1 – St. Ignatius of Antioch and St. Brigid
St. Ignatius of Antioch
Not to be confused with St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Ignatius of Antioch was the third bishop of Antioch and is considered one of the five “Apostolic Fathers,” so-called because they personally received the Gospel from one or more of the original twelve Apostles (the other four are St. Clement of Rome, St. Polycarp of Smyrna, St. Hermas, and the anonymous authors of the Didache). In this case, St. Ignatius was a disciple of St. John the Evangelist.
St. Ignatius died sometime between 98-117 AD. Because of his proximity to Jesus as well as his personal knowledge gained through St. John, St. Ignatius’s letters are invaluable for providing insight into the early Church’s understanding of the sacraments and apostolic succession. In fact, it is the first place we see the phrase “Catholic Church!” St. Ignatius was a witness to the Catholic faith until the very end, becoming a martyr when he was fed to the lions in the Circus Maximus.
If you’re thinking you already celebrated St. Ignatius recently – don’t fret! His feast day is celebrated on October 17 in the “new” Roman Calendar but was traditionally celebrated on February 1 in the older General Roman Calendar. Since Antioch was located in what is now modern-day Turkey, Greek food is a great choice for dinner tonight, and lion crafts make a fun activity for the children!
St. Brigid of Kildare
Sometimes referred to as “the Mary of Ireland,” St. Brigid is one of Ireland’s patron saints (along with St. Patrick and St. Columba). Born a slave and raised in the pagan druid religion (in fact St. Brigid is named after the pagan goddess Brigid) in 451, St. Brigid spent her early life tending herds of cattle, milking them and churning butter. Blessed with a generous spirit that she nurtured after hearing St. Patrick’s teachings about the one true God, Brigid was frequently scolded for giving the butter away to the poor. One day after giving all the butter away and about to face a brutal scolding from the head steward, St. Brigid prayed to God to help her, and all the butter was miraculously restored!
After that, St. Brigid became a nun and eventually an abbess, founding the first convent in Ireland. One of the convents she established was located on the site of a former pagan shrine to the goddess Brigid. Historically, the druid priestesses tended a sacred fire that was kept burning perpetually on that hill. After converting the site to a Christian convent, St. Brigid kept up the custom, re-presenting the flame to the people as the true light of Christ. The tradition continued up through the 16th century until the monasteries began to face suppression. In 1993, the Brigidine Sisters re-lit the flame, and it remains burning to this day.
St. Brigid is also known for a poem (written in the 10th century but historically attributed to her), “The Lake of Beer,” which seems particularly appropriate for an Irish Saint. She is also famous for the St. Brigid’s Cross, which tradition says she wove from rushes as she converted a pagan man to Christianity on his deathbed.
Celebrate St. Brigid today by learning more about St. Brigid’s Light here. Other fun activities include making your own butter or weaving a St. Brigid’s Cross out of reeds or straws. For the of-age crowd, enjoy an authentic Irish beer!
February 2 – Presentation of the Lord, Purification, St. Simeon, & Candlemas
Today’s feast is technically four events in one, commemorating the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Prophecies of Simeon and Anna, and Candlemas! It’s also the official end of the Christmas season, so it’s finally time to take down the Christmas décor (it’s likely a fire hazard by this point, anyway!).
According to Mosaic law, a woman was ritually unclean for 40 days following childbirth, requiring her to present herself and her child to the priests at the temple to offer sacrifice and be cleansed. If the child was the firstborn male, he was consecrated to the Lord at this time. Since the Holy Family kept the Old Law, Mary and Joseph brought the baby Jesus to the Temple 40 days following His birth, consecrating Him to God and marking the first time Jesus entered the Temple.
As we know from Luke 2:22-40, the Holy Family encountered a righteous and devout man named Simeon as well as the prophetess Anna at this ceremony, and both Simeon and Anna were moved by the Holy Spirit when they saw the baby Jesus. Simeon, whose feast day is also celebrated today (Anna’s is February 3), took the child “in his arms and praised God, saying:
‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss[c] your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.’”
He then blessed the family and said to Mary: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
The celebration of this feast is ancient, and we have evidence from the 4th century that the Church in Jerusalem celebrated the Presentation of the Lord with a candlelit gala procession, which is described in the journal of a pilgrim woman named Etheria discovered in 1887. Because of this, today’s Feast is also known as Candlemas (the Mass of the Candles), observed to commemorate the words of Simeon describing Jesus as a “Light of Revelation.” Since this feast also occurs in the middle of winter, it is seen as a reminder that Christ will chase away the darkness. Today the Church blesses all the candles it will use throughout the coming year, and historically, families would bring beeswax candles to Church today to be blessed.
Today, bring your own candles to Mass to be blessed, or try your hand at candle making (there are tons of kits available for order online or in your local craft stores, or you can melt the stubs of your old candles to re-use them). In France, Candlemas is known as “Crepe Day,” so today is the perfect day to serve crepes for a meal, eaten by candlelight, of course!
February 3 – Feast of St. Blaise and St. Anna
(For information on St. Anna, see above on The Presentation of the Lord).
St. Blaise, who died in 316 AD, was the bishop of Sebaste in Armenia (now part of Turkey). He is known as one of the 14 Holy Helpers, a group of saints traditionally invoked against various diseases. St. Blaise became known during his lifetime for his miraculous cures, as he was a physician before becoming a bishop. He lived in a cave hermitage and it is said he was assisted in his healings by wild animals. His specialty is throat diseases because he once saved a boy from choking on a fishbone at the request of the boy’s mother. St. Blaise received the crown of martyrdom after being tortured with steel combs that were used as carding tools in sheep shearing. Because of this, he is not only the patron saint of throat diseases, but also of wool carders and combers.
Many parishes will hold a traditional blessing of the throats today, which is done using a peculiar wishbone shaped candle that is placed around the throat as the blessing is given. After attending your parish’s blessing, serve fish for dinner! Listen to the Saint Stories for Kids Podcast Episode 57 for a fun story on today’s saint!
February 4 – Feasts of St. Joan of Valois and St. Veronica
St. Joan of Valois
St. Joan of Valois was the daughter of King Louis XI of France and is described as homely, hunchbacked, and lame. When she was but 12 years old, her father married her to her cousin, Louis d’Orleans. When her brother, Louis XII succeeded to the throne in 1498, 22 years later, he had the marriage annulled on the grounds it was never consummated and instead gave Joan the title Duchess of Berry.
Despite her humiliation, St. Joan of Valois remarked, “If so it is to be, praised be the Lord.” She retired to Bourges, where she dedicated her time to helping the poor, caring for the sick, and building schools. In 1501 she established the Order of the Annunciation, where she and her nuns strove to imitate the Blessed Virgin’s purity, humility, obedience, and faith. Shortly after she died in 1505, miracles were attributed to her intercession. She is the patron saint of those in difficult circumstances.
St. Joan reminds us that beauty is only skin-deep – “I am ugly in body, but I want a beautiful soul,” St. Joan is reported to have said. True beauty lies in the purity of our souls and the intensity of the light of God which shines forth from our own interior castles. Today, beautify your soul by going to confession if you are able. Take time to talk about the virtues as a family and plan ways you can better cultivate them in your own lives.
Veronica, also known as Berenice, was a 1st century Jewish woman who, according to tradition, was present at Jesus’s crucifixion. So moved by pity as He carried His cross to Calvary, St. Veronica removed her veil and gently wiped the blood, sweat, and tears from His face. The image of His Holy Face remained imprinted on the cloth, which is kept in the Vatican and briefly displayed on the 5th Sunday of Lent each year. It is considered one of the most valuable relics of the Church.
We don’t know for sure what happened to St. Veronica before or after this incident, although tradition speculates that she left Jerusalem, moving on to Rome and later southern France along with her husband, Zaccheus (yes! the short tax collector of Gospel fame!), Lazarus, Mary Magdalene, Martha, and several other faithful disciples. Her act of love lives on immemorial, and we remember her each time we pray the Stations of the Cross. She is now the patron saint of laundresses and photographers!
We are all made in the image of God and are called to bear His image into the world. Today, consider how clearly you are reflecting the Holy Face of Christ to those around you, and ask for St. Veronica’s intercession to become a better picture of Christ to the world. For a fun art activity, try sketching portraits with the children or taking family photographs. You can also pray the Stations of the Cross.
February 5 – Feast of St. Agatha
St. Agatha is an early Christian martyr (d. 251) who has the distinct honor of being mentioned by name in Eucharistic Prayer I in the Canon of the Mass. She is also another of the 14 Holy Helpers.
A beautiful young woman and native of Sicily, St. Agatha stayed true to the faith even when a powerful spurned suitor ordered her breasts cut off and threw her into prison for refusing to marry him and renounce the faith (St. Agatha is frequently depicted in art holding a tray with her breasts on them…similar to the tray with two eyes St. Lucy is depicted with). That night as St. Agatha lay suffering in her cell, an enigmatic visitor who described himself as an apostle of Christ visited her and miraculously cured her. The visitor was later revealed to be none other than St. Peter!
Despite her cure, St. Agatha’s jailers continued to torture her, and she eventually died from the wounds. She quickly became known as a powerful intercessor – in fact, she is the very saint that St. Lucy prayed to for the cure of her mother!
St. Agatha is now known as the patron saint of breast cancer patients, wet nurses, victims of torture, and bakers (apparently some people in the Middle Ages thought the “loaves” on St. Agatha’s tray were bread…). The traditional food for today is minni di virgini, or St. Agatha’s Breasts, and looks exactly like you might imagine!
February 6 – Feast of St. Dorothy and St. Paul Miki and Companions
St. Dorothy is another beautiful virgin and early Christian martyr. According to tradition, a pagan lawyer named Theophilus taunted her as she awaited her execution at the gallows, saying, “Bride of Christ, send me some fruits from your bridegroom’s garden!” The day after her execution, a young boy (some say an angel) presented him with her headdress, which contained three roses and three apples. Theophilus converted, and St. Dorothy is traditionally shown in art holding roses and apples. St. Dorothy is now the patron saint of gardeners and florists.
Today, get creative with roses and apples! You can make headdresses like St. Dorothy’s, a tablescape, or even a wreath. Apple juice or apple cider would make a refreshing feast day drink.
St. Paul Miki and Companions
On February 5, 1597, Paul Miki, a Japanese Jesuit, and 25 companions were crucified on a hill overlooking Nagasaki. These men were the legacy of St. Francis Xavier, whose feast we celebrated on December 3, and his fellow Franciscan and Jesuit missionaries who evangelized the people of Japan. As tensions mounted between Christians and the Japanese Emperor, Christianity was outlawed and persecution became rampant. Japan eventually closed its borders to all foreigners for almost 250 years.
As he hung on the cross, Brother Paul continued preaching the Gospel to all those gathered to witness his execution:
“The sentence of judgment says these men came to Japan from the Philippines, but I did not come from any other country. I am a true Japanese. The only reason for my being killed is that I have taught the doctrine of Christ. I certainly did teach the doctrine of Christ. I thank God it is for this reason I die. I believe that I am telling only the truth before I die. I know you believe me and I want to say to you all once again: Ask Christ to help you to become happy. I obey Christ. After Christ’s example I forgive my persecutors. I do not hate them. I ask God to have pity on all, and I hope my blood will fall on my fellow men as a fruitful rain.”
Brother Paul’s words proved prophetic. In the 19th century, a French priest was finally allowed into the country. Much to his surprise, he found that Christianity had not died out, but secretly flourished as the Japanese Christians carried on sharing the Gospel message and baptizing. Religious freedom was eventually established in 1873, and more then 30,000 underground Catholics finally came out of hiding.
Today, say a rosary as a family for persecuted Christians worldwide, and talk to your children about the gift of religious freedom – something we have far too often taken for granted in our own country. For dinner, order (or make!) sushi.
February 8 – Feast of St. Josephine Bakhita
St. Josephine Bakhita was born in 1869 in Darfur, Sudan. The niece of the village chief, her idyllic childhood was destroyed at age 9 when she was kidnapped by Arab slave traders. The trauma was so horrific it caused St. Josephine to forget her own name – instead, she adopted the name “Bakhita” that her captors gave her, which ironically means “Lucky.”
Over the next 12 years, little Bakhita was sold 5 times and suffered severe abuse – in one home she was scarred 144 times all over her torso and right arm to mark her permanent status as a slave. In 1883, she was purchased by the Catholic Italian vice-consul, who brought her with him when he returned to Italy and gifted her to the Michieli family. When the Michieli family left Italy for Sudan on business, they left Bakhita in the care of the Canossian Sisters in Venice. Here, for the first time, Bakhita learned about Jesus Christ. She learned, in her own words: “I am definitively loved and whatever happens to me – I am awaited by this Love. And so my life is good.” When the Michieli’s returned from Sudan and came to collect Bakhita, she refused to leave.
The nuns backed Bakhita up, and the question of her freedom eventually became the subject of an Italian court case. Since slavery was technically outlawed in Sudan and illegal in Italy, the judge ruled in Bakhita’s favor, and at the age of 20, she was finally, truly free. Bakhita chose to remain with the Canossian Sisters, and one year later she was baptized, taking the name Josephine Margaret Fortunata (Fortunata being Latin for “lucky”). “Be good, love the Lord, pray for those who do not know Him. What a great grace it is to know God!” she said. St. Josephine Bakhita is the patron saint of Sudan and against human trafficking.
Today, talk to your children about the problem of slavery, which still exists legally in 94 countries as well as “underground” in many so-called civilized nations. Although slavery was abolished in 1865 in the United States, we are still reeling from its effects today in the form of systemic racism. Pray for racial justice and healing in our nation and world. For dinner, serve Sudanese or Italian food.
February 9 – Feast of St. Apollonia
St. Apollonia was a devout Christian living in Alexandria during a time of great persecution. In 249, she was captured by pagans, who threatened to burn her at the stake if she did not renounce her faith. During much torture, they violently yanked each of her teeth from her gums, although an alternate version of the story claims they were knocked out by an infuriated mob.
Undeterred, Apollonia waited until her captors weren’t looking and threw herself into the flames! One of her canine teeth was preserved and later presented by Emperor Alexis I of Constantinople to Roger II, the Count of Foix, during the First Crusades. Her tooth is now kept in a reliquary at the church of Lezat-sur-Leze in France and is believed to ease teething pain in babies. Saint Apollonia is now the patron saint of dentists, and as such, is usually depicted holding a pair of pliers in her hand!
Apollonia’s death caused some measure of consternation – having willingly thrown herself into the flames, could it truly be classified as martyrdom, or was it a well-intentioned but misguided suicide? St. Augustine resolved the issue by declaring Apollonia’s death a voluntary martyrdom specially inspired by the Holy Spirit.
If you’re really organized, today would be a great day to schedule your semiannual dental exam! Other ideas include discussing oral hygiene or saying special prayers through the intercession of St. Apollonia while brushing your teeth today! I know some parents who teach their children to brush their teeth for the correct amount of time by having them slowly recite the Hail Mary. If none of these ideas inspire you, just give your dentist a hug the next time you see them in honor of today’s saint.
February 10 – Feast of St. Scholastica
St. Scholastica is the twin sister of another famous saint, St. Benedict, who is regarded as the founder of Western monasticism. What we know of St. Scholastica comes from St. Gregory the Great’s biography of St. Benedict, The Dialogues.
After St. Benedict founded a monastery on Monte Cassino, Scholastica established a community of nuns 5 miles away. Despite the close proximity, due to the community’s rules, Benedict and Scholastica would meet only once a year. At their last meeting, St. Scholastica, perhaps knowing her death was near, begged him to extend their annual visit by staying the night. St. Benedict felt it was not right for him to bend his community’s rules and refused. Scholastica then prayed to God, and God sent a mighty thunderstorm, the likes of which had never been seen! There was no way for St. Benedict to safely return to his monastery. When he questioned his sister, Scholastica responded, “I asked a favor of you, and you said no. I asked a favor of God, and he said yes.”
The two siblings joyfully spent the rest of the evening in prayer and spiritual conversation, savoring their last time together on earth. When Scholastica died shortly thereafter, St. Benedict said he saw her soul ascend into heaven like a dove.
Today, listen to a story about the holy twins on Episode 5 of the Saint Stories for Kids Podcast! Dove crafts or a cloud in a jar science experiment would also be a great way to celebrate. For the of age crowd, enjoy a Dark and Stormy cocktail.
February 11 – Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes
The apparitions of Our Lady in Lourdes, France are some of the most well-known Marian apparitions throughout the world. Beginning February 11, 1858 and ending July 16, 1958, a beautiful and mysterious woman appeared in a grotto above little, sickly peasant girl named Bernadette Soubirous as she gathered sticks for firewood. The woman was dressed in white with a blue sash and golden rosaries on her feet and carried a rosary with her that she would pray with Bernadette. During one of the visits, the Lady introduced herself to Bernadette as the Immaculate Conception.
Bernadette, being poor and illiterate, would have had no way of knowing that just a few years before on December 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. Mary’s identification of herself under this title, then, gave evidence to the truth of what the Church has always understood about Our Lady. At her last visit, Our Lady instructed Bernadette to dig a hole in the ground before the grotto. As Bernadette began to dig, a hidden spring of water gushed forth, and the waters miraculously healed Bernadette from her chronic illness. Our Lady indicated she wanted a Church built to her over the spot, and now millions of pilgrims journey to bathe in the healing waters of Lourdes each year.
Today, listen to the story of St. Bernadette and Our Lady of Lourdes on the Saint Stories for Kids Podcast Episode 7. If you have FORMED subscription, there is also a cartoon video of the story of Bernadette and Our Lady of Lourdes available there. Lacy at the Catholic Icing Blog also has this adorable diorama craft!
Since many of us can’t easily make a pilgrimage to Lourdes, the official website of the Shrine at Lourdes is a veritable treasure trove. You can request Masses to be said for you at the Shrine, light a candle, and even watch live or replay Masses, Chaplets, and Rosaries prayed at the Shrine!
February 13 – St. Modomnoc
St. Modomnoc is a little-known Irish saint considered to be the patron saint of beekeepers! St. Modomnoc was an Irish bishop and disciple of St. David of Wales who died in 550 AD. While studying with St. David at his monastery in Wales, Modomnoc was given the task of tending the hives of bees in the monastery garden. The bees loved him so much that when he left Wales to return to Ireland, they followed him! Thus the legend goes that this is how bees were first introduced to the Emerald Isle.
There is a lovely children’s book about St. Modomnoc by Dessi Jackson called The Saint and His Bees that would be fun to read today. If you don’t own the book, you can listen to it on YouTube, here! Check out some National Geographic videos on bees today, and for a snack enjoy a piece of toast with honey.
February 14 – Feast of Sts. Cyril and St. Methodius…and St. Valentine
Although February 14 is internationally known as Valentine’s Day, St. Valentine didn’t make the cut when the liturgical calendar was revised in 1969. In an effort to emphasize more modern saints and de-emphasize saints about whom little historical record exists, many traditionally celebrated saints were removed from the calendar. St. Valentine, unfortunately, was one of those saints.
All we know for sure about St. Valentine is that he was a Bishop who was martyred and buried in a cemetery near Rome on February 14. Tradition claims he officiated Christian marriages, thus the love connection, but this idea may have arisen because February 15 was the ancient Roman fertility festival of Lupercalia where women would place their names in a large urn. Men would draw names from the urn, thus linking themselves romantically to that woman for the remainder of the year. Other connections to the tradition of giving Valentine’s Cards arose from the story that while in prison for his faith, St. Valentine converted fellow prisoners and administered holy communion and last rites to them. One of the people he converted was none other than the jailer’s daughter. Before his execution, he left her a note and signed it, “Your Valentine.” Other stories describe St. Valentine as a healer.
Nonetheless, St. Valentine’s day is still a great day to celebrate the people you love in your life. I also really love Lacy’s ideas from the Catholic Icing Blog on how to celebrate. Last year, my kids gave out Valentine’s Day Cards with pictures of St. Valentine on them and a reminder of God’s love that we purchased from Catholic Icing as a downloadable, and it was a great way to evangelize! You can also listen to one of the legends about St. Valentine on Episode 6 of the Saint Stories for Kids Podcast!
Sts. Cyril and Methodius
Unlike St. Valentine, we have a robust and verifiable historical record of St. Cyril and St. Methodius. These men were two Greek brothers who lived in the 800s AD in an area of Greece heavily inhabited by Slavs. The sons of a government officer, the two eventually became missionaries, teachers, and patrons of Slavic people. They were brilliant scholars to boot, and St. Cyril developed the Cyrillic Alphabet! Together the two brothers translated the New Testament into Slavonic and composed a Slavonic liturgy to evangelize the people of the region. They are now recognized as co-patrons of Europe, along with St. Benedict, as well as patrons of the Slavic people.
Celebrate today by trying your hand at some Cyrillic calligraphy and serve Greek or Slavic cuisine for dinner!
February 16 – Mardi Gras
Today is Mardi Gras, which is French for “Fat Tuesday.” Mardi Gras marks the end of the Carnival Season, which began with the Feast of the Epiphany in January. Traditionally, it was seen as a way to expend all your excess revelry in feasting, drinking, and celebrating before entering the penitential season of Lent the following day. Mardi Gras, of course, is a huge holiday in south Louisiana where I live, usually marked by parades, balls, and all manner of festivities.
You can celebrate today with a traditional King Cake (read all about the fascinating history of King Cakes here) and a parade! My children have made floats out of decorated cardboard boxes in the past and paraded along to songs like Mardi Gras Mambo while throwing beads and candy to friends and family – it’s a lot of fun!
February 17 – Ash Wednesday
Ash Wednesday marks the official start of the Lenten season. While today is not a Holy Day of Obligation, it remains one of the most attended Mass days of the year, after Christmas and Easter, as Catholics gather to have their heads sprinkled or marked with ashes in the shape of a cross, a reminder that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. If you can get to mass, today is an especially meaningful time to do so.
Today is an obligatory day of fasting and abstinence from meat for all those aged 14 and up and not pregnant, nursing, or otherwise unable to fast due to health reasons. The Church’s fasting guidelines dictate that you may have two small meals, which together are not equal in size to one normal sized meal, and one other small meal, with no snacks throughout the day. Since there are only two days a year the Church requires the faithful to fast (Ash Wednesday and Good Friday), observing today’s fast is truly a small obligation. You should also ensure you continue to abstain from meat every Friday throughout Lent.
Today is also the day to begin your Lenten disciplines that you discerned during the Septuagesima weeks leading up to Lent. In our family, we hang a poster in a prominent place listing the things we are taking on and the things we are giving up for Lent. I also put out a sacrifice jar for the kids, and for every good deed they do they can place in one dried bean. On Easter, the beans are “miraculously” turned in to jellybeans! They can then eat one jellybean for each good deed they perform.
The last thing we do to observe Ash Wednesday as family is to “bury the Alleluia.” During Lent, the Church omits the Alleluia and the Gloria from the Mass. To mark the occasion, I write “Alleluia” in fancy cursive on a piece of paper, which we place in a plastic bag and bury beneath the Mary statute in our garden. On Easter morning, the children dig the Alleluia up again and process joyfully into the house, proclaiming, “Alleluia!” for the first time in 40 days.
February 22 – Feast of St. Peter’s Chair
This is an unusual feast as it celebrates not a person, but an actual, physical chair located in St. Peter’s Basilica. The chair was originally occupied by St. Peter, and more than simply functioning as an antique piece of furniture, the Chair of St. Peter represents the authority passed down through apostolic succession from our first Pope, St. Peter, to our current Holy Father, Pope Francis.
The original chair is about 1’10” off the ground, 2’11” deep, and the back of the chair is a little over 3’5.” It is a plain oaken armchair with four legs connected by cross bars, worm-eaten and cut at various parts for relics. There are also four strong iron rings on the legs of the chair intended for carrying poles. While we aren’t 100% certain this is the actual, original chair that St. Peter sat in, we do know it has existed in Rome since the 4th century. In the 17th century, the Italian artist Bernini created the beautiful, ornate chair we see today encasing the original chair.
Today is a great day to talk about the universal authority conferred by Jesus himself on Peter, our first Pope and passed down to every successor to St. Peter via apostolic succession. As Franciscan Media explains, “Jesus told Peter that ‘you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church . . .’ (Mt 16:18). In his Letter to the Galatians, we see Saint Paul acknowledging this fact by seeking Peter’s approval for his ministry, for he recognized Peter as the first among the apostles (Gal 1:18). This authority and role, we believe as Catholics, is passed down and exercised by the pope, just as the authority and role of the apostles is passed down and exercised by the bishops in union with the pope.”
For a craft, try making a chair out of popsicle sticks or play-dough. You can even send a letter to the Pope thanking him for his work and letting him know you are praying for him! Address your letter to His Holiness Pope Francis, Apostolic Palace, 00120 Vatican City. Kendra Tierney in her book Catholic All Year explains that the proper salutation when writing to the Pope is “Your Holiness” or “Most Holy Father,” and the proper closing is “I have the honor to profess myself, with the most profound respect, your Holiness’ most obedient and humble servant,” or “I am, Your Holiness, most respectfully yours in Christ.” Finally, pray for our current Holy Father, Pope Francis, and his traditional intentions for the month by offering one Our Father, one Hail Mary, and one Glory Be.
February 23 – Feast of St. Polycarp
Like St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Polycarp is one of the five “Apostolic Fathers,” so-called because they personally received the Gospel from one or more of the original twelve Apostles (the other four are St. Clement of Rome, St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Hermas, and the anonymous authors of the Didache). Like St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Polycarp was a disciple of St. John the Evangelist.
Polycarp served as the Bishop of Smyrna, and wrote many letters to the various Christian Churches, including the Church in Philippi, which still exist today and provide great insight into the state of the early Christian Church. One of the great controversies during Polycarp’s time was the proper date for celebrating Easter, and the Churches in Asia Minor chose Polycarp as their representative to resolve the dispute with Pope Anicetus in Rome. Polycarp died a martyr’s death in 155 AD. His torturers attempted to burn him alive before a large crowd in a stadium in Smyrna, but the flames would not harm him. Instead, he was killed by a dagger and his body then burned. According to the Acts of Martyrdom, the earliest preserved account of a Christian martyr’s death, Polycarp cried out “Father… I bless Thee, for having made me worthy of the day and the hour…” before he died. Polycarp is now the patron saint of earaches!
Since fire and liturgical living are always a good idea, consider making a bonfire and roasting marshmallows in honor of St. Polycarp today! You can also read an account of the life of St. Polycarp from The Golden Legend, here!