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An Irreverent History of Christmas Cards
Posted by Ian on 30 November 2016 02:10 PM

Humor Alert! If you don’t have a sense of humor or can’t take a good natured ribbing about the British or your grandmother’s fruitcake, we recommend skipping this article entirely and reading our article about the history of Christmas Cards from which all humorous elements have been excised.

You have been warned.

Christmas Cards, official items printed with a Christmas message and sent to wish others a “A Very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You.”, were first printed in England in 1843 making them as old as the opera Don Pasquale, the United Free Church of Scotland, the British colony of Natal, a Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and your grandmother’s fruit cake.

Sir Henry Cole commissioned John Callcott Horsley to create the first Christmas card. Sir Cole must have had a lot of friends and a lot of free time since he had 1000 printed. Unfortunately, he didn’t give thought to the sensibilities of the times setting off what could be one of the earliest politically correct protests when temperance groups objected to the image on the card depicting a child drinking wine with his family. In our family we believe that children shouldn’t have liquor until they are at least three so the temperance protest is understandable.

The first Christmas card

It should also be noted that the first card didn’t actually include an image of anything religious proving that the English are a bunch godless heathens only interested in selling tea and the worst food on the planet.

Actually, if you look carefully at the card you will see some unhappy figures on the edges. Sir Cole was very concerned about the poor in England and wanted to remind his friends to do something charitable during the Christmas season so he had these cards sent instead of handwriting individual letters. (This is true). (So was most everything else I said so far).

Americans, always quick to copy the British in everything except military tactics, started mailing cards in 1845/6 but had to import them from Europe for thirty years until someone figured out that yes, Christmas cards can be printed outside of the British Isles. Louis Prang, a German immigrant, started selling multi-colored Christmas cards in Europe in 1865 and started selling them in the United States in 1875. Within six years he was producing over five-million cards a year. That’s equivalent to 10% of the US population at the time.

The first home-photograph card was introduced by Kodak in 1902 which has made it possible for everyone to see how great your family and dog look in matching sweaters.

The first White House Christmas card was sent in 1953 when Dwight Eisenhower was president. Just another reason why everyone liked Ike. The cards were sent to 2000 of his most personal friends. White House Christmas cards now get sent to about 1.6 million people which kind of takes away the thrill of getting one.

If you send Christmas cards, you aren’t alone. The average US household receives an estimated 20 cards a year, down from 27 in the 80’s and 1.9 billion, yes that’s with a “b”, Christmas cards are sent in the US each year.

We recommend visiting the Christmas card gallery to see some examples of antique cards.

This history was culled from Wikipedia, Christmas in St. Charles, Emotion Greeting Cards and our seven-week-old daughter, Maria who thinks Christmas cards taste great.

If you want to help the US get to 2 billion cards sent each year, we recommend browsing our Christmas card section with a giving heart.

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Five things you may not know about Saint Andrew, the first Apostle
Posted by Ian on 30 November 2016 09:53 AM

Saint Andrew’s day is always special in our family because it’s our wedding anniversary. We handed out holy cards of St. Andrew to all of our wedding guests.

St. Andrew may have been one of the apostles but he isn’t one of the most well known. Here are five facts about Saint Andrew and his feast so you can get to know him a little better.

1) First, but not favorite. Depending on which Gospel you are reading, St. Andrew was the first apostle called by Christ along with Saint Peter or he went seeking Jesus and after finding Him, went to get his brother Simon Peter.

35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples; 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 Jesus turned, and saw them following, and said to them, “What do you seek?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying; and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. 40 One of the two who heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his brother Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ).42 He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him, and said, “So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).

25694 Lewis Ranch Rd.

So why is it that Andrew was not one of the three Apostles who were closest to Christ? Peter James and John are typically with Jesus for events like the Transfiguration and in the Garden of Gethsemane but Andrew, first of the Apostles, was not.

Saint Andrew the First Called
St Andrew the First Called – Painting of the calling of St Peter and St. Andrew by Duccio di Buoninsegna

2) Either Andrew’s parents liked Greek or we don’t know Andrew’s real name. Andrew is not a Hebrew name. It is Greek. We are never told in the Bible that Andrew had another name so it is possible that he took it as a nickname or that his parents were of Greek descent.

3) Saint Andrew founded the See of Constantinople. According to tradition, Andrew founded the see of Byzantium in 38 AD and installed Stachys as the bishop. The Patriarchate of Constantinople still holds Saint Andrew as its patron saint.

4) Saint Andrew was quite the traveler (before and after he died). Keep in mind that most of the apostles’ travel was done on foot or by boat.

Saint Andrew, like most of the Apostles, didn’t stick around Galilee. They went all over to spread the Gospel. Saint Andrew traveled Asia Minor, where he established the See of Constantinople. He also traveled north to Kiev, Novogrod and along the northern shore of the Black Sea. That is why he is the patron saint of Romania, Ukraine and Russia.

After he was martyred in 60 AD in Patras, Greece, his body was buried in a monastery there. For a couple of hundred years his remains were undisturbed. In the early 300’s a monk named Regulus who live in Patras had a dream where an angel told him to hide some of Saint Andrew’s bones. Soon after he did that, the emperor ordered that the relics of the saint be moved to  the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople.

Patras Cathedral
By Εγώ [Fallacia83] τράβηξα την φώτο. Original uploader was Fallacia83 at el.wikipedia – Transferred from el.wikipedia; transferred to Commons by User:Egmontaz using CommonsHelper.(Original text : Δική μου φώτο) en: Original uploader’s own photo, Attribution, Link
Saint Regulus had another vision where an angel told him to take the remaining relics to “the ends of the earth” and build a shrine wherever he was shipwrecked. He eventually made his way to Fife, Scotland.

Poor Saint Andrew, whose body would never be in one piece again, had his skull sent back to Patras by Emperor Basil I sometime in the late 800’s.

In 1208, after the crusaders sacked Constantinople, the remaining relics were transferred to Amalfi, Italy where the Cathedral of St. Andrew was built to house a tomb with the relics.

Cathedral of Saint Andrew
By Berthold Werner, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

In 1461 the Ottoman Turks crossed the straight of Corinth on a sightseeing and real estate gathering expedition. The youngest surviving son of the Byzantine Emperor, Thomas Palaeologus, fled Patras with the the skull of St. Andrew and made it to Italy where he gave it to Pope Pius II who had it enshrined in one of the four main pillars of Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The ulterior motive of the donation was to get the pope to declare crusade against the Turks. The crusade never really got off the ground and the pope died away from the Vatican while trying to get more European countries involved. But at least we have an amazing statue of Saint Andrew in St. Peter’s Basilica to show for it.

Saint Andrew in Saint Peter's
Saint Andrew in Saint Peter’s

For several hundred years, the various parts of Saint Andrew were at peace but not at home. In 1964 Pope Paul VI sent all the relics of Saint Andrew that were in Vatican City back to Patros where they are again enshrined.

The Cross of Saint Andrew was taken from Greece during the during the Crusades and was returned to Patras in 1980.

In 2008 one of the relics that was still enshrined at the cathedral in Amalfi was given back to Patras.

5) Saint Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland. You may have known this since the Scottish flag basically screams it, but do you know why?

While Saint Regulus is traditionally held to be the bringer of Saint Andrew’s relics to Scotland directly from Patras, it is possible that they were brought by Acca, the bishop of Hexam who brought the relics to Scotland around 732 when he was driven out for an unknown reason.

He is said to have founded a church in Glasgow and also at Saint Andrews. Whether or not he had anything to do with the origins of golf is still being debated.

In 832 the pict king Oengus II led his army against the Angles (of course). On the eve of the battle he prayed for divine intervention and promised that if he was granted victory he would dedicate Scotland to Saint Andrew.

The day of the battle it was reported that clouds shaped like Saint Andrew’s cross appeared in the sky and Oengus led his troops to victory.

Inspired by Saint Andrew? Browse our selection of Saint Andrew gifts.

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A Catholic Blessing For an Advent Wreath
Posted by Ian on 26 November 2016 07:09 AM

One of the most common traditions during Advent is to light Advent candles. Here is a blessing for an Advent wreath that can be used at home.

The Advent wreath is made of four candles and a circle of branches. Before the first candle is lighted, the household gathers for this blessing.

All make the sign of the cross. The leader begins:

Our help is in the name of the Lord.

R. Who made heaven and earth.

The leader may use these or similar words to introduce the blessing:

In the short days and long nights of Advent, we realize how we are always waiting for deliverance, always needing salvation by our God. Around this wreath, we shall remember God’s promise.

Then the Scripture is read:

Listen to the words of the prophet Isaiah:

The people who have walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
Upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom
a light has shone.
You have brought them abundant joy
and great rejoicing.
(Isaiah 9:1-2)

Alternate readings: Isaiah 63:16-17 or Isaiah 64:2-7)

The reader concludes:

This is the Word of the Lord.

All respond:

Thanks be to God.

After a time of silence, all join in prayers of intercession and in the Lord’s Prayer.

Then the leader invites:

Let us now pray for God’s blessing upon us and upon this wreath.

After a short silence, the leader prays:

Lord our God,
we praise you for your Son, Jesus Christ:
he is Emmanuel, the hope of the peoples,
he is the wisdom that teaches and guides us,
he is the Savior of every nation.

Lord God,
let your blessing come upon us
as we light the candles of this wreath.
May the wreath and its light
be a sign of Christ’s promise to bring us
May he come quickly and not delay.

We ask this through Christ our Lord.

R. Amen

The first candle is lighted.

The leader says:

Let us bless the Lord.

All respond, making the sign of the cross:

Thanks be to God.

The blessing concludes with a verse from “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”:

O come, desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of humankind;
Bid ev’ry sad divisions cease
And by thyself our Prince of peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Each day in Advent, perhaps at the evening meal, the candles are lighted: one candle the first week, two the second, and so forth.

Taken from Household Blessing and Prayers.

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Squanto was Catholic? And Other Thanksgiving Morsels
Posted by Ian on 24 November 2016 05:38 AM

Reading up on Catholicism and Thanksgiving brings a bounty of different stories from history connecting both. Here’s an internet roundup of what you knew (and didn’t know) about the two:

Catholic Recognition of Thanksgiving: Catholic recognition of the day by special religious features has only been of comparatively recent date. Historians of the day attempt to trace the origin of Governor Bradford’s idea (1621) back to the old Hebrew Feast of the Tabernacles and through the ages to the ancient Greek Harvest Feast, Thesmophoria, the Roman Cerealia, and the English Harvest Home.(Catholic Encyclopedia)

Squanto was Catholic: As a result of the papal decree (“Sublimis Dei”), the Catholic Church in Spain was opposed to the mistreatment of Indians, and opposed to bringing them to Europe against their will. Of course, the Catholic ideal did not always prevent slave trade on the black market. At Malaga, Thomas Hunt managed to sell most of his captives, and was about to sell Squanto when two Spanish Jesuit priests intervened. The Spanish speaking priests seized Squanto who somehow convinced them to send him home. Not knowing where “home” was, the priests arranged for Squanto’s passage as a free man on a ship bound for London. It is likely that the Jesuits even baptized Squanto as a Catholic. It would have been a way to assure his status as a free man.  (These Stone Walls)

The First Thanksgiving (Conquistador Style) : In April of 1541, Coronado, with a group of soldiers and some missionaries, left Albuquerque, New Mexico, headed northeast, and crossed a section of what is now northwest Texas (the Panhandle). In encountering some of the local Indians, the missionaries found that the natives were immediately open to receiving the Gospel of Jesus Christ. After a few weeks of instruction, members of the Jumano Indian tribe converted and received Baptism. The expedition then arrived in Palo Duro Canyon where, on May 29, Father Juan Padilla, O.F.M., offered the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. (Father Padilla would eventually become the very first martyr of the Faith in America when he was killed in 1542, in what is now Kansas.) A Thanksgiving feast followed the Mass. It consisted of game that had earlier been caught. The feast was celebrated in thanksgiving to God for His many blessings and for the recent converts. This event is the first actual Thanksgiving Day celebrated in the future United States. (

The Other First Thanksgiving Feast Claim: Another interesting bit of trivia is that the first American Thanksgiving was actually celebrated on September 8, 1565 in St. Augustine, Florida. The Native Americans and Spanish settlers held a feast and the Holy Mass was offered. (Canterbury Tales)

The Other First Thanksgiving Feast (Consecrated) : There was another Thanksgiving celebration which occurred years before the Pilgrims landed. In 1598, Catholic explorer Juan de Oñate led an expedition from Mexico City into New Mexico. In the name of the most Holy Trinity … I take possession of this whole land this April 30, 1598, in honor of Our Lord Jesus Christ, on this day of the Ascension of Our Lord ….”To the fanfare of trumpets and volleys of musket shots, Oñate signed and sealed the official act with a flourish, and the Holy Cross and the royal standard were both raised in the camp, completing the legal requirements of La Toma. With that, the kingdom of New Mexico came into being, at midday on April 30, 1598. The colonists went on to celebrate the first Thanksgiving with a grand feast of fish, “many cranes, ducks and geese.” The rest of the day passed with song, foot races, and other competitive games. In the evening, all enjoyed a play, written by one of Oñate’s captains, Marcos Farfan, which enacted happy scenes of the Franciscan missionaries entering the country, the Indians kneeling to receive them and asking to be received into the Holy Faith. (Tradition in Action)
Don Onate
The Calvinists & Catholics: So while Thanksgiving may celebrate the Calvinist Separatists who fled England, Catholics might remember the same unjust laws that granted the crown of martyrdom to Thomas More, John Fisher, Edmund Campion, et al. are the same injustices that led the Pilgrims to Plymouth (Canterbury Tales).

The Eucharist as Thanksgiving: The Greek word for Thanksgiving is ε?χαριστ?α or Eucharistia. Catholics should not only celebrate Thanksgiving with a deep sense of prayer, gratitude and joy, but the celebration this day should lead us to remember that our lives as Catholics are a constant act of thanksgiving, through our daily activities, all of which should give glory to God, especially through the celebration of the Eucharist, which, as the Catechism says, “The Eucharist is a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Father, a blessing by which the church expresses her gratitude to God for all his benefits, for all that he has accomplished through creation, redemption and sanctification. Eucharist means first of all ‘thanksgiving.’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church).


In sum, though the Thanksgiving as we know it is not an official Catholic liturgical holiday, nevertheless, it is worthy of celebration, prayer, and reflection — and attendance at Holy Mass if you can!

This Thanksgiving let those of us who have much and those who have little gather at the welcoming table of the Lord. At this blessed feast, may rich and poor alike remember that we are called to serve on another and to walk together in God’s gracious world. With thankful hearts we praise our God who like a loving parent denies us no good thing.

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Start the Oplatki Family Christmas Tradition
Posted by Ian on 23 November 2016 06:59 AM

A Beautiful and Inspiring Christmas Tradition from Eastern Europe

Oplatki Christmas WafersAmong Catholic families in Poland, Lithuania, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, the start of the traditional Wigilia (Christmas Eve Vigil) meal begins with the Oplatki, Oblatky, or Plotkele, a thin Communion-like rectangular wafer made of unleavened bread and stamped with different Christmas symbols. Some families call it the “bread of Love” and it is widely known in English-speaking countries simply as the Christmas wafer. Some eastern German families are also known to use a wafer called Opladen in their Christmas cooking.

Oplatki symbolizes the Bread of Life

Bread is one of the most ancient and simple of all human foods. It has been a symbol of life and of hope for millennia. As Catholics we recall that God sent manna to His people as they wandered in the Sinai desert. Bethlehem, where the Savior was born, means “house of bread” in Hebrew. We also recall that Jesus said ” I am the bread of life,” and that He left us His Body and Blood under the appearances of bread and wine in the Eucharist. Blessed bread, associated with Mass and yet distinct from the Eucharist, has long been used as a sacramental in both the Eastern and Western Christian traditions.

In the West, the custom lives on in the pain benit (blessed bread) given in some French churches after High Mass. In the East, the use of blessed bread developed into the practice of antidoron. Some of the bread prepared for Mass (the prosphora, or offerings) is not consecrated, but is used for a kind of spiritual communion. The blessed bread is given out at the end of the Liturgy and as a gift to those who may not be able to receive the Eucharist. This practice still continues in the Byzantine Rite, but usually only on major feasts.

In the Latin Rite, the bread and wine offered at Mass are referred to as oblata (offerings). It is from the Latin word Oblata that the Polish word Oplatki and the Slovak word Oblatky is derived. The Lithuanian word Plotkele has the same origin, but due to something called “vocal shift” in the Lithuanian language the name has changed slightly. While the source of the name is derived from the Latin, the religious custom of special wafers at Christmas is shared by both the Latin and the Byzantine traditions.

The Oplatki tradition developed from earlier Christian traditions, such as the antidoron, in the Kingdom of Poland not long after Christianity came to the country in 966. The custom was adopted later by the Lithuanian, Czech and Slovak peoples and has made its way into countless other households who find that its rich symbolism is an easily adoptable Christmas custom which also carries profound meaning for Christians.

Poles, Slovaks, Czechs and Lithuanians are fortunate in preserving such a meaningful custom at Christmas, as an aid to a worthy reception of Holy Communion and as a family spiritual communion on this most joyous of Christian feasts. It is customary to have the Christmas wafers blessed by the parish priest prior to Christmas Eve and many parishes provide the Oplatki for their parishioners.

Christmas Eve – Vigil of Christ’s Birth

Following time-honored tradition, many families will begin their Christmas Eve celebration by waiting for the appearance of the first star in the early evening sky as they look toward the East. This first star appearing symbolizes the Star of Bethlehem which announced that the Great Light was coming into our world, to the “people who lived in darkness.”

The table at which the family gathers for the Christmas Eve dinner typically has some straw strewn beneath a fine white tablecloth to commemorate the birth of the Christ Child in the manger or cave where the animals lived. A more modern adaptation includes the use of straw or sprigs of evergreen which are placed on a serving platter and then covered with a fine white napkin on which the Oplatki wafers rest.

The Christmas Eve meal begins with the eldest member of the family taking an Oplatek wafer, breaking it and sharing it the family member next to them. Each then shares pieces of the Oplatek wafer with everyone else present at the table. Some families, particularly of the Slovak tradition, share the Oplatek with honey on it, as a symbol of the sweetness and joy of the occasion. The sharing-ritual is accompanied by embracing and the exchange of good wishes. The symbolism of sharing the wafer to each person, and then back and forth, symbolizes the giving and the sharing in our lives.

Signs and Symbols

Following the sharing of Oplatki comes the evening meal. The meal is meatless (even free of meat drippings or meat stock) and symbolizes the cleansing effect of abstinence in preparation for the coming of Christ. Among Catholics in the East, a period of fasting and abstinence is observed during Advent. The variety and abundance of what is served during the Christmas Vigil dinner makes this anything but a penitential one though.

The Christmas Eve meal typically begins with a simple soup. The most common is a clear beet broth with tiny mushroom-filled dumplings floating within or a clear mushroom soup served over egg noodles. A mushroom and potato soup is also common. The fish which anchor the meal have long been a symbol of Christianity. Most commonly pike or carp is served. The head of the pike, when dismembered, contains bones in the shape of a cross, ladder and nails – the tools of Christ’s crucifixion. Horseradish is often thought to be a reminder of life’s bitterness, while honey represents its sweetness and the poppy seeds its tranquility.

Other dishes include sauerkraut stewed with mushrooms and/or peas, perogi with various meatless fillings – both savory or sweet, buckwheat groats and mushroom gravy, golabki (cabbage rolls) filled with rice or barley and mushrooms.

Rounding out the meal are such varied sweet dishes as almond soup, cranberry jelly, stewed prunes and dried fruit, noodles and poppy seed, wheat and honey pudding, rice and apple casserole plus nuts, raisins, dates and figs to snack on. Traditional cakes include poppy seed rolls, fruit cakes, and honey-spice cake. Some families serve a dessert or a drink which is made of 12 different fruits to honor Christ’s Twelve Apostles. Although drinking is rather subdued, often krupnik (a hot honey-spice cordial) is served.

Singing koledy (Christmas carols) has long been the crowning touch of the Christmas Eve Vigil celebration. The family moves to where the Christmas tree stands, lights its tapers and joyously sings the age-old hymns in honor of the Savior’s birth.


Cycle of Life

In the Bleak MidwinterThe order in which the courses of the evening meal are served signify human life and its natural cycles – honey on the Christmas wafer followed by sour potatoes or tart soup, and fish, then pastries – the sweet, the sour, and the sweet again …..that is the order of our human life on earth, from joy to sorrow and back again. As Christians we live in Hope, for God’s mercy to us and for the hope of ultimate Joy in Heaven which is our reward for a life well-lived. The beauty and rich symbolism of the Christmas wafer tradition offers us a profound, yet simple, lesson for our Christian life.

You may buy packages of Oplatki Christmas wafers, with a handy informative booklet, from October through December.

Material for this article has been gathered from several sources including: The Slovak Heritage Society, the Polish Geneology Research website, Rootsweb Lithuania, Wikipedia,  Fr. George Franko of Holy Name Slovak Catholic Church and others.

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