As I write these words, Summer is halfway through. Now, to many people, especially those living in colder climes, this is a magical season — warm, inviting, filled with vacations from work and especially school, sojourns at lake- or seaside resorts, sightseeing trips, and possibly foreign travel. Academics and the scholarly inclined find the season filled with various conferences at universities offering bargain rates on accommodations and meeting facilities. Away from their usual haunts, many of the young and not-so-young hope they may find romance in their new, if temporary, surroundings. Some Protestant congregations actually go on hiatus during the season, while others (usually at the afore-mentioned resorts) may operate only during that special time. Innumerable parks, museums, and other such places also open their doors only from late Spring to early Autumn.
Living in sunny Southern California as I do, my own joy in this vacation nation is somewhat limited. Preferring heartier fare than salads and white wine, my stomach looks forward to Autumn’s stews, roasts, and root vegetables (unthinkable in this heat!). My finances rarely permit any sort of getaway (although my New York childhood featured stays at Hampton Beach, NH, and in recent years I have stayed a few days every year at Lake Tahoe with friends). As is well known, everyone of consequence flees Rome during the Summer, leaving the Eternal City to tourists and — during this Pontificate — the Pope (his predecessors left the heat of the Vatican for Castel Gandolfo). Nevertheless, God created Summer just as much as He did Autumn, Winter, and Spring, and so it our obligation to enjoy it quite as much as the others, or risk being ungrateful. In any portion of the year, our recreation should tend not only to innocent pleasure in and of itself, but also to deepening our piety and expanding our store of religious and temporal knowledge. It is best when we can combine all three of these ends together seamlessly!
The Summer features many religious and civil holidays that are both fun to celebrate and have a lot to teach us. Moreover, we can build our touring around them. The first of these is Corpus Christi. Falling in late May or early June, it is celebrated all across the Catholic world, in and out of these United States. The traditional procession may be as simple as carrying the Blessed Sacrament in the monstrance around the block and back to the Church door, or extremely elaborate, with local government officials, military units, and marching bands taking part as they move over florally decorated street in between ornate temporary altars. Check the local FSSP, ICKSP, diocesan, and tourist websites to see if there is anything like that where you will be. If you can’t find anything, you might use this site if you will be in the U.S. or Canada to find out if there is at least a Perpetual Adoration chapel in the area that you can visit.
In these United States, Memorial Day is considered the unofficial opening of Summer. Now regardless of what one may feel about the justice of this or that particular conflict this country has been involved in, there can be no doubt of the spirit of sacrifice which has always animated our military. Whether or not one has ideological reservations (and depending upon the country and the thing being celebrated, this may true of ALL civil holidays in any land), the amount of historical knowledge one may gain from watching such observances is immense. The granddaddy of all celebrations of the day is surely that in Arlington National Cemetery; but it is echoed in every veteran’s cemetery. Indeed, private cemeteries (including our own Forest Lawn chain here in Southern California) hold similar celebrations, as do many local municipalities. These generally feature parades, military and re-enactment units, speeches, and the like. If you attend a local observance in a small town, you shall come with an understanding of the local culture and history that is simply unique. Robert Haven Schauffler’s book on the topic (of the old Our American Holidays series) captures the spirit in which it was celebrated — at least prior to the 1960s.
June is the Month of the Sacred Heart; and that is fitting, given that the Feast itself usually falls in early June. Check the neighbourhood diocesan website, and see if there is a local shrine to the Sacred Heart — or failing that, at least a parish dedicated to it, and visit it that day. You might also check the same source or else that of the Visitation Order to see if there is a nearby convent of that order. Since St. Margaret Mary Alacoque belonged to it herself, their contemplative convents in particular retain a powerful devotion to Our Lord in this form: American branch of the Honor Guard of the Sacred Heart has its headquarters at the Visitation Convent in Tyringham, MA. European travellers might head to Paray-le-Moniale, Montmartre, or any other major shrine dedicated to this Heart.
Every country in the world has a national day, on which the political origin of the country or some other facet of national unity is celebrated: many of these fall in the Summer (if you are going overseas for your vacation, check the linked site to see the holidays in the nations you plan to visit). The same goes for the various Statehood days celebrated by our own constituent sovereignties. In the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, the Queen’s Official Birthday occurs at different times, usually in early June. Regardless of how you may feel about the Monarchy, such ceremonies as the Trooping of the Colour in London, Ottawa and elsewhere, fireworks, and various other events are entertaining in their own right and give a window into the local sensibilities. Moreover, our own Fourth of July celebrations were modelled on them.
June 14 is Flag Day in the United States. As any orthodox Catholic knows, our cultus of the flag sometimes seems to border on idolatry. But people really have died for it, and it is the major focus of loyalty for millions of our fellow citizens. If we want to evangelise them, we must understand this. Moreover, we might take some time this day to learn about other nations’ flags and their history, which mean as much (and tells us as much about them) as our own does to and about us. Here again, Schauffler provided an excellent guide to the traditions of the observance.
Nine days later is St. John’s Eve, or Midsummer. Throughout Europe, Latin America, and certain parts of this country, this night is like Halloween in Summer, with bonfires, ghost stories, weird legends, and the like. The following day, the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, is the patronal feast and national day of the French Canadians, and is celebrated as such throughout Quebec and certain parts of this country, such as New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. While in many ways a sad tribute to that society’s secularism, here and there it retains some religious significance — and it remains a good time.
July is the month of the Precious Blood, and would be a good time to reflect on that saving Blood; one might go to an Eastern Liturgy or Anglican Use Mass and receive in both kinds — especially on the first day, which is the traditional feast of the name. One might join the Confraternity of the Precious Blood online, and or visit convents of the Sisters Adorers of the Precious Blood in Brooklyn, Watertown, NY, Manchester, NH, or Anglo– or French-Canada. If one is in Europe, there are shrines of Our Lord’s Blood in places like Bruges, Fecamp, Neuvy Saint Sepulchre, or Weingarten; Eucharistic Miracle shrines; the Holy Grail in Valencia; or else to Paris, Oviedo, Rome, or Turin to see relics associated with the Passion. But July 1 is also the feast of St. Junipero Serra, and what better way to venerate the Apostle of California than to visit his missions, and especially Carmel where he is enshrined. Then again, July 1 is also Dominion Day or Canada Day, whereon the Canadian Constitution was signed. If you find yourself North of the Border on this day, there are innumerable national and provincial parks to explore — whether natural or historical.
The Fourth of July is Independence Day, and for many, the culmination of Summer. Again, regardless of one’s own views on politics or history, it is celebrated as the birthday of this country by most of its citizens, and taken in the right light shall renew our love for the country within which God saw fit to place us — and so our desire to convert it. Most of the National Parks have celebrations, but so does every State and local Community. If you should find yourself in Washington D.C., you might enjoy the Mall celebration of the day; but explore more than the White House, Capitol, and Supreme Court. See the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, St. Matthew’s Cathedral, and the Franciscan Monastery with its reproductions of Holy Land sites. For a different take on the non-Catholic background of this nation, look at the National Cathedral and the George Washington National Masonic Memorial. New England’s fife and drum corps shall be playing all over that region, and the Historic militia companies shall do so in every eastern state. Once again, Schauffler offers a traditional understanding of the day.
July 14 is Bastille Day, a holiday which fills me personally with horror. Nevertheless, if you are anywhere in territory, from the West Indies to Tahiti, you shall find parades and so on that are worth seeing — not surprisingly the parade on Paris’ Champs d’Elysee is particularly spectacular. But once you are finished with that and the Arc de Triomphe, go see the Chapelle Expiatoire, built in sorrow for the murder of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. You might also look in at the Basilica of St. Denis just north of Paris, where are the remains of the Kings of France. Politics aside, any Alliance Française across the globe shall be able to direct you to local celebrations of French food, wine, and culture — if nothing else, it shall save you an expensive journey!
July 22 is the feast of St. Mary Magdalene; if you are still in France you can travel south to Provence, and wander about the shrines in Provence to her and her Apostolic-era companions, who first evangelised this part of Gaul. Vezelay, la Sainte Baume, and a number of others await you — as they have hosted many Saints and Kings before our time. But if you are home, try to find a local parish dedicated to her to visit.
Three days later is the feast of St. James the Great, patron of Spain and the Hispanic peoples. Obviously his shrine at Compostela would be a great place to be on that day. But anywhere in Western Europe there are churches dedicated to him along the local pilgrimage routes that end there. Moreover, since he is the first evangeliser of Hispanidad, if you are at home (or at least in this country) you might visit local sites connected with our Hispanic heritage. It s also the feast of St. Christopher, so be sure to pray to him if you are travelling.
The following day is the feast of St. Anne, grandmother of Our Lord. Were you still in France, you might visit her shrine at Apt, where St. Mary Magdelene and her companions brought St. Anne’s body — or if you are further north, head into Brittany. Canada has a major one in Beaupre, Quebec. But in these United States, there are also many shrines to her, from, Fall River MA, Waterbury, CT., and New York to Santa Monica, CA. Looking in your diocesan website shall show you if you have any nearby.
August is the month of the Immaculate Heart, and signals that the season is winding down. But August 15 is the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary — the true National Day of France, due to her consecration to the Virgin by King Louis XIII. In every major town there are processions in her honour — and several in Paris. On that day and August 22, the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, visit any local Marian shrine you can find.
Now the Summer is ending, and people are beginning to pack up for the return home, or ready themselves for the resumption of routine. In days gone by, resorts would offer end-of-Summer straw hat bonfires, and after Labour Day in the United States, seersucker suits would go back into mothballs. Shops feature “Back-to-School” displays (and in recent years the first signs of Halloween begin to appear in those same stores). Mail order and e-commerce businesses are already encouraging their customers to think about Christmas. If we have spent our Summer wisely, we have grown in piety and wisdom — if not, then at least we have had a bit of relaxation from the regular grind. Either way, Michaelmas is on route; the great Archangel shall banish the heats of Summer with his sword, a chill begin to fall, and the leaves make ready to turn. I hope you shall have had a blessed and enjoyable Summer!
Additional sites to help you find the religious, historical, and cultural sites to make your Summer memorable.
UNESCO Biosphere Reserves (Natural sites)
Episcopal Conferences (each site has link to all the dioceses of the Country)
United States of America