Commentary

Summer celebrations, American and Catholic

Originally Appeared in : 9712-6/8/17

When I was a kid in Ohio, I experienced four distinct seasons each year: the harsh but beautiful snowy winters, the spring with its flowers and rain, the “lazy, hazy days of summer,” and the fall with the gorgeous foliage of deciduous trees. While each had its virtues, I definitely did not prefer the winters, largely because I was usually “under the weather” with colds, and a bit blue from the darkness of the skies. Spring and fall were fine, but summer was really my favorite, not because school was out (I liked school), but because I enjoyed the freedom to plan my own schedule, such as it was. 

 

By the time I was in junior high school, we had moved to a neighborhood in Kettering that featured a community swimming pool, which opened on Memorial Day and closed on Labor Day, the two public holidays that bookend each summer. The summer began as it still does to me, with the commemoration of those who died for our country. On Memorial Day we often sang “America the beautiful,” whose third stanza seemed written for the occasion:

 

O beautiful for heroes proved 
In liberating strife. 
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life! 
America! America! 
May God thy gold refine 
Till all success be nobleness 
And every gain divine!

 

Labor Day, devoted to working people, gave and still gives us a final day off together before the summer ended.
In between we celebrate Independence Day on July 4, with fireworks and all the trimmings. Our family tradition was to go together to the Miami Valley Golf Course to watch the fireworks and to make our own vanilla ice cream by hand. 

 

These summer celebrations were – and I hope still are – special times for American families.

 

The Catholic Church has its distinct seasons as well, especially Advent and Christmas in the winter and Lent and Easter in the spring. But the summer and fall are considered Ordinary Time and that very phrase (which attempts to render into English the Latin phrase per annum, “throughout the year”) can be misleading, because the time since the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus Christ, a time that will last until he comes again in glory, is anything but “ordinary!!” 

 

We live in the extraordinary meantime between the First and Second Comings of Christ and devote most of our liturgical year to reflecting on his public ministry, as recorded in the Gospels of Matthew (Year A, this year), Mark (Year B, next year), and Luke (Year C, 2019), with John’s Gospel used to supplement Mark in Year B. John is also read at key celebrations of Advent-Christmas and Lent-Easter.

 

Also during the summer portion of Ordinary Time, the Church celebrates the Solemnities of the Holy Trinity (this year on June 11) and the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi, this year on June 18 in the United States). The feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus will be celebrated on Friday, June 23 this year, and the Feast of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist on June 24. The latter feast is very ancient and coincides more or less with Midsummer, the summer solstice. Saint John, the principal patron saint of the Diocese of Savannah, is one of a handful of saints to have two feasts in his honor, as we celebrate both his birth (Nativity) and his martyr’s death (August 29).

 

And best of all, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven on August 15. On a study trip to Rome, in 1968, when I was still technically a Protestant, though already possessing a keen interest in the Catholic Church, I was delighted to witness a fireworks display for this feast. I asked, “Why are they shooting off fireworks?” The answer was the best excuse for a fireworks display that I have ever heard: “Because the Madonna has been taken up to heaven!”

 

Many Americans will enjoy fireworks on the Fourth of July. I hope that before I die I will be able to enjoy a fireworks display with my fellow American Catholics on the fifteenth of August, in honor of the Holy Queen enthroned above, who is the Patroness (under the title of the Immaculate Conception) of the United States. 

 

Father Douglas K. Clark STL is pastor of Saint Matthew Church, Statesboro. 

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