The rest of the world is kicking its Christmas trees to the curb when Catholics are just getting started celebrating Christmas. Gifted with a long season of Christmastide and a good many feasts contained therein, we have many ways to celebrate the gift of God become man. The way we celebrate serves as a mini course in salvation history.
Christmas and Easter are such important feasts that we celebrate them for eight days. According to Bernard Strasser (With Christ Through the Year) “Octave means an eight-day celebration, that is, the prolongation of a feast to the eighth day… inclusive. The feast itself is considered the first day, and it is followed by six days called 'days within the octave.' The eighth or octave day is kept with greater solemnity than the "days within the octave." The Gloria is repeated, we recite the Creed (and genuflect at the words of Incarnation), and the prayers reflect the prayers of the Christ-Mass. Going to daily Mass is a reminder of the beauty and significance of Christmas.
The secondary feasts of the season remind us of the fullness of both joy and suffering held within the promise of the Nativity. The Feast of St. Stephen, deacon and martyr, on Dec. 26 and the Feast of the Holy Innocents on Dec. 28 illustrate the cost of Christian witness and the threat that Christ poses to earthly powers. Sandwiched between the two is the Feast of St. John the Apostle, whose lyrical writing brings a mystical understanding of the mystery that is Christ, regardless of that cost. We celebrate the Holy Family on Dec. 31, God who is himself community born into the community of family, the fundamental, social and religious unit of life. We are reminded that God seeks our cooperation to bring his light to the world.
When the rest of the world celebrates New Year’s Day, we remember Mary, the Mother of God, without whose “yes” the Nativity could not happen. This is also the day of Christ’s circumcision, the first shedding of Divine blood in order to put into motion the plan of salvation. It also prefigures the Baptism in the Jordan, Jan. 9, the new circumcision by which we enter the Church, which ends the Christmas season and ushers in Ordinary Time and Jesus’ public ministry. God not only became man, he submitted to the human order of things to identify completely with those he came to save.
Epiphany, this year celebrated on Jan. 8, with the presence of the Gentile Magi, reminds us that Christ was sent to redeem not just Israel but all of creation. Given that a great many of us don’t trace our origins to first century Israel, this is our feast!
It’s too easy to slip back into the secular rhythm as soon as Dec. 25 is over. Take time this year to explore the great feasts of the liturgical year and unwrap the gift of Christ among us slowly and thoughtfully. After all, we have 15 days this year, not just the usual 12, to do so!
Barbara Golder had a 40-year career in medicine and law, including health care ethics. She is now the award-winning author of the ‘Lady Doc’ mystery series and serves as Director of Adult Faith Formation and Evangelization at the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She blogs at ladydoclawyer.com.
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