Pages Menu
Categories Menu

Posted by on Nov 26, 2011

Celebrating Feasts With Food – St. Catherine of Alexandria

Celebrating Feasts With Food – St. Catherine of Alexandria

Icon of St. Catherine of Alexandria


St. Catherine of Alexandria was born towards the end of the 3rd century. According to legend, she became a Christian at the age of 14 following a vision. She was known for her wisdom and is said to have successfully debated 50 non-Christian philosophers when she was only 18. Responsible for the conversion of hundreds of people, she was eventually martyred (around 310 AD). Condemned to death on the wheel, instead she was beheaded because the wheel broke at her touch. Catherine is remembered since the 14th century as one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers saints to whom people prayed especially for healing and protection from diseases.

In the middle ages, a tradition arose of celebrating her feast by visiting neighbors, singing songs requesting food and drink (cakes and breads or apples and beer). I came across this recipe for Catherine’s Cake (Kattern Cakes or Catterning Cakes). It is simple to make and would make a great project to do with children to help make it fun to be Catholic Christians. The detailed recipe on the web is written in metric system, however, there’s a basic description with quantities in the old English system we still use in the United States.

Catherine’s Cake

2 pounds yeast bread dough
2 oz  (1/4 cup) butter
2 oz  (1/4 cup) sugar
1 egg, beaten
A few caraway seeds

Frozen bread dough may be used, or make your own. Soften the butter and mix with sugar, egg, and caraway seeds, then knead into the dough. Allow to rise in a warm place for approximately 2 hours.

Once the dough has risen, either divide it into tennis ball sized loaves or form it into a larger loaf and place on/in a floured baking pan. Allow to rise another 30 minutes. If you have made the smaller loaves, flatten them slightly to make “cakes” for individual servings.

Bake in a moderate oven (350 degrees) for two hours. (Smaller cakes may require a shorter baking time.)

Invite in the neighbors and enjoy with sparkling cider or other festive drink!

Image in the Public domain –
From St. Catherine’s Monastery, Mount Sinai, Egypt

Read More

Posted by on Sep 30, 2008

Celebrating Feasts With Food – St. Catherine of Alexandria

Saint of the Day – St. Jerome: September 30

St. Jerome (340 – 420) is one of the most interesting personalities among the fathers of the early Church. We generally envision saints as fairly moderate and gentle persons. It is safe to say that St. Jerome never believed in moderation. He was one of the most brilliant and well educated men of his time, a man who lived and wrote with incredible energy and passion. St. Jerome’s Latin translation of the scriptures, which is a literary and scholarly tour de force even by today’s standards, would become the intellectual standard for western civilization.

In many respects, St. Jerome embodies very basic conflicts and contradictions among Christian scholars and educated clergy.  St. Jerome’s knowledge and love of secular – in his case – pagan literature gives him a great appreciation of literature and skill in communication. However, the moral conflict of this literature with the Christian ideal and the values portrayed in scripture create a real tension. As one of the founders of western literary criticism and biblical archaeology, St. Jerome establishes a secular “scientific” standard for deciding which texts are inspired and whether to consider the Greek translation of the Jewish scriptures, the Septuagint, as less authoritative than the Hebrew original.

In addition, virginity and celibacy were very important to St. Jerome. He and other fathers of the Church would establish sexual abstinence as the ideal Christian lifestyle, in keeping with the pre-eminence celibacy enjoyed in certain non-Christian religions of the day. Temptations of the “flesh” became the work of the devil. Such impulses, which we today consider in a more measured and moderate way as the product of genetics, socialization, and choice, were for St. Jerome forces to be conquered through prayer, fasting, and physical punishment of the body. Today we would call it “aversion” therapy.

This tradition of seeing the natural as the lesser part of our being is not in keeping with our being made in the image and likeness of God. The fear of our erotic and sexually creative dimension, as part of our fallen and corrupted nature, appears to challenge the appropriateness of the Word becoming flesh and the redemption of humanity in the death and resurrection of Christ.

Clearly, when we look at the excesses and exploitation of people in the Graeco-Roman world, the corrective action of St. Jerome in a lifestyle that witnessed to a coming of the kingdom of justice, peace, and dignity – the sober controlled Christian life – is an understandable ideal.

Perhaps, a great deal of our problem as citizens of the era of psychology and human potential is grappling with such an outsized cauldron of talent and passion. In many respects, although he did his best to stay within certain boundaries, the combination of the terms “Saint” and “Jerome” in reference to the same person should encourage the outlandish and the fire of divine genius in us all.

Read More

Posted by on Sep 29, 2008

Celebrating Feasts With Food – St. Catherine of Alexandria

Celebrating the Feast of the Archangels, Michael, Gabriel and Raphael

Angelic Council – an Orthodox icon from the Wikipedia entry on Archangels

The Feast of the Archangels – Michael, Gabriel and Raphael – brings a day for fun and celebration at our house. My father’s name is Michael, so even as a child, this was a day to note. We didn’t particularly celebrate it, but I knew it was his feast day. Each of these archangels had their special day, but the feasts have since been combined into one. So today many men in my family celebrate feast days, including my father, brother, cousin, nephew, husband and sons. We don’t have a Gabriel, but Michael and Raphael (Rafael) are common.

When my children started Waldorf school (known as Steiner schools outside the United States), we were introduced to the celebration of Michaelmas. In Northern Hemisphere Waldorf schools, Michaelmas is the first festival of the year. It is seen as a time to remember that, as days grow shorter and darkness seems to grow stronger, we depend on the forces of light and strength to bring us safely through our lives. Many stories of Michael include mention of dragons – drawing on the story from the Book of Revelations describing a battle in the heavens between the dragon and Michael (Rev. 12:7-9). So confrontations between Michael and dragons are often portrayed theatrically by children as part of the celebration. The stories I’ve enjoyed the most have the dragons being “tamed,” in the sense that their great stores of energy are turned to building up the community. That’s a lesson that speaks even to adults – who among us doesn’t sometimes need to channel great energies that surge from deep within us and that can be destructive or constructive?

At the elementary schools our children attended, following the play, the community joined together around a great loaf of bread baked in the shape of a dragon by the third graders. A blessing was sung, the bread was cut and the community shared in eating it. (Always reminded me of certain liturgical activities with which many of us are very familiar!) Lunch, followed by a great pot luck of desserts came next. Then making apple juice in the orchard and other fun activities completed the day.

After the Michaelmas celebration (generally celebrated on a Saturday so entire families could come), we were always tired when we got home. When it came time for dinner, nobody was up to cooking a big meal. So we developed a fun little custom of making and eating dragon cakes.

So here’s the Pozos family method of celebrating Michaelmas. We make dragon cakes (pancakes shaped in the form of dragons). Add dragon eggs (fried potatoes cut in circles), dragon nests (grated apples with cinnamon for spicing) and dragon food (scrambled eggs with spicy sausage – we like Mexican chorizo). Light a candle. Use special dishes if you want. Share some sparkling cider. And, most importantly, work together to make the meal and then sit around afterward and enjoy each other’s company.

I’m looking forward to the celebration tonight! Hope you have fun too.

Read More

Posted by on Aug 27, 2008

Celebrating Feasts With Food – St. Catherine of Alexandria

Saint of the Day – St. Monica – August 27

St. Monica, mother of St. Augustine, was born in North Africa in 333 AD. She was raised a Christian but her parents arranged her marriage to a non-Christian. It was not a happy marriage for many years, but eventually both her husband and her mother-in-law became Christians as well.

Monica had three children, two boys and a girl. The oldest, Augustine, is the best known. He tells the tale in his Confessions of his nearly 20 year journey to faith. Monica struggled with his lack of faith, his lifestyle that included a mistress and child, his time as a supporter of Manichaeism and his travels. At one point she even drove him away from home, but invited him back after receiving a vision that reassured her that he would eventually turn out all right.

Monica followed Augustine from North Africa to Rome and Milan. When eventually he became a Christian, she believed that her prayers had been answered and she died not long afterward.

The story of St. Monica is one I find intriguing. As a mother I can understand her desire to share her faith with her children. I know my children, like hers, must find their own way to faith, building on what we their family and community have shared with them as children, but somehow making it their own. I’m not sure the idea of pursuing them across oceans to keep trying to bring them to faith is a good idea, at least not today. When all was said and done, it was St. Ambrose who reached Augustine and led him to faith.

It seems to me that as 21st Century Christians, we can take part of her example – that of praying unceasingly for our children. Then it’s important to remember that we are part of a much larger community, and trust the Holy Spirit to send the right person or circumstances to help them grow to an adult faith of their own.

When one time someone asked my father-in-law what the most difficult age in raising children was, in his experience, he replied, “Thirty-eight!” At that point they are grown up and making their own decisions. His input was not always requested or welcomed, and he didn’t always understand the world in which they lived and worked.

I’ve always thought he had a point. Mine aren’t that old yet, so I can’t say whether I agree with his opinion about the age, but I know that being a parent doesn’t end at age 18 or even 21. We continue to care deeply about our children and the choices they make. We remember the mistakes we made. We dream of what they can be and the wonderful things they can do if they choose. But we can’t live their lives for them. We can’t make their decisions for them. All we can do is pray with great hope for them and “be there” when they come for support, advice and loving care.

Although St. Monica is not generally presented as patroness of parents in general, I think she should be. All parents can benefit from her example of unceasing prayer. And we can hope and pray that, as in the case of Augustine, other members of the community will reach out to our children and help them as well as they grow to adult faith and participation in the mission of spreading the Good News.

Read More