Q. I am an 88 year old Korean War veteran with a question that is not overwhelming but bothers me almost every day. I speak and pray to God, Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary aloud – every morning and every evening before I go to bed. (I live alone.)
But there are also times when I pray silently – just in my head – especially if I wake up during the night. So what I need to know is if these prayers – the silent prayers – are being heard. (Georgia)
A. Please relax and be at peace. The Lord (and Mary too) hears all of our prayers, including the silent ones. In fact, the Bible speaks directly to this. The Letter to the Hebrews says: “The word of God is living and effective … penetrating even between soul and spirit … able to discern the thoughts and thoughts of the heart” (4,12).
Even when we are overwhelmed and prayer is difficult, the Lord is there to help us. Paul’s Letter to the Romans says that the Spirit “comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray properly, but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groans ”(8:26).
So God can hear our thoughts as easily as he can hear our words. (This can serve as a helpful reminder; even our thoughts should be kind and prayerful as well.)
Q. What happened to the “no meat before the holidays” rule – for example, the fish dinners on Christmas Eve? I haven’t seen these regulations in years and wonder if they still exist. I don’t know of anyone today who abstains from meat on Christmas Eve. (Somerset, New Jersey)
A. For many centuries in the history of the church, Christmas Eve has been observed as a mandatory day of fasting and abstinence, marking the conclusion of the penitential season of Advent. The 1917 Code of Canon Law mentioned the obligation of total abstinence on Christmas Eve, as well as the vigils of Pentecost, the Assumption and All Saints. But this obligation ceased in the mid-1960s.
Nevertheless, many Catholics still abstain from meat on Christmas Eve. A notable example is the Italian custom of the Feast of the Seven Fishes – usually consisting of seven different seafood dishes (said to be in honor of the Seven Sacraments and the Seven Days of Creation).
The tradition comes from southern Italy, where it is known as “The Vigil”, waiting for the birth of the baby Jesus. It was introduced to the United States by immigrants from New York’s Little Italy in the late 1800s.
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