Did you know?
There was a time in early America when Christmas was illegal?

Are you aware?
Paczki, oplatki and waffles have a religious commonality.

Ever wonder why?
The liturgy is called the Mass?

Do you realize?
“Black Friday” means more than post- Thanksgiving Day shopping madness.

Did I pique your curiosity?

This is one of those columns that may generate a “Gee, I didn’t know that!” Honestly, that was my reaction from reading from The Little Books, based on the writings of the late Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw, Michigan.

Bishop Untener’s inspirational writings were widely acclaimed during his 24 years of shepherding the Diocese of Saginaw. Soon after his installation in 1980, he sold the bishop’s residence. During his episcopate, he lived with his priests at parishes throughout the 11-county diocese.

He was known for a simple lifestyle and spirituality. If he received a sweater as a gift, he gave away one from his closet.
To encourage people to pray, he started The Little Books as a Lenten project for his diocese in 2000. Subsequently, he produced Little Blue Books for Lent, Little White Books for the Easter season and Little Black Books for Advent and Christmas seasons.

The books contain six-minute reflections on Scripture readings for daily and Sunday Mass, along with interesting religious and historical anecdotes of feast days, traditions and customs.

Bishop Untener died in 2004 at age 66, but the books continue to be published annually by the Diocese of Saginaw.
With the beginning of Lent on Ash Wednesday, how did you observe the previous day – Fat Tuesday? Probably by visiting your local baker for a hefty supply of calorie-filled paczki.

But, are you aware that paczki have a religious connection with the oplatkis and waffles?

According to a Little Black Book, paczki came to the United States from Poland around the turn of the 20th century.

Polish Catholics were strict about their Lenten observance.

So, in preparation for Lenten fasting, they would use up their lard and eggs by making “paczki” – those round, sugar-coated pastries often filled with jelly. In recent years, the Polish custom of enjoying paczki on the day before Lent has become popular among people of all cultures in the United States.

Another popular Polish custom is the sharing of the oplatki, also known as Angel Bread, on the last days before Christmas, especially on Christmas Eve. Resembling a large white host, family members break off pieces and give them to one another to eat, expressing a blessing upon them and asking forgiveness for any wrongs done.

A Black Book notes that during Lent, a wafer made only with flour and water was one of the few items a Catholic could eat while fasting. It was usually made in monasteries and then sold to people. But in the Middle Ages, enterprising bakers decided to compete with monasteries and developed their own version of a wafer but with a criss-cross design.

They called it a waffle.

Did you know at one time in early America Christmas was illegal?

A Blue Book reports that when the Mayflower landed at Plymouth, Massachusetts, on Dec. 21, 1620, the passengers (pilgrims) were actually separatist Puritans, basically Anglicans. But there was no Christmas celebration that year.

Because of all the externals, i.e., Christmas trees, decorations, gift-giving, Puritans viewed these as pagan customs rather than rooted in Scripture. So intense was their belief that they outlawed Christmas in the Massachusetts Bay Colony from 1659 to 1681. Anyone caught celebrating Christmas would be fined five shillings (about 70 cents).

How did the Eucharistic liturgy become known as “the Mass?”

A White Book notes that the term “Mass” comes from the Latin word, missa, meaning “to send.” St. Ambrose (340-397) is said to have been the first person to call a weekly gathering of early Christians a “Mass.” He used the term in a letter to his sister, Marcellina, when describing trouble being caused by soldiers who had been sent to disrupt services (the Mass) in his church.

Why does “Black Friday” mean more than shopping madness?

A Blue Book suggest Friday the 13th is also known as Black Friday. According to legend, the belief that Friday the 13th was an unlucky day stemmed from Jesus’ death on a Friday and the Last Supper where Judas the betrayer was the 13th person seated at the table. One superstition says seating 13 people at a table will lead to one of those 13 dying within the next year. The only exception to bad luck on Friday the 13th is when it is Good Friday. Sometimes, it’s called Black Friday because Jesus died on this day.

These are a few of the enlightening information contained in Bishop Untener’s Little Books.

As he explains in a foreword, the books “provide the framework to enjoy one of the church’s oldest traditions of prayer called lectio divina – sacred reading.” He said, “We take a short Scripture passage and simply let God speak to us through the words, guiding us to reflections that sometimes seem to come from nowhere. People are often surprised at how easy it is to pray this way, and how deep such prayer can be. It can change your day … it can change your life.”

And, the anecdotes add a, “Gee, I didn’t know that,” aspect to scriptural readings.

(Out and About is a regular feature of Mature Lifestyles that looks at issues affecting the older adult community. Horn, a retired Catholic Herald reporter, is a member of St. Roman Church, Milwaukee.)