Epiphany (1)

Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you.

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Epiphany (1)

Christmastide (8): The Circumcision

Today is the Octave-Day of the Nativity, eight days since our Lord’s Birth, and in fulfillment of the ancient law, our Lord as a son of Abraham submitted himself to the Rite of Circumcision.

The 1962 Roman Missal reads:

In the Old Law, by the rite of Circumcision, every male Jew became a member and shared in the privileges and blessings of the chosen people of God. A Jew who failed to be initiated by the ceremony was excluded. Our Lord was Son of God by nature, and absolutely sinless, and therefore did not need adoption into the membership of God’s children. Yet, He submitted to the law. The Church also honours on this day the holy Name of Jesus, given to the Divine Child at the Circumcision, and the Divine Maternity of Our Lady.

Dom Prosper Guéranger adds:

Our new-born King and Saviour is eight days old to-day; the Star that guides the Magi is advancing towards Bethlehem, and five days hence will be standing over the Stable where our Jesus is being nursed by his Mother. To-day the Son of Man is to be circumcised; this first sacrifice of his innocent Flesh must honour the eighth day of his mortal life. To-day also a Name is to be given him: the name will be Jesus, and it means Saviour. So that mysteries abound on this day: let us not pass one of them over, but honour them with all possible devotion and love.

Moreover, the Gospel in the Extraordinary Form announces:

At that time, after eight days were accomplished that the Child should be circumcised: His Name was called Jesus, which was called by the Angel before he was conceived in the womb.

For Unto is a Child is born, and unto us a Son is given.

Deo gratias.

Christmastide (8): The Circumcision

The Martyrs: The Holy Innocents

Today, on this Fourth day of Christmastide, we hail the New-Born Savior as the Lord, the King of Martyrs [Dominus, Rex Martyrum], as we greet at the Crib of Christ the Holy Innocents.

As the 1962 Missal introduces:

It was because Herod believed the words of the Magi and of the High Priest whom he consulted that he sees as a rival in the Infant of Bethlehem and with jealousy pursues the Child, born King of the Jews. It is this God-King that the Holy Innocents by dying confess. Their passion is the exaltation of Christ. [211]

Dom. Prosper Guéranger adds:

Herod intended to include the Son of God amongst the murdered Babes of Bethlehem. The Daughters of Rachel wept over their little ones, and the land streamed with blood; the Tyrant’s policy can do no more: it cannot reach Jesus, and its whole plot ends in recruiting an immense army of Martyrs for heaven. These Children were not capable of knowing what an honor it was for them to be made victims for the sake of the Saviour of the world; but the very first instant had gone through this world without knowing it, and now that they know it, they possess an infinitely better. God showed here the riches of his mercy: he asks them but a momentary suffering, and that over, they wake up in Abraham’s Bosom: no further trial awaits them, they are in spotless innocence, and the glory due to a soldier who died to save the life of his prince belongs eternally to them. [Guéranger 278]

For out of the mouth of infants and of sucklings, O God, Thou hast perfected praise, because of Thine enemies [Ps 8. 3] the Introit rings.

May we ask always for the prayers of these most blameless Martyrs.

The Martyrs: The Holy Innocents

The Apostles: St. John

Today feast honors St. John the Apostle, the Beloved, the Evangelist, the Revelator. He greets us at the crib of Christ on this third day of Christmas, just after St. Stephen the Protomartyr and just before the Holy Innocents.

Dom Guéranger:

Nearest to Jesus’ Crib, after Stephen, stands John, the Apostle and Evangelist. It was only right that the first place should be assigned to him, who so loved his God that he shed his blood in his service; for, as this God Himself declares, greater love than this hath no man, that he lay down his life for his friends, [Jn xv. 13] and Martyrdom has ever been counted by the Church as the greatest act of love, and as having, consequently, the power of remitting sins, like a second Baptism. But next to the sacrifice of Blood, the noblest, the bravest sacrifice, and that which most wins the heart of Him Who is the Spouse of souls, is the sacrifice of Virginity. Now just as St. Stephen is looked upon as the type of Martyrs, St. John is honoured as the Prince of Virgins. Martyrdom won for Stephen the Crown and palm; Virginity merited for John most singular prerogatives, which, while they show how dear to God is holy Chastity, put this Disciple among those who by their dignity and influence are above the rest of men.

The verses we sing of the Revelator are no less:

R: Right worthy of honour is the blessed Apostle John, who leaned on the Lord’s bosom at the Last Supper. To him did Christ upon the Cross commit His mother, virgin to virgin.

V: The Lord chose him as virgin, and loved him more than all the rest. To him did Christ upon the Cross commit His mother, virgin to virgin.

The apostle’s virginity elevated him in the Lord’s eyes, as the highest form of love, not unlike the Lord and His Virgin Mother.

The love St. John preached in his letters elevates the very notion of love:

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. [1 Jn iv. 7-10]

Finally, St. Jerome tells the story’s of the aged Apostle:

The Blessed Evangelist John lived at Ephesus down to an extreme old age, and, at length, when he was with difficulty carried to the Church, and was not able to exhort the congregation at length, he was used simply to say at each meeting, “My little children, love one another.” At last the disciples and brethren were weary with hearing these words continually, and asked him, “Master wherefore sayest thou this only?” Whereto he replied to them, worthy of John, “It is the commandment of the Lord, and if this only be done, it is enough.”

The Apostles: St. John

Christmastide (6): These Forty Days

Dom. Prosper Guéranger, on the History of Christmas:

We apply the name Christmas to the forty days which begin with the Nativity of our Lord, December 25, and end with the Purification of the Blessed Virgin, February 2. It is a period which forms a distinct portion of the Liturgical Year, as distinct, by its own special spirit, from every other, as are Advent, Lent, Easter, or Pentecost. One same Mystery is celebrated and kept in view during the whole forty days. Neither the Feasts of the Saints, which so abound during this Season; nor the time of Septuagesima, with its mournful Purple, which often begins before Christmastide is over, seems able to distract our Holy Mother the Church from the immense joy of which she received the good tidings from the Angels [Lk ii. 10] on that glorious Night for which the world had been longing four thousand years. (1)

It is a regular feature of American Christmas practices to begin the celebration of “Christmas” right after Thanksgiving and conclude ‘the holiday’ right after the 25th, as New Years Eve and New Years Day have their own gaiety (wholly separate from Christmas), and already the commercial machine is moving us towards Valentine’s Day. The lights and holly will come down, our trees will be discarded by the roadside, and the Twelve Days of Christmas will be nothing more than a carol sung before Christmas — to say nothing of Christmas days leading us to the Epiphany, when we welcome the Magi to the Bethlehem crib. How strange were these travelers from the East to arrival and find St. Joseph, the Virgin, and the Christ child no longer in Bethlehem and none to adore and lavish those most costly gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Moreover, the current Church calendar will already switch over to the green vestments of Ordinary Time as early as January 9, only one day subsequent the Baptism of the Lord.

I wish we could resist these restless, impulsive actions and stay in Bethlehem a while longer, nestled betwixt the oxen who knows its master and the donkey who know its master’s manger [Isa I. 3], and contemplate with the Virgin Mary the mystery of her Son’s Nativity.

Christmastide (6): These Forty Days

Fasting and Lent

Can the children of the bridegroom mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then they shall fast.

This Wednesday begins Quadragesima or Lent, the time in which Holy Church has set aside for prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. On this practice of fasting (L. ieiunium), I have take a page from the Benedictine monks of Norcia, Italy:

Fasting and Abstinence

The Church’s current regulations in the U. S. require fasting and abstinence from meat on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday; abstinence from meat on the Fridays of Lent; and abstinence from meat or some other penitential or charitable work on every non-Lenten Friday of the year, unless the Friday falls on a solemnity. Abstinence is binding from age 14; fasting is binding from age 18 until age 59. “According to the Church’s law, the ‘substantial observance’ of Fridays as days of penance, whether by abstinence or in other ways, ‘is a grave obligation.’ (Pope Paul VI, Paenitemini, 1966, Norm II, 2).” (Fr. John Hardon, S.J., Modern Catholic Dictionary, 1979).

What is Fasting?

Fasting according to the Church’s norms means eating only one full meal per day. Two smaller meals or snacks may also be eaten, sufficient to maintain one’s strength, but together they should not equal the one full meal. No food may be taken between meals; but liquids, including milk and juice, may be taken between meals. Expectant mothers and the sick are not bound to fast. When health or ability to work would be seriously affected, the law does not oblige. In the current regulations, fasting is always accompanied by abstinence from meat. That is, both of the obligatory fasting days (Ash Wednesday and Good Friday) are also days of abstinence from meat. “Self-imposed observance of fasting on all weekdays of Lent is strongly recommended.” (NCCB, November 18, 1966). Fasting on Holy Saturday is specifically recommended by the Church (currently).

What is Abstinence?

Abstinence from meat means that no meat (the flesh and organs of mam- mals and fowl), meat gravy, or meat soup may be taken.

The Monastic Fast

The Rule of St. Benedict establishes a fourfold variation in the yearly rhythm of feasting and fasting. From Easter until Pentecost there are two meals, both lunch and supper, since we cannot fast while the Bridegroom is with us. From Pentecost to mid-September, there is fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays, with one meal only, taken in the middle of the afternoon, around 3:00 pm. (There was no custom of breakfast in the Rule). From mid-September until Lent, there is one meal only, taken in mid-afternoon (except Sundays and feasts). During Lent, there is one meal only, but taken later in the day, at 5:30 pm. The Rule also has the monks abstain from meat (although there is some ambiguity in the text about the details). In all these variations, there is a wonderful harmony between what happens in church and what happens at table, as we celebrate the feasts and fasts of the Church’s liturgical year.

the-battle-of-carnival-and-lent
Brueghel’s “The Battle of Carnival and Lent” (1559)

Because I largely think the heart of the Church is located in the monasteries and convents of her religious, I believe the last fast, “the monastic fast” is particularly instructive and surely edifying, even to the lay faithful. Consider also the Catholic Encyclopedia, published a decade into the twentieth century (1909):

In the United States of America all the days of Lent; the Fridays of Advent (generally); the Ember Days; the vigils of Christmas and Pentecost, as well as those (14 Aug.) of the Assumption; (31 Oct.) of All Saints, are now fasting days… Fasting essentially consists in eating but one full meal in twenty-four hours and that about midday. It also implies the obligation of abstaining from flesh meat during the same period, unless legitimate authority grants permission to eat meat. The quantity of food allowed at this meal has never been made the subject of positive legislation. Whosoever, therefore, eats a hearty or sumptuous meal in order to bear the burden of fasting satisfies the obligation of fasting. Any excess during the meal mitigates against the virtue of temperance, without jeopardizing the obligation of fasting.

In many ways, the Church has as of recent years relaxed many of its fasting obligations. I have no doubt the bishops have their reasoning for relaxing the Lenten fast, just as they have relaxed the Communion fast — from midnight of the previous day to three hours before to now simply one hour prior (e.g., not eating during Mass…) But for me, the point of the matter is that our Lord fasted in his earthly life and that the saints after him fasted as well. For my own practice, I hope to maintain the fast throughout the day until returning home from work, breaking the fast for a late afternoon/evening meal with my family and then resuming the fast for the remainder of the day.

Fasting and Lent