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

The Martyrs: St. Stephen

St. Stephen isn’t the first martyr of the liturgical year — this is often St. Andrew (30 November) — to say nothing of the many martyrs (and Virgin Marytrs) we meet in our Advent journey like Saints Barbara and Lucy, but the Protomartyr’s feast falls wonderfully subsequent the birth of Christ, and so the martyr has a pride of place in the white-robed army [Te martyrum candidatus laudat exercitus in the Te Deum] accompanying Christ at judgment.

Dom. Gueranger:

Thus does the Sacred Liturgy blend the joy of our Lord’s Nativity with the gladness She feels at the triumph of the first of Her Martyrs. Nor will St. Stephen be the only one admitted to share the honors of this glorious Octave. After him we shall have St. John, the Beloved Disciple; the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem; St. Thomas, the Martyr for the Liberties of the Church; and St. Sylvester, the Pontiff of Peace. But the place of honor amidst all who stand around the Crib of the newborn King belongs to St. Stephen, the Protomartyr, who, as the Church sings of him, was “the first to pay back to the Savior the death suffered by the Savior.” It was just that this honor should be shown to Martyrdom; for Martyrdom is the creature’s testimony and return to his Creator for all the favors bestowed on him: it is Man testifying, even by shedding his blood, to the truths which God has revealed to the world. (Vol. 2: 224)

And a bit later:

Stephen, then, deserves to stand near the Crib of his King as leader of those brave champions, the Martyrs, who died for the Divinity of that Babe Whom we adore. Let us join the Church in praying to our Saint, that he help us to come to our Sovereign Lord, now lying on His humble throne in Bethlehem. Let us ask him to initiate us into the mystery of that Divine Infancy, which we are all bound to know and imitate. It was from the simplicity he had learned from that Mystery that he heeded not the number of the enemies he had to fight against, nor trembled at their angry passion, nor winced under their blows, nor hid from them the Truth and their crimes, nor forgot to pardon them and pray for them. What a faithful imitator of the Babe of Bethlehem! (226-27)

Stephen is important, as are all the martyrs, because he, like Christ, entered his death willing (sua sponte). He is honored in Holy Scripture with his ascension to the original diaconate as a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit [Acts 6. 5], and his martyrdom [7. 58-60], but not before his speech before the Jerusalem council, one of the longest in the entire New Testament, rich with Old Testament exegesis.

Moreover, the collect of his feast reads: Grant, O Lord, we beseech thee, that we may imitate him whose memory we celebrate so as to learn to love even our enemies [et inimicos diligere]; because we now solemnize his martyrdom [natalitia, lit. birth, i.e., into heaven], who knew how to pray even from his persecutors to our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son, who liveth, etc.

St. Stephen’s natalitia, or birth into heaven, is dramatically unfolded in Holy Scripture: But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looking up steadfastly to heaven, saw the glory of God and Jesus standing on the right hand of God. And he said: Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God [Acts 7. 55-56]. In fact, Stephen is the only one excepting the Savior himself to refer to Christ as “the Son of Man,” a sweetest token of divine revelation as he witnessed the veil of heaven being pulled aside for his soul’s entrance into divine mansions.

[Moreover — and this is pure speculation — St. Stephen would have been part of the happy few to witness Mary’s Assumption into heaven, albeit with the souls of his soul.]

St. Stephan is already honored in yesterday’s Ad Primam (Prime) martyrology: At Jerusalem, holy Stephen, the first Martyr. He was stoned by the Jews not long after the Ascension of the Lord. But more important than this is that St. Stephan’s name is sung in the Roman canon, right after the Baptist’s (read more here).

Lastly, his attend hymn, “Deus Tuorum Martyrum,” is sung both during this Christmas octave for the Protomartyr as well as during the paschal season (link):

Deus tuorum militum
Sors, et corona, praemium
Laudes canentes Martyris
Absolve nexu crinimis.

O God! thou inheritance, Crown, and reward of thy Soldiers!
absolve from the bonds of our sins us who sing the praises of thy Martyr.

The Martyrs: St. Stephen

Christmastide (4): The Queen’s Christmas Message 2017

I have long been a fan of Her Majesty the Queen. I suppose enough of the drama of bad American politics will make anyone look with some favor on a monarchy. Not withstanding its flaws, the Crown and the sovereign who wears its hold a special place in the hearts and minds of both those within and without the Commonwealth.

One part of Her Majesty’s traditions is an annual Christmas address to the Realm and the world, not unlike the Holy Father’s Urbi et Orbi [To the City and the World] address, in which she looks back on the year past and forward to the one to come, and ever mindful of her duties as the sovereign, she highlights the secular and spiritual concerns of our common humanity.

In this year’s address, she notes the saddest realities that terrorism now plays in the destabilization of our daily lives. She reviews the attacks on London and Manchester, to name only two, as well as the devastation in the Caribbean, and she describes and praising the men and women who attend to the safety, protection, rescue, and relief in these seemingly unstable times.

To the Queen’s own closing words:

Volunteers and charities, as well as many churches, arrange meals for the homeless and those who would otherwise be alone on Christmas Day.

We remember the birth of Jesus Christ whose only sanctuary was a stable in Bethlehem.

He knew rejection, hardship and persecution; and yet it is Jesus Christ’s generous love and example which has inspired me through good times and bad.

Whatever your own experiences this year; wherever and however you are watching, I wish you a peaceful and very happy Christmas.

[Read the entire transcript here; watch the broadcast here]

Christmastide (4): The Queen’s Christmas Message 2017

Christmastide (3)

Other feasts than these [Easter, Pentecost] have an altogether different significance. Christmas is of comparatively recent origin. It does not, strictly speaking, commemorate a mystery, but a particularly unique natale, a birthday, and one falling on a specially suggestive day. Augustine knows that it replaces the birthday of Sol Invictus, although the pagan festival was only celebrated at a few places and was originally a particularity of the Roman city calendar. This fact, however, seems to have been widely known in Africa, since Augustine says in a Christmas sermon, “Let us celebrate this day as a feast not for the sake of this sun, which is beheld by unbelievers as much as by ourselves, but for the sake of him who created the sun.” [Sermo 190] He also believes, however, that there is a reliable tradition which gives December 25 as the actual date of the birth of our Lord. According to this same tradition the birth of John the Baptist took place six months before the eighth day before the calends of January, that is, on the eighth day before the calends of July—which means, unfortunately, that it fell on the 24th, and not on the 25th, of June.

Broadly speaking, however, the feast of St. John coincides with the summer solstice and Christmas with the winter solstice. This fact does not particularly disturb the good bishop. He merely points out that as Christmas the days begin to grow longer and on the feast of St. John to grow shorter, a symbol to show that the one had of necessity to become greater, while the other had to grow less.

F. van der Meer, Augustine the Bishop (292-293)

Christmastide (3)