Fish Eaters: The Whys and Hows of Traditional Catholicism

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D

Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle

December 21 is the Feast of St. Thomas,1 the Apostle known as "Didymus" ("Twin"). When Jesus told the Apostles that Lazarus was dead and that He was going to go to Judea to raise him up again, it was Thomas who said to his companions, "Let us also go, that we may die with him" (John 11).  And at the Last Supper, when Lord Christ said,

Let not your heart be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in me.  In my Father's house there are many mansions. If not, I would have told you: because I go to prepare a place for you. And if I shall go, and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and will take you to myself; that where I am, you also may be. And whither I go you know, and the way you know.

Thomas replied with "Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?" To which Christ related what's become one of the most popular of Bible verses:

I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man cometh to the Father, but by Me. If you had known Me, you would without doubt have known My Father also: and from henceforth you shall know Him, and you have seen Him.

But it is Thomas's incredulity after the Resurrection for which he is most remembered and which gives us his nickname "Doubting Thomas." As recounted in John 20:

Now Thomas, one of the twelve, who is called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him: We have seen the Lord.

But he said to them: Except I shall see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.

And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them. Jesus cometh, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said: Peace be to you. Then He saith to Thomas: Put in thy finger hither, and see My hands; and bring hither thy hand, and put it into My side; and be not faithless, but believing.

Thomas answered, and said to Him: My Lord, and my God.

Jesus saith to him: Because thou hast seen Me, Thomas, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and have believed.

Many other signs also did Jesus in the sight of His disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written, that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God: and that believing, you may have life in His name.

Thomas was also present when Jesus showed Himself at Lake Tiberias, telling the Apostles to cast their nets on the right side of their ship, which they did and ended up with a multitude of fish even though they'd caught none before (John 21).

After the Bible no longer speaks of him, tradition tells us that St. Thomas went on to preach in Persia and in India, where he was martyred by being thrust by spears by four soldiers. After his death, his relics were translated to Edessa, now known as Urfa, Turkey. Some of his relics can now be venerated at the Cathedral of Saint Thomas the Apostle in Ortona, Italy, and at the San Thome Basilica in Chennai, India. St. Thomas is the patron Saint of architects and builders, and of India.

It's providential that St. Thomas's feast comes when it does! Dom Gueranger writes in his "The Liturigcal Year":

To none of the Apostles could this day have been so fittingly assigned as to St. Thomas. It was St. Thomas whom we needed; St. Thomas whose festal patronage would aid us to believe and hope in that God Whom we see not, and Who comes to us in silence and humility in order to try our Faith. St. Thomas was once guilty of doubting, when he ought to have believed; and only learnt of the necessity of Faith by the sad experience of incredulity: he comes then most appropriately to defend us, by the power of his example and prayers, against the temptations which proud human reason might excite within us. Let us pray to him with confidence. In that heaven of Light and Vision, where his repentance and love have placed him, he will intercede for us, and gain for us that docility of mind and heart, which will enable us to see and recognize Him, Who is the Excepted of Nations, and Who, though the King of the world, will give no other signs of His majesty, than the swaddling-clothes and tears of a Babe.

Indeed! In just a few days, our hearts will be with a tiny baby, born in a manger. And we who have not seen but believe will say: "My Lord, and my God!"


First, a prayer for this feast, from Dom Gueranger's "The Liturgical Year":

O glorious Apostle Thomas who didst lead to Christ so many unbelieving nations, hear now the prayers of the faithful, who beseech thee to lead them to that same Jesus, Who in five days, will have shown Himself to the Church. That we may merit to appear in His divine presence we need, before all other grace, the light which leads to Him. That light is Faith: then, pray that we have have Faith. Heretofore, our Savior had compassion on thy weakness, and deigned to remove from thee the doubt of His having risen from the grave; pray to Him for us that He will mercifully come to our assistance and make Himself felt by our heart. We ask not, O holy Apostle, to see Him with the eyes of our body, but with those of our faith, for He said to thee, when He showed Himself to thee: Blessed are they who have not seen, and have believed! Of this happy number we desire to be. We beseech thee, therefore, pray that we may obtain the Faith of the heart and will, that so, when we behold the divine Infant wrapped in swaddling-clothes and laid in a manger, we may cry out: My Lord and my God!

Pray, O holy Apostle, for the nations thou didst evangelise,  but which may have fallen back again into the shades of death. May the day soon come when the Sun of Justice will once more shine upon them. Bless the efforts of those apostolic men who have devoted their labours and their very lives to the work of the Missions; pray that the days of darkness may be shortened, and that the countries which were watered by thy blood may at length see that kingdom of God established amongst them, which thou didst preach to them, and for which we are also in waiting.

"Back in the day," in "merry old England," the Feast of St. Thomas was the day the poor would "go a-Thomasing." That is, they would go door to door begging. This practice, also called "mumping," "gathering," "Christmasing," or gooding," would typically result in their being given flour, apples, bread, ale, oatmeal, cheese, coal, or candles for their efforts.

Elsewhere in the world, St. Thomas's Day brings on grand parties. In Chichicastenango, Guatemala, of which St. Thomas is patron Saint, a city-wide, week-long feast is had during which processions are held, accompanied by flute and marimba players. People wearing great masks dance the Baile del Tzijolaj (the Dance of the Flute) and the Baile del Torito (Dance of the Little Bull) among many others. The latter begins before sunrise and can last for twelve hours! Then comes the Palo Voladores (Pole Flyers): a tall pole is erected in the town square, and dancers masked to look like monkeys and jaguars climb to the top, secure themselves with ropes, and swing around it. Pyrotechnics finish things off!

In San Sebastián (also known as Donostia) in the Basque Autonomous Community of Spain, the people dress in their traditional costumes, attend great markets, and eat txistorra (a type of uncured sausage) and talo (a type of corn tortilla), washing it all down with cider.

The Winter Solstice typically falls on December 21 or 22, so this feast will likely have the longest night of the year. This fact led to its being associated with dark things -- and the warding off of dark things. Farmers used to walk their land, blessing it with incense, holy water, and blessed salt to keep evils away, and the same thing can be done with modern farms, properties, and homes.

Because of the long, cold darkness of this night --

St. Thomas day, St. Thomas gray,
The longest night and shortest day

 --  fire comes to mind. A night in front of the fireplace, with lots of candles around, sounds ideal. Something to consider is having a Swiss Raclette meal. To do so, get a wheel of Raclette, Greuyere, or Emmenthal cheese and have on hand: fully cooked sausages, such as Bratwursts; boiled new potatoes (the waxy kind); cornichons; pickled onions; crusty bread; butter; and Dijon mustard. Cut the wheel of cheese in half and place half on a flat iron sheet (one could use an iron skillet instead). Put the cheese cut-side toward the fire, close enough so it begins to melt. As it melts, scrape away the melty cheese onto a single serving plate -- over the top of a sausage or two and a few new potatoes, and alongside some of the other things listed above. The person who receives the plate begins eating while the cheese is still melty, and meanwhile, another plate is being prepared for the next person. Serve this meal with a dry white wine (e.g., a Gewürztraminer or Riesling).

After dinner in the darkened, firelit room, maybe shadow puppetry would be something to keep your children entertained (or, better, keep them entertaining themselves). They could do this by shaping creatures out of their hands and casting their shadow on the walls, or by making a shadow puppet theater with a light source behind a white sheet or parchment paper. You could show them Chinese or Thai shadow puppetry to inspire them. They could incorporate narration, music, acting, sound effects -- all sorts of things. A little book to get them started with hand shadow puppets: Hand Shadows (pdf)

Given St. Thomas's patronage of India, another option food-wise is Indian food. A recipe for Tandoori Chicken:

Tandoori Chicken

1 large onion, quartered
2-inch piece ginger, peeled
3 cloves garlic
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 c. neutral oil
1 cup (8 oz.) plain whole-milk yogurt
2 tsp. kosher salt, plus more
1/4 cup Tandoori Masala (a spice mix. See below)
3 lb. skinless, boneless chicken thighs
Fresh cilantro and lime wedges, for serving

In a blender, blend onion, ginger, garlic, lemon juice, and oil until smooth. Pour into a large bowl. Add yogurt, salt, and 1/4 cup tandoori masala and mix until combined. Pat chicken dry with paper towels; season with salt. Thoroughly rub marinade into chicken and place into a bowl with the marinade. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight (at least 8 hours). Preheat oven to 400°. Set a wire rack in a large sheet pan. Arrange chicken on rack (don't let excess marinade drip off), and bake chicken until a thermometer stuck into the thickest part reads 165F (about 30 minutes). Heat broiler on low and broil the tops of the chicken until lightly charred, about 5 minutes. Transfer chicken to a platter, top with cilantro, and serve with lime wedges, with basmati rice and cucumber salad alongside.

Tandoori Masala spice mix can be bought already prepared, or you can make your own by combining:

3 TBSP. ground coriander
3 tsp. ground cumin
4 1/2 tsp. turmeric
3 tsp. garam masala
1 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
1 1/2 tsp. sweet paprika
3/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp. ground cloves
3/4 tsp. ground nutmeg

Indian Cucumber Salad

3 medium cucumbers, peeled, seeded, chopped
1 cup plain yogurt
1 TBSP fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp ground cumin
1 TBSP chopped mint

Mix together.

As to music, the only Thomas-centered song I know of is the old country song "I Am the Man, Thomas". Here it is sung by Ralph Stanley:

Oh, I am the Man, Thomas, I am the Man
Look at these nail scars here in my hands


They drove Me up the hill, Thomas, I am the Man
They made Me carry the cross, Thomas, I am the Man


They crowned My head with thorns, Thomas, I am the Man
They nailed Me to the cross, Thomas, I am the Man


They pierced Me in the side, Thomas, I am the Man
I died on the cross, Thomas, I am the Man


They buried Me in the tomb, Thomas, I am the Man
In three days I rose, Thomas, I am the Man


Finally, if you're a single woman, here's some lore for you: go to sleep tonight by stepping on a stool to get into your bed, and lie in your bed wrong way around -- that is, with your feet where your head should be, and with your head where your feet should be. If you do this, it's said you'll dream of your future husband.


Excerpt from Homily 26 (an Easter Homily)
by Pope St. Gregory the Great

7. "But Thomas, one of the Twelve, nicknamed Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came." This disciple alone was absent; back he heard what had happened, but he refused to believe what he was hearing. The Lord came a second time; he offered the incredulous disciple to touch his side, he showed him his hands, and showing him the scar of his wounds, he healed the wound of his unbelief.

What do you notice, dear brothers, what do you notice in this? Is it by chance, according to you, that this chosen disciple is at first absent, that on his return he hears [this story], that hearing him he still doubts, that in his doubt he touches, and that touching he believes? No, it is not due to chance, but to a divine disposition. Celestial goodness, in fact, has led everything in an admirable way, so that this disciple, under the influence of doubt, touches in his Master the wounds of the flesh, and thus heals in us the wounds of unbelief. And the incredulity of Thomas was more useful for our faith than the faith of the disciples who believed: when Thomas is brought back to faith by touching [the wounds of Jesus], our mind is delivered from all his doubts and is comforted in her faith.

The Lord thus allowed a disciple to doubt after his Resurrection, without however abandoning him in this doubt, just as he wanted that before his birth, Mary [his mother] had a husband, who nevertheless did not consummate the marriage . And the disciple, doubting and then touching, became the witness of the truth of the Resurrection, just as the husband of the Mother [of Jesus] had been the guardian of the inviolable virginity of the latter.

8. Thomas touched and cried, "My Lord and my God!" "Jesus said to him, 'Because you saw me, Thomas, you believed.'" As the Apostle Paul tells us, "the faith is the reality of the things we hope for, the proof of those we do not see "(Heb 11: 1), it is very clear that faith is the proof of things that can not be seen. Because those that are visible do not come from faith, but from knowledge. But since Thomas lives and touched, why do you tell him, "Because you saw me, you believed." It was because Thomas saw one thing and believed another. The deity can not be seen by a mortal man. Thomas therefore saw the man, and he confessed God, crying, "My Lord and my God!" He believed on seeing, since considering the one who was truly man, he proclaimed that he was God, what he could not see.

9. The rest of the text gives us immense joy: "Blessed are those who have not seen and who have believed." This sentence does not designate us especially, we who are attached to our Redeemer according to the mind, without having ever seen it with our eyes of flesh? It is us that this sentence designates, if, however, our faith is accompanied by works. Because this one really believes who puts into practice in his works what he believes. Conversely, Paul says about those who are faithful only by name: "They profess to know God, but they deny him by their deeds." (Tit 1,16). And James says, "Faith without works is dead." (Jas 2: 26)

It is in the same sense that the Lord declares to the blessed Job about the ancient enemy of the human race: "He will absorb the river and not be surprised, and he remains confident that the Jordan will flow into his mouth "(Jb 40:23). What symbolizes the river, if not the rapid course of the human race, which flows from its origins to its end, and like a torrent formed by the waters of the flesh, continues its course to the end which is fixed to it? And what does the Jordan represent, if not the baptized? Since it is in the Jordan River that the Author of our Redemption deigned to be baptized, the Jordan rightly designates all those who have received the sacrament of baptism. The ancient enemy of the human race has thus absorbed the river, because from the origin of the world to the coming of the Redeemer, with the exception of a very small number of elected officials who have escaped him, he has dragged the whole human race in the belly of his wickedness. It is rightly said on this subject: "It will absorb the river and not be surprised", because it does not make much of ravishing infidels. But the following is very serious: "And he remains confident that the Jordan will flow into his mouth", that is to say, after having delighted all infidels since the beginning of the world, he thinks he can catch also the faithful. And the mouth of his evil persuasion devours, day after day, those whose bad lives are in disagreement with the faith they confess.

10. Fear such a fate, dear brothers, fear it with all your strength! Put to think all the attention of your mind. Here we celebrate the Easter solemnities; but we must live in such a way that we can reach the eternal feasts. They pass, all the holidays we celebrate in this life. You who participate in the solemnities present, take care not to be excluded from the eternal solemnity. What good is it to take part in men's festivals, if we come to miss the feast of angels? The solemnity of this life is only the shadow of the solemnity to come. We celebrate the first year each year only to get to the one that will not be annual, but eternal. By celebrating the first fixed date, we remember better that we must desire the second. May our spirit, by participating in this transient joy, warm and burn with love for the eternal joys, so that we will taste in the Fatherland the full reality of this joy whose shade is the subject of our meditations in the way.

Remodel, my brothers, your life and your manners. Consider in advance how severely you will judge the one who rose from death full of sweetness. In the day of his dreadful judgment, he will appear with the Angels, the Archangels, the Thrones, the Dominations, the Principalities and the Powers, while the heavens and the earth will blaze and all the elements will serve him trembling with terror. So keep this terrifying Judge in your sight, and fear him as he prepares to come, so as not to be frightened, but confident, when he comes. In short, it must be feared to no longer have to fear it. May the terror it inspires us to push us to good works, and the fear to preserve our life from all misconduct. Believe me, my brothers, we will be all the more reassured in his presence that now we are more worried about our faults.

11. If one of you had to come to court tomorrow with his adversary to defend his cause, worried about himself and the restless mind, he might spend a whole night of insomnia that we could well tell him the next day, and what he would answer to the accusations. He would be very much afraid that I would be intractable to him, and he would be afraid of appearing guilty to me. Now who am I? Or rather, what am I? In a short time, after being a man, I will only be worm, and after being worm, dust. If, then, we tremble with so much apprehension at the judgment of what is only dust, how seriously should we not think of the judgment [of a God] of such majesty, and with what terror we must not he not foresee it?

12. But since there are those who are hesitating about the resurrection of the flesh, and our teaching is better if it answers the questions you secretly ask in your hearts, we must speak a little about faith in the resurrection. For many are doubtful of the resurrection - as some of us have sometimes also been able to see: seeing at the sight of the sepulchres that the flesh is falling into decay and the bones into dust, they can not believe that the flesh and bones can form from this dust; and they conclude, so to speak, by asking themselves, "How could a man be reformed from the dust? How could one make a soul for ashes?

We will answer them briefly that for God, to restore what existed was much less than to create what did not exist. And what is so amazing that he redoes a man from the dust, who created everything from nothing at the same time? It is indeed more admirable to have created the sky and the earth without starting from anything preexisting than to restore man from the earth. But we pay attention only to ashes, and while we despair of seeing her become flesh again, we seek in a way to embrace by reason the power of the divine work.

Such reflections come from the fact that divine miracles that are daily lose value to them because of their frequency. Is it not true, however, that the entire mass of a tree that will be born is hidden in a single tiny seed? Let us put before our eyes the magnificent image of an immense tree, and then let us know where this tree was born, which has reached such a mass by its growth. Surely, we will find that it originates from a tiny seed. Let us now examine this little seed: where are the hardwoods, the rough bark, the intense taste and smell, the generous fruits and the very green leaves hiding in it? To the touch, the seed is not robust; Where does the hardness of wood come from? Nor is it rough; where does the roughness of the bark spring? She has no taste; where does the flavor of its fruit come from? She does not smell; from where the smell of its fruits exhales? In her, nothing green; Where did the greenness of its leaves come from? All these things are hidden together in the seed, though they are not expected to come out together. The seed produces a root, from the root comes out the shoot, from the shoot sprouts the fruit, and in the fruit a seed is re-formed. Let us add that a seed is also hidden in the seed. It is no wonder, then, that God brings back from the state of dust bones, nerves, flesh and hair, he who daily renews the miracle of bringing out a little seed of wood , the fruits, the leaves that form the immense mass of a tree?

Thus, when a soul, prey to doubt, seeks to explain what power can produce the resurrection, it must be questioned about facts that are of the current reality and that we can not yet understand at all by reason, so that this soul, seeing itself incapable of penetrating a thing which it sees, after having ascertained it with its eyes, comes to believe in that power of which it hears the promise.

So think in yourselves, dear brothers, that God promises us; these things will remain. Despise however what passes over time, as if it was already lost. Hurry with all your desire for this glory of the resurrection, whose Truth shows us in it the realization. Flee the desires of the earth, which separate us from our Creator, because the contemplation of the almighty God that you reach is all the higher because you love more exclusively the Mediator between God and men, he who, being God live and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. Amen.


1 In the Novus Ordo, the Feast of St. Thomas was moved to July 3.

Back to Seasonal Customs
Back to Being Catholic