The Eucharist – Do Catholics Worship a Symbol?

The Catholic Church believes infallibly (without the possibility of error) that Jesus is present body, blood, soul, and divinity in the Holy Eucharist. This dogma is clearly revealed in scripture. Take a look at the “Bread of Life” discourse found in John chapter 6 where Jesus says:

  • I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.
  • Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

During the last supper, Jesus declared that He was going to remain with his disciples under the form of bread and wine. In the institution of the Eucharist, Jesus consecrates the bread and wine with the words “this is my body” (Luke 22:19) and “this is my blood” (Luke 22:20). Jesus states this as an absolute, and is in no way left up to interpretation. In the next lines, Jesus institutes the priesthood with the words to His apostles “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). It is interesting to note, that the word remembrance in the Hebrew sense is not a word meaning “to recall a time in the past,” as it is generally used. Rather, the word remembrance means, “to call forth the past into the present.” In other words, Jesus was instructing His apostles to bring this event into the present, which is what the priest does at each Mass.

When the priest who is acting in persona Christi (in the person of Christ) recites the words of consecration during Mass, the bread and wine become, through the occurrence of transubstantiation (change of substance), fully and completely, the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. With the consecration of the bread and wine at each Mass, Jesus’ sacrifice is re-presented to us.

It is in this way that Jesus chose to stay with His Church. There is not a more intimate way that we could experience the love of Christ, than with His very life inside of us. Jesus states in John 6:53 “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” The Eucharist is our strength in life, which gives us courage and conviction in our journey with Christ.

From the website “Why Do Catholics Do That: The Truth of the Catholic Church One Post at a Time.”

Is missing Sunday Mass a mortal Sin?

France, Val d’Oise, Sarcelles. Easter vigil in St Thomas Chaldean church France.

We should first call to mind the importance of the Mass. Each Sunday, and Holy days of obligation, we gather together as a Church with hearts filled with joy to worship Almighty God. We remember and profess our faith in the mystery of our salvation. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, suffered, died, and rose for our salvation. The saving actions of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday’s Easter Vigil coalesce in the Holy Sacrifice of one Mass.

Moreover, at Mass, each faithful Catholic is fed with abundant graces: First, we are nourished by the Word of God– God’s eternal truth that has been revealed to us and recorded under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We then respond by professing our Holy Catholic Faith as presented in the Creed, saying not simply I believe” as a singular person, but we believe” as part of the Church. Second, if we are in a state of grace, then we have the opportunity to receive our Lord in the Holy Eucharist. We firmly believe that our Lord is truly present in the Holy Eucharist, and that we receive His body, blood, soul, and divinity in Holy Communion. Not only does the Holy Eucharist unite us intimately with the Lord, but also unites us in communion with our brothers and sisters throughout the universal Church.

The Holy Eucharist is such a precious gift! With this in mind, no one should simply think of attending Mass as fulfilling an obligation. To attend Mass is a privilege, and any faithful Catholic should want to attend Mass. Our perspective should not be, I have got to do this”; rather, we should think, I get to do this.”

The Mass offers such precious gifts, provides the nourishment of great graces, and unites us as a Church, there for we do indeed have a sacred obligation to attend Mass. The Third Commandment states, “Keep Holy the Sabbath.” For Christians, we have always kept holy Sunday, the day of the resurrection as our day of rest. Just as creation unfolded on the first day of the week with God commanding, “Let there be light,” our Lord, the Light who came to shatter the darkness of sin and death, rose from the dead on that first day marking the new creation.

The Code of Canon Law (#1246) proscribes, “Sunday is the day on which the paschal mystery is celebrated in light of the apostolic tradition and is to be observed as the foremost holy day of obligation in the universal Church.” Moreover, “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass…” (#1247). Therefore, the Catechism teaches, “Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit grave sin” (#2181), and grave sin is indeed mortal sin. Our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, repeated this precept in his apostolic letter Dies Domini (Observing and Celebrating the Day of the Lord, #47, 1998).

Of course, serious circumstances arise which excuse a person from attending Mass. Such as if a person is sick, has to deal with an emergency, or cannot find a Mass to attend without real burden. A pastor may also dispense a person from the obligation of attending Mass for serious reason. For instance, no one, including our Lord, expects a person to attend Mass who is so sick he cannot physically attend Mass; there is no virtue in further hurting one’s own health plus infecting everyone else in the Church. In the case of extreme weather conditions, a person must prudently judge whether he can safely travel to attend Mass without seriously risking his own life and the lives of others. When such serious circumstances arise, which prevent a person from attending Mass, they should definitely take time to pray, read the prayers and readings of the Mass, or watch the Mass on television, at least participate in spirit. Keep in mind when such serious circumstances arise, a person does not commit mortal sin for missing Mass.

A person must really reflect on how valuable the Mass and the Holy Eucharist are. Every day, faithful Catholics in the People’s Republic of China risk educational and economic opportunities and even their very lives to attend Mass. In mission territories, people travel many miles to attend Mass. They take the risk and they make the sacrifice because they truly believe in the Mass and our Lord’s presence in the Holy Eucharist.

When a person negligently skips Mass, to go shopping, sleep a few extra hours, attend a social event, or not interrupt vacation, the person is allowing something to take the place of God. Something becomes more valuable than the Holy Eucharist. Yes, such behavior really is indicative of turning one’s back on the Lord and committing a mortal sin. God must come first in our lives. On Sunday, our primary duty is to worship God at Mass as a Church and to be nourished with His grace.


Excerpted from
Fr. Saunders pastor of Queen of Apostles Church in Alexandria.

Have a Pope?

Pope John Paul II blesses the crowd after he arrived on the altar before celebrating mass in front of 100,000 people at the TWA Dome January 27. The Pope leaves for the Vatican later in the day.

For Catholics, the Pope is considered the spiritual successor to the Apostle Peter. He is the Supreme Pastor of the Catholic Church, God’s steward ordained to authoritatively teach, unify, and protect God’s people, keeping them free from error and deception (CCC 882, 890).

The evidence that Jesus wanted to establish a spiritual leader for his church is in Matthew 16:13-19, where Jesus stated, “Blessed are you, Simon, bar-Jonah I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Note in this passage, that Jesus changes Simon bar-Jonah’s name to Peter.  When a person in the Bible is renamed, it is a sign of God’s intention to work in a special way through that individual. Abram became the father of nations after being renamed “Abraham,” Jacob became “Israel,” and Saul was renamed “Paul.”  The implication of Simon’s new name is easiest to understand when going back to Jesus’ native language, Aramaic. Unlike modern English and New Testament Greek, the Aramaic word for “Peter” and the word “rock” are identical: Kepha. So this verse, when spoken, would have sounded something like this:  And I tell you that you are Rock (Kepha), and on this rock (kepha) I will build my church…

Also in this passage, Jesus states he will give Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven. In Old Testament times, the steward of the palace was the king’s right-hand man, the second-in-command. When the king was away, the royal steward was keeper of the keys to the kingdom, ruling in the king’s stead. While he looked after the affairs of the kingdom, he never replaced the king but awaited his return. When the present steward died, another filled the position. 

In this photo provided by the Vatican paper L’Osservatore Romano Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014, Pope Francis placed a lamb around his neck as he visits a living nativity scene staged at the St. Alfonso Maria de’ Liguori parish church, in the outskirts of Rome, Monday, Jan. 6, 2014. The Epiphany day, is a joyous day for Catholics in which they recall the journey of the Three Kings, or Magi, to pay homage to Baby Jesus. (AP Photo/Osservatore Romano, ho)

The office of the Papacy works in the same manner. Christ gave Peter governing authority over His Church by handing over the keys to His Kingdom. Like the ancient “key keepers,” the Pope is the steward awaiting the King’s return. Until Christ’s second coming, the keys will be passed on to each successor to the Papal office.

Now, what do the terms “binding” and “loosing” refer to?  In this context, Catholics view Peter’s key-keeping status as one that makes him “Supreme Pastor,” with final authority over what is permitted and what is denied in matters of doctrine and spiritual discipline.

The issue of this final authority brings up an often misunderstood doctrine of Catholic teaching: Papal infallibility. Catholics believe the Pope has great authority in matters of the faith, but this doesn’t mean that Catholics believe that every word the Pope says comes straight from God.  

Papal infallibility refers to the belief that while all Christians have personal access to the Holy Spirit in prayer, Christ promised a unique protection over the Apostles’ teachings, ensuring they would preach without error (John 16:12-15). In order for a papal teaching to be considered free of error or “infallible,” the Pope must, a) be speaking on a matter of faith and morals (not on his recent vacation plans) and b) make it clear he is speaking from the “Chair of Peter” and that what he is about to say is binding.   These infallible statements are for affirming what has always been true and are not a method of creating new beliefs (CCC 86, 888-891). Official statements of infallibility are rare today – the last one was made in 1950, long before Pope Francis.

Another important clarification: Papal Infallibility refers to doctrine being protected from error, not the man holding the Papal office being free of imperfection or sin. Catholics point to Peter’s sinfulness as an example of failings in a Pope, and John Paul II was known to confess his sins weekly.

One last “key” element of Catholic teaching on the Papacy is worth mentioning. Catholics believe that in imitation of Christ, Peter’s successor is a shepherd called to embrace the biblical model of servant-leadership, earning him the official title “Servant of the Servants of God.” The sacrifices made of Pontiffs are often so great, that it is not uncommon for Popes to accept their appointment out of a sense of obedience instead of personal desire. So the office, while powerful, is meant to be authoritative in nature, not authoritarian like a dictatorship.

You may want to view a list of all the Popes from Peter to Present: Click Here

Or Modern day Popes: Click on Pope Pius VII picture: 

Light Candles

Jesus said that he was the Light of the World and that He came to shine a light for a dark and sin-filled world. His Light was Truth exposing the sin that hid in the blackness.

Catholics light candles during official church services (called liturgy, such as the Mass) to indicate the special solemnity of the occasion.

Catholics light votive candles or “vigil lights” to pray about something particular, either for themselves or on behalf of someone else. When we light a candle with a prayer intention, we are not only praying, but also our prayers actually become smaller symbols of the One Light of Christ. When we burn prayer candles, our prayers rise up to Heaven day and night.

Early Christians associated light with the sacred presence of Our Lord in their midst, assured by Him: “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I shall be in their midst” (Mt.8:20). Thus, during their evening gatherings, as the candles or lamps were being lit, the Christians symbolically (mystically) welcomed the Eternal Light, Jesus, into their midst.

When we light our prayer candles, we remember and truly live the words of Our Lord to become light in the darkness.

Cross their Forehead, Lips and Heart at the Gospel

My first thought is that we want to keep the Word of Christ with us in all of our body and soul.  You know We make a small Cross on our Four Heads, we are keeping the word on our minds we think about the Word throughout the day, week and as far as you can take it.  We make a sign of the Cross on our Lips, you need to speak the Word of the Lord to help keep it alive.  We make the sign of the Cross on our hearts, our hearts are to keep the Lords Word in a safe place so you can think and talk about it while giving it away to others who may need to hear it.

God “dwells in us.” God’s love is not meant for us alone; we must give it away.  Do small things today and for many tomorrows, with a generous heart.  Give God Away Today!

Let’s look at what “The General Instruction of the Roman Missal” Has to say about it.

  1. The gestures and bodily posture of both the Priest, the Deacon, and the ministers, and also of the people, must be conducive to making the entire celebration resplendent with beauty and noble simplicity, to making clear the true and full meaning of its different parts, and to fostering the participation of all. Attention must therefore be paid to what is determined by this General Instruction and by the traditional practice of the Roman Rite and to what serves the common spiritual good of the People of God, rather than private inclination or arbitrary choice.

A common bodily posture, to be observed by all those taking part, is a sign of the unity of the members of the Christian community gathered together for the Sacred Liturgy, for it expresses the intentions and spiritual attitude of the participants and also fosters them. 

  1. The reading of the Gospel constitutes the high point of the Liturgy of the Word. The Liturgy itself teaches the great reverence that is to be shown to this reading by setting it off from the other readings with special marks of honor, by the fact of which minister is appointed to proclaim it and by the blessing or prayer with which he prepares himself; and also by the fact that through their acclamations the faithful acknowledge and confess that Christ is present and is speaking to them and stand as they listen to the reading; and by the mere fact of the marks of reverence that are given to the Book of the Gospels.
  2. A t the ambo, the Priest opens the book and, with hands joined, says, The Lord be with you, to which the people reply, And with your spirit. Then he says, A reading from the holy Gospel, making the Sign of the Cross with his thumb on the book and on his forehead, mouth, and breast, which everyone else does as well. The people acclaim, Glory to you, O Lord. The Priest incenses the book, if incense is being used (cf. nos. 276-277). Then he proclaims the Gospel and at the end pronounces the acclamation The Gospel of the Lord, to which all reply, Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ. The Priest kisses the book, saying quietly the formula Per evangelica dicta (Through the words of the Gospel).

The next time you sign your Mind, Lips, and Heart or Soul with the Cross before the Gospel make sure that it means more than just an external gesture, make sure it is also a prayer and an invitation to give Christ away, to Keep Christ Alive.

Go to Confession?

Can you picture what it feels like to hold a fresh piece of laundry after it has been washed and dried? You take it, smell it, and feel that rush of satisfaction that comes with clean laundry. It’s almost as if the cleanliness radiates through you and makes your whole body feel clean. This is the same feeling I get after going to confession. There is an overwhelming sense of peace that comes with knowing that God has forgiven your sins and that through the prayer of absolution God “washes us clean.” While not reducing the grace that is received in Confession to what happens in a wash machine what’s important is the feeling one has knowing that God has truly forgiven your sins. But, it’s understandable not everyone will feel this way after going to confession. It’s possible you may even question why it’s even necessary in the first place. This leads us to the question, “Why do Catholics Go to Confession.”

Without going immensely into the history of the sacrament here is the “spark notes” version about the sacrament of confession. Confession is one of our seven sacraments labeled under the category “Sacraments of Healing.” As Catholics we believe that this sacrament actually originated from Jesus himself in Scripture (John 20:23) and has been passed down through apostolic succession. God alone possess the power to forgive sins, and since Jesus was true God and true man Jesus also had this power. Jesus then passed the power to forgive sins on to his apostles who then passed on this power to the bishops of the early church. It is from these early bishops that we continue the power of forgiving sins.

It is very important to remember that although it is the bishop or priest that is present in the sacrament it is actually Jesus who is the one forgiving your sins. The priest or bishop is merely the representative of Jesus (Catholic Faith Handbook, 226). Another important thing to remember about the sacrament of confession is the “effects” we receive from it. Confession all at once restores our relationship with God and others, converts our hearts, gives us power to resist future temptation, and gives us freedom from our past sins (Catholic Faith Handbook, 228).

In the end there are many reasons to go to confession but if you have to remember one remember that inner sense of peace and freedom that comes with knowing that God has truly forgiven. Finally know that confession is available frequently. You can easily check the archdiocesan website to find the closest one to you. They are available multiple times a day and week.

Light the Easter Fire?

One of the most beautiful things about the Catholic Church is the use of symbols to communicate meaning. Fire, one of the most frequently used symbols in our faith, communicates a number of different meanings: Holy Spirit, purification, or bring light into darkness. As we approach Easter and the end of Lent we use this symbol of fire in a moving ritual called “The Service of Light” which happens on Holy Saturday night at the Easter Vigil. This leads to the question, “Why do Catholics light the Easter fire?”

The Service of Light happens directly before the beginning of the Easter Vigil, and it starts outside at a designated area to start a fire. As people come into church they are given an unlit candle, and the church itself is completely dark, which gives the impression we gather in darkness still following the death of Jesus on Good Friday. Then before the Mass begins people are invited to come outside to see the lighting of the Easter fire.

Then the Service of Light begins with a greeting of the priest outside, the lighting of the Easter fire, and finally the fire is blessed. Then the Paschal Candle is blessed, marked with the sign of the cross and year, and then finally lit. The Paschal Candle, which is the giant candle that stands near the baptismal font, symbolizes “light of Christ, rising in glory,” scattering the “darkness of our hearts and minds.” “Above all, the Paschal Candle should be a genuine candle, the pre-eminent symbol of the light of Christ.” ( Every year a new Paschal Candle is purchased for the Easter Vigil.

After the Paschal Candle is lit then the procession into church begins. The member holding the Paschal enters in first followed by the servers with incense, readers, the priest, and the people outside the church. The following of the light of the Paschal Candle is symbolic of the Israelites who followed the pillar of fire at night as they were leaving Egypt. (Exodus 13: 17-22).

As they enter the only light you can see is the Paschal Candle. Next, they stop at the gathering area in back of church where the priest lights his candle and we all sing a song. Then the procession continues until the Paschal candle reaches the middle of the isle. Then all the candles are lit from the Paschal Candle. Following the people in front the light is passed throughout the church until the church is lit by everyone who is holding a candle. The procession continues until then everyone is in their proper places and the people have found their spots in church.

This ritual inevitably shows how Jesus is the Light of Christ. His resurrection brings light to a world of darkness. That light shines in each individual showing us we have the responsibility to keep that light burning brightly for others to see.

I invite you and your families to come experience this ritual for yourself on Saturday April 15th at the Easter Vigil which takes place at 8:00 PM. Let the symbols speak to you and watch as the Light of Christ is brought into the hearts of all. Hope to see you all there!

Why do Catholic Cardinals wear Red?

His Eminence, Timothy Cardinal Dolan Colors in the Catholic Faith are a significant symbolism.  Throughout our Catholic Faith tradition there are many colors associated to different Liturgical seasons of the year.  Colors are associated to the various Feast days of the saints.  Every week at Mass you see the presider wearing Vestments of various colors representing these special times of our Liturgical year.

Catholic signs or icons, such as the symbolism of Colors, are used to represent abstract ideas or concepts; a picture that represents an idea.  A religious icon, such as a Color, is an image or symbolic representation with sacred significance.  The meanings, origins and ancient traditions surrounding Christian symbols date back to early times when the majority of ordinary people were not able to read.  Many were ‘borrowed’ or drawn from early pre-Christian traditions.

Priests can wear a black cassock, although few of them do, and black clerical shirts, and bishops wear purple sashes.

But why red for the Cardinals at the top?  My immediate reaction was to assume that the red of a Catholic cardinal was tied to the fact that dyes were extremely expensive until recent times.  I assumed that only the very rich, such as kings and nobles, could afford the crimson robes.  As princes of the church, cardinals would have the funds at their disposal to enjoy a flashier attire than the average parish priest.

The official reason why Catholic cardinals wear red robes is that the color signifies the blood of Christ.  One might presume from this that they wish to associate themselves with the Passion of Christ.

In the Renaissance, it was not uncommon to refer to cardinals as “princes of the blood.”  As this phrase has something of a cloak-and-dagger connotation, it has been dropped.

It is worth noting that the bird, the cardinal, is named after members of the Sacred College of Cardinals, not the cardinal’s robes after the pretty red bird.

The avian cardinal is native to the New World and was unknown to the medieval world that invented the Sacred College of Cardinals.  Only when European settlers came to the Americas and saw the bright red bird was the name Cardinal given to the Princes of the Church.

The purpose of the College of Cardinals is to be the pope’s personal advisers and to elect a new pope when one dies or resigns.

Only the pope may make a man a cardinal, so while the pope cannot choose his successor, he does appoint the men who will choose the next pope.  The longer a pope remains in office, the more influence he has on who will follow him.

Pope John Paul II was elected Oct. 16, 1978, and he died after a long rule, on April 2, 2005.

Of the 120 cardinals who elected him, only four were at the next conclave, which chose Benedict XVI, and so we are not amazed that Pope Benedict was very similar in his views to St. John Paul.

The history of the cardinals goes back more than 1,000 years. From the earliest days, the popes in their capacity as bishop of Rome appointed the Roman clergy and consulted them.  The senior Roman clergy therefore had a great deal of influence on church policy and politics.

These senior pastors of the Roman churches were informally known as the “hinge” men, because they had direct access to the pope.  They could open the doors to the pope, like hinges on a door.  The Latin word for a door’s hinge is cardnus, and these men were of great importance.

In the early days of the church, the popes were elected by acclamation by the people of Rome.  After the peace of the church in the days of Emperor Constantine, elections become more political.

As the Middle Ages dawned, it was all too possible for the Roman nobility or kings and emperors to buy the votes of the mobs.  This was remedied by a series of reforming popes, the best known of whom were Popes Nicholas II and Gregory VII, who did much to organize the papal civil service and cardinals into formal bodies to keep them under church control, out of the hands of monarchs.

In 1059, the power to elect the pope was reserved to the accepted cardinals, and thus it remains.

The College of Cardinals still meets regularly and each year or so the pope appoints new cardinals.  Any Catholic man may be made a cardinal, although since 1918, they must be priests, but traditionally there have been two paths to this body.

One either had to be a Vatican official and civil servant who worked his way to one of the top positions, or one had to be a bishop in the fields who worked his way up.

But Pope Francis is shaking things up. Traditional officers in the Vatican are not being made cardinals, nor are senior clergy of important places.  Instead, Francis is making men cardinals from places such as Haiti, Myanmar, Thailand and Tonga.

Cardinals younger than 80 may vote in papal elections.  After that age, they retain their titles but lose their papal vote. There are 219 cardinals, of whom 120 are eligible to vote in a papal election.

There are 17 U.S. citizens who are cardinals.  Of these, 10 have the ability to vote in a papal election, although several are about to lose that right due to their age.

Pope Francis has not yet named an American Cardinal, although doubtless he will at some point.


Symbolism of Colors

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Symbolism of Colors

Catholic Tradition


Why do Priests kiss the Altar at Mass?

PopeFrancisAtAlterIt is clear that from the earliest times a kiss was not only a token of love, but also under certain circumstances a symbol of profound respect. For example, the son of Sirach (Ecclus., xxix, 5) describes how would-be borrowers, when they wish to ingratiate themselves “kiss the hands of the lender, and in promises they humble their voice”. It is in accordance with this symbolism, so universally understood and practiced, that the Church enjoins the kissing of many holy objects, e.g. relics, the book of the Gospels, the cross, blessed palms, candles, the hands of the clergy and nearly all the utensils and vestments connected with the liturgy.

Every time a priest kisses or reverences the altar, he does so in order to honor the altar of sacrifice (which represents Christ) where the miracle of the Eucharist occurs. The kiss also signifies the union of the Spouse (Christ) and his Bride (the Church). Another reason, deeply rooted in ancient Christian tradition, is to reverence the relics of the saint or martyr placed within the altar itself.

During the first centuries of church history, Masses were often celebrated in the underground catacombs on stone slabs covering the tomb of a martyr. This was done in order to reverence the martyr and their heroic and ultimate sacrifice for the Lord. This also was done out of necessity: Being a Christian was illegal throughout the Roman Empire (thus the existence of martyrs) and the Mass had to be celebrated in secret.

When the emperor Constantine legalized Christianity early in the fourth century, the celebration of the Mass moved from underground to above ground, from the catacombs to public buildings or churches. When this transition occurred, the practice and tradition of venerating the martyrs was not left behind but continued to be an important dimension of the Mass.

When a priest kisses the altar, he is reverencing the person of Christ, which the altar represents, and is also, even if they are not present, continuing the ancient tradition of honoring the great and heroic sacrifice of the martyrs.


Northwest Catholic

The Flight Into Egypt


Edwin Long, Anno Domini, 1883

The Flight into Egypt, a well-known story about Jesus, Mary and Joseph, is one of the listed Seven Sorrows of Mary

It happened that some time after Jesus was born, than He began to be persecuted by Herod, who then ruled over the Jews. This ambitious prince, hearing that the long-expected Messiah has come into the world, was seized with envy and alarm. He feared that this Savior should supplant him in his authority and usurp his throne; therefore he sought to destroy him while he was yet a helpless babe.

When the wise men came to Jerusalem from the east, enquiring “Where is He who is born King of the Jews?”, Herod, thinking the time had arrived to rid himself of his supposed rival, called them privately, and learned from them at what time the star which guided them from the East had first appeared: then, sending them into Bethlehem, he said: “Go, and diligently enquire after the child; and when you have found Him, bring me word again, that I also may come and adore Him.” He hoped, by this deceitful stratagem, to obtain possession of the Child.

After the wise men had found Jesus, adored Him and presented before Him their choicest gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, they were warned by a token from God that they should not return to Herod. They therefore went back another way into their own country.

When the envious tyrant found that his plans were thus brought to nothing, like Pharaoh, King of Egypt, he formed the cowardly and savage design of slaying every male child in that part of the country from two years old and under. For he concluded, from what the Magi had told him, that the Messiah would surely be among the victims to his cruelty.

But after the Magi had departed, an angel of the Lord appeared in sleep to Joseph, saying:  “Arise, and take the child and his mother, and fly into Egypt, and be there until I shall tell you; for it will come to pass that Herod will seek the child to destroy Him.”

What happened to the Holy Family on this perilous journey into Egypt? The Bible doesn’t say. Perhaps because of this omission, legends and lore soon sprouted up around the event.

According to one tale, Herod’s soldiers knew the Holy Family had escaped and so pursued them. As Mary, Joseph, and Jesus passed some peasants sowing wheat, Mary said to them, “If anyone should ask if we have been here, tell them that we indeed passed by while you were sowing this field of wheat.” Miraculously, the wheat sprouted and grew tall overnight. When Herod’s soldiers inquired of the peasants and learned that their prey had passed through the region at the time the wheat was planted, they figured that the Holy Family was many days ahead of them and so lost heart and returned to Judea.

An ancient document, known as the Arabic Infancy Gospel, records another near escape. In this story, the Holy Family is held up by bandits on their way to Egypt. One of the highwaymen, however, feels a special sympathy for the fugitives and refuses to rob them. In fact, he tries to convince the other robber to let them go. The other refuses until the first robber agrees to pay him a girdle and forty coins. The kind-hearted thief does so and the other reluctantly allows the prisoners to depart. The baby Jesus predicts that he and the bandits will die on the same day in the same place. Sure enough, according to the Arabic Infancy Gospel, these men turn out to be the two thieves, the one remorseful and the other not, who were crucified alongside Jesus about thirty years later (Luke 23:93-43).

Another tale, reports that the Holy Family passed through a forest on their long journey to Egypt. Every tree except the aspen bowed in reverence as they passed. Irritated by this lack of respect the baby Jesus then cursed the tree, which is why its leaves tremble in the wind till this day.

A local French tradition states that Saint Aphrodisius, an Egyptian saint who was venerated as the first bishop of Béziers, was the man who sheltered the Holy Family when they fled into Egypt.

It is also held that the Holy family visited many areas in Egypt including Farama, Tel Basta, Wadi El Natrun, Samanoud, Bilbais, Samalout, Maadi, Al-Maṭariyyah[16] and Asiut among others.

It is also tradition that the Holy Family visited Coptic Cairo and stayed at the site of Saints Sergius and Bacchus Church (Abu Serga) and the place where the Church of the Holy Virgin (Babylon El-Darag) stands now.

At Al-Maṭariyyah, then in Heliopolis and now part of Cairo, there is a sycamore tree (and adjacent chapel) that is a 1672 planting replacing an earlier tree under which Mary was said to have rested, or in some versions hidden from pursuers in the hollow trunk, while pious spiders covered the entrance with dense webs.

The Flight into Egypt was also a popular subject in art, showing Mary with the baby on a donkey, led by Joseph. Some artists include Henry Ossawa Tanner (1923), Edwin Long (1883), and others.

For more information on the flight into Egypt, go to (