Reflecting on 21 Centuries of Faith

Tag Archives: Advent

“O” Say Can You See…

O Rex Gentium or O King of the Nations is title for the day. During a time in which we are still at war, all of us long for peace. But there can be no peace without the Lordship of Jesus.

As we reflect on this title, I like what C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity:

Christianity is the story of how the rightful King has landed, you might say in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in His great campaign of sabotage.

The reign of the King must first reign in our hearts if His Kingdom is to advance. In these last days of Advent, it is a perfect time to repent, turn to the Gospel and unite ourselves closer to the King. As we wait for our marching orders to spread His Gospel of peace may we pray:

O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man, come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.” Isaiah had prophesied, “For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.” (9:5), and “He shall judge between the nations, and impose terms on many peoples. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.” (2:4) .

“O” Rise Up, the Son has Arisen

December 21st is the Winter Solstice which marks the shortest day of the year. While it actually is only momentary, from this point forward, we start to gain more daylight. It should not surprise us then, that the Church links this astronomical phenomena with the spiritual reality of Jesus, the Light of the World (John 8:12).

Prior to the Julian Calendar, December 25th marked the Winter Solstice which would also help explain why the Solemnity of the Incarnation from antiquity has been celebrated on this date. Once the calendar changed, Tradition continued the celebration on December 25th while the Solstice was recalculated to December 21st.

Once the O Antiophons became part and parcel of the Church’s liturgical celebration, O Oriens or O Radiant Dawn was established on the Solstice to continue to emphasize the point that,

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:5)

Interestingly, the word for overcome is καταλαμβάνω which literally translated is comprehended. Light has also been a common symbol for knowledge. I believe the more literal translation provides a better explanation why the world does not recognize the Messiah. Darkness is the lacking of the knowledge of Jesus Christ. May we use the last days of Advent to evangelize our family and friends in order to take advantage of all the Christmas grace.

O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.” Isaiah had prophesied, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shown. (9:1).

“O”pening the Gates to Heaven

A time-honor social custom is that we give a city key to people of some importance. The key represents not only access to city officials but that the individual has accomplished something great to assist the people of the city.

Today’s title is the Key of David. This reference is to Isaiah 22:22 where Shebna, the current “Prime Minister” of Israel, was rejected by the Lord and Eliakim was given the Key of the House of David:

On that day I will summon my servant Eliakim, son of Hilkiah; I will clothe him with your robe, and gird him with your sash, and give over to him your authority. He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah. I will place the key of the House of David on his shoulder; when he opens, no one shall shut, when he shuts, no one shall open. I will fix him like a peg in a sure spot, to be a place of honor for his family… (Isaiah 22:21-23)

Those who possessed the “Key” had all the authority of the King while he was away. Only the King had the authority to pass on His authority to another which was symbolized by the key. This should bring to mind Matthew 16:19-20 when Jesus gave Peter the Keys of the Kingdom:

I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he strictly ordered his disciples to tell no one that he was the Messiah.

It is through His Passion, Death and Resurrection that He has opened the gates of heaven. In iconography, this is illustrated by Jesus standing on the gates and yanking Adam and Eve into glory (cf. Anastasis).

Relevant to this Antiphon is the question of how Jesus received the “Key” since it is passed through the royal line.  Granted, he is the King of Kings but He also chose to enter into our human experience and submit Himself to the Law. The genealogy of Matthew, however,  shares the answer. As we know, genealogies were everything to the Jews. Faking one’s heritage was also a capital crime. Why? The genealogy demonstrated not only your relation to God but your relationship to the covenant and those rights and duties particular to you and and your tribe.

At the time of Jesus’ birth, there was no King of Judah sitting upon the throne. Herod was an Edomite – sworn enemy of the Jews. In fact, there had been no Davidic King since Jehoiakim who had offended the Lord by worshiping false gods and encouraging Judah to do the same. Thus, God cursed him and all his heirs.

Jeremiah records the curse of the Lord upon Jehoiakim, King of Judah and all his descendants:

As I live, says the LORD, if you, Coniah, son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, are a signet ring on my right hand, I will snatch you from it. I will deliver you into the hands of those who seek your life; the hands of those whom you fear; the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, and the Chaldeans. I will cast you out, you and the mother who bore you, into a different land from the one you were born in; and there you shall die. Neither of them shall come back to the land for which they yearn.Is this man Coniah a vessel despised, to be broken up, an instrument that no one wants? Why are he and his descendants cast out? why thrown into a land they know not?O land, land, land, hear the word of the LORD–Thus says the LORD: Write this man down as one childless, who will never thrive in his lifetime! No descendant of his shall achieve a seat on the throne of David as ruler again over Judah. (Jeremiah 22:24-30) *Note: Coniah (Jeremiah 22:20 is the same as Jechoniah in the Matthean geneology.

Joseph stands in the royal line. He is the rightful King. He would have been an excellent King because Scripture records he was a righteous man. And yet, the rightful King was a carpenter. The curse states that no descendant of his would sit upon the throne and that sadly included Joseph…but no his son. Jesus, through adoption, was Joseph’s son but not by generation. Therefore, Jesus not only had a right to the throne but it’s keys. Jesus descended from the Davidic line through Mary. And, since it was well within His authority to give the Key to anyone of His choice, Peter became His Vicar.

May we humble ourselves before the King as His faithful subjects and all those whom He appoints to govern us:

O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of Heaven: Come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom.” Isaiah had prophesied, AI will place the Key of the House of David on His shoulder; when he opens, no one will shut, when he shuts, no one will open.” (22:22), and “His dominion is vast and forever peaceful, from David’s throne, and over His kingdom, which he confirms and sustains by judgment and justice, both now and forever. (9:6).

“O” My Lord and My God

One of my favorite Christian songs from the 80’s is Michael Card’s, El Shaddai sung by Amy Grant. Classic! It is through this song I learned my first Hebrew word, Adonai. The title, Adonai or Lord, is what is called a circumlocution of the tetragrammaton (You didn’t need to know that – I just like saying it :)) – otherwise known as the way of getting around speaking the four letter word. Adonai is a common tetragrammaton for the unspeakable name: YHWH.

As we mentioned yesterday, the O Antiphons have begun. And today is day two. Fr. Saunders shared a really cool factoid that I wanted to pass on:

According to Professor Robert Greenberg of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, the Benedictine monks arranged these antiphons with a definite purpose. If one starts with the last title and takes the first letter of each one – Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai, Sapientia – the Latin words ero cras are formed, meaning, “Tomorrow, I will come.” Therefore, the Lord Jesus, whose coming we have prepared for in Advent and whom we have addressed in these seven Messianic titles, now speaks to us, “Tomorrow, I will come.” So the “O Antiphons” not only bring intensity to our Advent preparation, but bring it to a joyful conclusion.

The Benedictine monks, avid scholars of Scripture, have over the centuries had a better understanding that the number seven connotes oath and covenant. It is not surprising then, that they chose the seven messianic titles related to the covenantal promises.

As you know, O Come O Come Emmanuel, was written for this special liturgical time. As Professor Greenberg observes, the O Antiphons (especially when sung) intensify the conclusion of our Advent with a note of joy. It is a way of observing what the Church calls progressive solemnity – building the ceremony and joy from reserved to expressive glory (all with noble simplicity). Another way of saying it, “First we fast then we feast!” This song is a wonderful didactic way to share with our children and students titles for our Lord while teaching Scripture… and having a little Advent fun.

May He be your Lord not only on Sundays and in the Church but every moment, in all activities whether private of public. The following is the traditional prayer we recited today:

O sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain: come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.” Isaiah had prophesied, “But He shall judge the poor with justice, and decide aright for the land’s afflicted. He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked. Justice shall be the band around his waist, and faithfulness a belt upon his hips.” (11:4-5); and “Indeed the Lord will be there with us, majestic; yes the Lord our judge, the Lord our lawgiver, the Lord our king, he it is who will save us. (33:22).

O Antiphons

“O” Tis the Season

Today began the Church’s countdown to Christmas. For the next nine days, the antiphon preceding the Magnificat during Vespers is part of a sequence called the “O Antiphons”. Fr. William Saunders provides a brief history at the Catholic Education Resource Center:

The exact origin of the “O Antiphons” is not known. Boethius (c. 480-524) made a slight reference to them, thereby suggesting their presence at that time. At the Benedictine abbey of Fleury (now Saint-Benoit-sur-Loire), these antiphons were recited by the abbot and other abbey leaders in descending rank, and then a gift was given to each member of the community. By the eighth century, they are in use in the liturgical celebrations in Rome. The usage of the “O Antiphons” was so prevalent in monasteries that the phrases, “Keep your O” and “The Great O Antiphons” were common parlance. One may thereby conclude that in some fashion the “O Antiphons” have been part of our liturgical tradition since the very early Church.

The importance of “O Antiphons” is twofold: Each one highlights a title for the Messiah: O Sapientia (O Wisdom), O Adonai (O Lord), O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse), O Clavis David (O Key of David), O Oriens (O Rising Sun), O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations), and O Emmanuel. Also, each one refers to the prophecy of Isaiah of the coming of the Messiah.

Today, is O Sapientia or O Wisdom. The prayer that is commonly said is:

“O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care. Come and show your people the way to salvation.” Isaiah had prophesied, “The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord, and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord.” (11:2-3), and “Wonderful is His counsel and great is His wisdom.” (28:29).

In our house, we remember the day by placing symbols for each day on our Jesse Tree. This year I am encouraging the kids to make the symbols. How do you celebrate this in your house?

2nd Advent Sermon: the Christian response to secularism

Gathered with the Holy Father and other members of the papal household in the Redemptoris mater chapel of the Apostolic Palace on Friday morning, Capuchin Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa gave the second of the traditional weekly Advent sermons – this one focusing on the Christian response to secularism.

Drawing on an early passage from the 1st Letter of St. John, “We have seen and do bear witness, and declare unto you the life eternal,” Fr. Cantalamessa delivered a 6-part reflection that explored the relationship of time and eternity, the dangers attendant upon the loss of the idea of eternity, and the need to recover an awareness of our having been made for eternity.

“We need a renewed faith in eternity,” said Fr. Cantalamessa, “not only for evangelization.” Even before this, he said, “we need such a renewed faith in order to give a new impetus to our journey toward holiness.”

The preacher of the Papal household went on to say that the weakening of the idea of eternity is also acting upon the larger body of the faithful, decreasing in them the ability to face with courage suffering and the trials of life. (Source: Vatican Radio)

Signs, Symbols & Traditions of the Season: Plants

I can remember while growing-up my maternal grandmother starting in the summer preparing her Poinsettia to bloom at Christmas using light deprivation. Into the dark closet for twelve hours and out for twelve. Her Poinsettia plants were her pride an joy. Could you imagine what Mass would be like without all those beautiful red and white Poinsettias decorating the altars and sanctuaries? There a number of plants and flowers that are associated with this feast day. The three most popular are Poinsettias, Mistletoe and Holly. Let’s take a quick look…

Over the centuries, a few Christmas traditions have developed concerning plants. The most obvious, of course, is the Poinsettia.  (Actually, here in the United States, it is a tradition that is less than 100 years old.)  The plant finds its origin in Mexico where it grows as a shrub. It blooms at Christmastime and, thus, has earned the name “flower of the Holy Night.” The first Ambassador to Mexico, Dr. Joel Roberts Poinsett (1779-1851), brought them to the United States and had them grown in his greenhouse in South Carolina. (Only since 1920 have they become potted plants.)  Eventually, they were named after him and have become associated with Christmas just like Lilies are associated with Easter.

Mistletoe can be found hanging above the doorway in many houses during Christmas. While a number of authors have tried to suggest that it is a Christian symbol, it is not. In fact, it was forbidden in most Christian Churches (Catholic and Protestant alike) even as late as 1960. Once one pushes aside the superstition, the main objection to Mistletoe is its use in treaties and modern traditions. In the past, Mistletoe “groves” were used to settle treaties by sending in the daughter and the son of a warring clan, or nation, at which time they consummated the treaty with far more than a kiss. Over time, it became the practice that anyone who found themselves in a mistletoe grove would be obliged to consummate their meeting (especially in Scandinavia). In modern times, a young man may still steal a kiss from a woman when they are found under mistletoe. (Most have forgotten that when a kiss is stolen a berry is removed. The kissing privilege was only valid when the Mistletoe still had berries.)

As we might surmise, the Church did not have a favorable opinion of mistletoe… not just because of the pagan superstitions, but also because of the association with forcible relations and “love” without commitment. Mistletoe is also an invasive and parasitic plant, something that true love and the marital gift is not.

The Church did offer an alternative though… holly. Christianity saw in the natural formation of the plant a symbolic link with agape, or sacrificial love. The evergreen leaves symbolized the eternal and divine nature of Jesus. At the same time, the holly being a created thing symbolized His humanity. The five sharp points on the tips of the leaf were connected to the five wounds of Christ. The red berries symbolized the drops of blood shed out of for love us. The Church preferred, and continues to prefer, holly over mistletoe in the ecclesial Church and the domestic Church (our houses).

There are a number of legends associated with various Christmastime plants but the aforementioned are the three most prominent. As we draw closer to the Christmas season, take some time to decorate your house with the signs of the times. Kids will remember what they see and one day be old enough to receive the proper interpretation. For the rest of the world, let them decorate. They, too, will one day meet the reason for the season. Remember, cultural practices rise up out of our worship and beliefs. Take a look around your house… does it reflect a Catholic worldview, or are you merely decorating to win the local neighborhood award?

Here is some Christmas cheer while you are decorating:

A Spokesman for Christmas

If you have forgotten what Christmas is about, Linus can assist:

Signs, Symbols & Traditions of the Season: Carols

What would the Christmas season be like without Johnny Mathis’ voice filling the room (Yes, my wife is a huge fan)? Songs are  very important to our liturgies and culture. Some would say they are inextricably linked together. In fact, Plato and Socrates warned that children should not be exposed to the music of a culture until their moral formation was complete. Plato said 19 while Socrates said 22. It is true that you can gauge the morality of a society (and by extension its members) by the music it creates and listens to.

Christmas songs today are usually referred to as carols from the Old English carolen meaning to “sign joyfully” (This of course is from the Greek choraulein, a ring dance with flutes). History reports that carols go all the way back to fifth-century Latin hymns. Modern Christmas carols trace their origin back to thirteenth-century Italy introduced by the Poverello himself – St. Francis. Under his influence and devotion to the Nativity, Christmas carols spread and flourished throughout Europe.

Christmas caroling in the American colonies is an example of the patrimony given to us by the English. In the late-1800’s, caroling became popular in the Beacon Hill district of Boston. At the turn of last century, St. Louis carolers would serenade homes decorated with a candle in the window.

Today, most of the good spiritual carols have been forgotten with exception of those hymns we find in our liturgies. Due to the growing secular culture, schools prohibit carols that have anything to do with religion. For this reason, The Twelve Days of Christmas is my favorite carol. I am elated that the schools continue to promote the kids singing this song. One day, they will discover that they have been catechizing their youth for us. Then we will simply fill in the blanks and the truth will sent them free.

As you may know, the Catholic Church was illegal and forbidden for 271 years in England. Queen Elizabeth I’s reign of England in 1558  inaugurated a complete outlawing of the Latin Rite Church. This included all devotions, liturgies and outward expressions of the faith. Queen Elizabeth promulgated various penal laws against the Church including:

  • Mass was forbidden and punishable by being hung, drawn, and quartered for returning and offering Mass.
  • Priests were exiled from the Kingdom and were threatened with high treason.
  • Catholics hiding a priest in the home, or allowing him to celebrate Mass, would also be charged with high treason.
  • Catholic citizens were not allowed to vote, to hold property, to be witnesses in court, or to have weapons.
  • Catholics who did not attend Protestant services were charged a fine and often imprisoned.
  • All Catholic schools were closed and catechesis was forbidden.
  • Public officials were required to take an oath denouncing the Pope and the dogma of transubstantiation.

King George IV, in 1829, reluctantly signed the Emancipation Bill which granted political and religious freedom to Catholics. All laws were repealed with the one exception that the King or Queen of the United Kingdom cannot be a Latin Rite Catholic – even today. Justice compels me also to share that this bigotry was enforced with various intensities depending upon who was reigning.

Note: The same penal laws that were enforced for 271 years were enforced in Virginia until after the Revolutionary War. Under Old Ironsides ,otherwise known as Oliver Cromwell (1642-60), the Puritan Parliament even outlawed the celebration of Christmas. We should also note that the Commonwealth throughout its history has traditionally been anti-Catholic. And yet, Catholics are flourishing here in the Old Dominion.

The Holy Spirit inspired a solution within the hearts of English Catholics. These Catholic families composed and then taught our faith through a simple song, The Twelve Days of Christmas. Father Saunders, Pastor of Our Lady of Hope Church in Potomac Falls, Virginia has written a fantastic explanation of the not so “common” carol The Twelve Days of Christmas:

… the song The Twelve Days of Christmas was written in England using seemingly secular images or symbols to help catechize children in the faith. The “true love” mentioned in each stanza does not refer to an earthly suitor, but to Almighty God. The “me” to whom the gifts are presented refers to any baptized Catholic. The purpose of the repetition is not only for the sake of pedagogy, but also emphasizes God’s continual renewal of His gifts to mankind.

The partridge in a pear tree is Christ. In nature, a mother partridge will feign injury to lure predators away from her defenseless nestlings. In the same way, our Lord protects us, vulnerable human beings, from Satan. The pear tree symbolizes the salvation of mankind, just as the apple tree symbolizes Adam and Eve’s Fall from Grace.

Two turtle doves represent the Old and New Testaments. Also, Jewish couples of modest income offered two turtle doves instead of the customary lamb as a sacrifice to God when they presented their newborn child in the Temple. Interestingly, our Blessed Mother Mary and St. Joseph offered a sacrifice of two turtle doves for the presentation of our Lord (cf. Luke 2:22-24).

Known for their beauty and rarity, the three French hens signify both the gifts of the Magi (gold, frankincense, and myrrh), and the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity.

The four calling birds are associated with both the four evangelists and their gospels– Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; the four major prophets– Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel; and the four cardinal virtues– prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance.

Five golden rings has a two-fold significance. A ring, or a circle, has no beginning or end but is continuous. Thereby, the ring reminds us of both God’s eternity — His permanent, faithful, and continuous love for us– and the circle of faith– God’s love for us, our love for Him, and our love for our neighbors. Moreover, gold is a pure element, and God’s love is a pure, unconditional love. The number five also signifies the first five books of the Old Testament — the Pentateuch or Torah (the books of law for the Jewish people).

The six geese a-laying represent the six days of creative work recounted in Genesis.

The seven swans a-swimming continues the Genesis theme. In Judaism, seven was a number of perfection. God’s plan included not just the six days of creating but also the seventh day of rest; we in turn must not forget to make Sunday a holy day by worshiping God at Mass, spending time with our loved ones, and relaxing. Moreover, the seven swans a-swimming refers to the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven corporal works of mercy, the seven spiritual works of mercy, and the seven deadly sins.

The eight maids a-milking signifies the eight beatitudes and, at that time in our Church, the eight times during the year prescribed for the faithful to receive Holy Communion.

The nine ladies dancing are the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit and the nine choirs of angels.

The Ten Commandments are represented by the 10 lords a-leaping.

Eleven pipers piping are the eleven faithful apostles at the time of the resurrection and ascension. (Remember that Judas, one of the Twelve, betrayed our Lord and committed suicide.)

Finally, the number 12 for the Jewish people represented completion and fullness. Therefore, the 12 drummers drumming are the twelve minor prophets, the twelve precepts of the Apostles Creed (still the structure of the first part of the Catechism), the 12 apostles (the original 11 plus St. Matthias who replaced Judas), and the 12 tribes of Israel.

One last note. The song O Come, O Come Emmanuel, while a common Advent song for Sunday liturgies, is meant to be sung during the O Antiphons which take place from December 17-24. Regardless, this is a meditation on salvation history and the person of the Christ.

‘Tis the Season to be Jolly…Umm, Which One?

In the secular world, the Christmas season started the day after Halloween. For the retail world, the Christmas season began on Black Friday. As for Catholics around the world, the Christmastime season begins at the Vigil on December 24 with the Solemnity of the Incarnation. What we usually think of as the Christmas season is actually two different and distinct seasons with their own celebratory expressions. These two seasons include: Advent, Christmastide or Christmastime. So, does it really matter when we are jolly? Of course it does! The reasoning is wrapped up very much in what we call the Principle of Progressive Solemnity.

This principle says that not all liturgical days have the same weight of importance as others. Therefore, the celebration of our liturgies should reflect a progression from a lesser to greater solemnity in song, action and ritual. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) in its consideration of liturgical music, the Liturgy of the Hours and overall liturgies, discusses this principle in paragraphs 271-273:

273. A celebration with singing throughout is commendable, provided it has artistic and spiritual excellence; but it may be useful on occasion to apply the principle of “progressive solemnity.” There are practical reasons for this, as well as the fact that in this way the various elements of liturgical celebration are not treated indiscriminately, but each can again be given its connatural meaning and genuine function. The liturgy of the hours is then not seen as a beautiful memorial of the past demanding intact preservation as an object of admiration; rather it is seen as open to constantly new forms of life and growth and to being the unmistakable sign of a community’s vibrant vitality.

The principle of “progressive solemnity” therefore is one that recognizes several intermediate stages between singing the office in full and just reciting all the parts. Its application offers the possibility of a rich and pleasing variety. The criteria are the particular day or hour being celebrated, the character of the individual elements comprising the office, the size and composition of the community, as well as the number of singers available in the circumstances.

With this increased range of variation, it is possible for the public praise of the Church to be sung more frequently than formerly and to be adapted in a variety of ways to different circumstances. There is also great hope that new ways and expressions of public worship may be found for our own age, as has clearly always happened in the life of the Church.

By way of practical example, we understand that while Fridays during the year are days of penance (CCC 1438), Good Friday holds a pride of place, not only in notoriety but in the solemnity of its celebration. To that end, we celebrate Advent differently than Christmastime.

Advent in the Latin Rite (sometimes erroneously known as Roman Catholics), begins on the first Sunday of the new liturgical year. It continues until the Vigil Mass of the Solemnity of the Incarnation or Nativity on December 24. This season is notably different from the preceding season, Ordinary time, and the season that follows it, Christmastime. The vestments during Advent become more subdued with the use of violet and the Gloria is no longer sung during the Sunday liturgies. Decorations are  sparse. Sound familiar? Well, that’s because Advent is also called a “little lent.”

As we get closer to the Solemnity of the Incarnation, things pick up. The third Sunday of Advent, Guadete Sunday,we take a brief respite from the penance with a liturgy of “joyful” expectation. Beginning on December 17th the O Antiphons begin. Each day recounts the various titles of the Christ within the Economy of Salvation. Each title and correlating Scripture reading builds on the one before it. I know you are very familiar with the O Antiphons because I know you have sung O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. As a sidebar, this popular seasonal song is really only suppose to be used during the period of time designated for the O Antiphons e.g. December 17-24 but alas, it is sung almost every Sunday in Advent (In the great scheme of things there are bigger fish to fry).

At this point, December 24: O Emmanuel, the season changes to Christmastime or Christmastide. This season by contrast is ablaze with color, singing, exuberance and joy. Within the Church, the Christ child is present in the manager, the Christmas trees are lit, the vestments are white, the Gloria is part of the liturgy…there is a glorious beauty in the festivities.

Christmas is so important that it is celebrated for eight days straight…as if every day was Christmas morning. That being said, the Church raises the stakes and celebrates a trinitarian festival of love through the feasts of the martyrs:

  • 26th: St. Stephen – martyr (red) by will, love and blood
  • 27th: St. John the Divine –  martyr (white) by will and love
  • 28th: Holy Innocents – martyrs (red) by blood

We should also mention the first two Sundays after Christmas. The first celebrates the Holy Family. The Church provides for us the model for a family: father, mother and the child. This day also recognizes our human brokenness and that all families do not resemble the prefect family. So, she provides extra grace through her liturgical blessings and offers the Holy Family itself to make up where we lack.

The following Sunday is the Solemnity of the Epiphany. This theophany celebrates the Lord revealing Himself for the first time to the Gentiles. Even from the beginning, Jesus desires the entire human race to draw into communion with Him.

The Christmas season concludes with the Baptism of our Lord. This feast celebrates His revelation to the world through His ministry. And so the next day begins Ordinal or Ordinary time.

The fact remains that most people are tired of Christmas by the time December 25 comes around. Maybe if we celebrated in the pattern the Church has laid out for us we would enjoy it more. Enjoy the seasons!