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"Adoration of the Shepherds" by Gerard van Honthorst, 1622 (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Ah, yes, Christmas, that time of year with a winter nip in the air (unless you live in parts of Florida where record highs in the 80s are forecast this weekend) and the time of year when the thoughts of old school Protestants (meaning those few Protestants who still find the need to base their beliefs on a militant anti-Catholicism), New Age “pagans,” and militant atheists turn yet again to the supposed “pagan” origins of Catholicism. Along with Easter and Halloween, the Feast of Christmas is yet another of those celebrations we are told “prove” the pagan origins of Catholicism. After all, everyone knows Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular are nothing more than “dressed up” paganism. It’s just too bad everyone is wrong…

Instead of merely reposting my piece on the true, non-pagan, origins for the December 25th date of Christmas, I share this link to a wonderful piece by Rev. Dwight Longenecker which does an excellent job of explaining (yet again) once and for all the true background of the Christian celebration of Christmas on December 25th.

Allow me to highlight a few points from Rev. Longenecker:

1. The “pagan origin” claimants begin with the capital mistake of assuming that mere resemblance proves causality. Simply because two things resemble each other does not mean one is the cause of the other. Two things can be strikingly similar yet share absolutely no causal relationship what-so-ever. Simply because Christians and pagans observed certain feasts at similar times throughout the year does not mean one automatically caused the other.

2. The Roman feast most often associated with Christmas by the “pagan originists” is Saturnalia, a Roman feast for the god Saturn which was held from December 17 to 23. However, this feast, while occurring on the wrong date (if Christianity “co-opted” this feast, why not make the date of Christmas December 17th to really sock it to those pagans?), also had nothing to do with the imagery of the solstice and the return of the sun. The focus of this feast centered more on the theme of sacrifice-to-appease-the-gods-for-a-good-harvest.

3. The Roman feast associated with the solstice was Dies Natalis Sol Invictus. The only problem here is the inconvenient fact that this feast wasn’t instituted until around AD 278, well after the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire, and for quite some time remained a rather minor feast with a small cult. Further, we find no evidence that Sol Invictus was celebrated on December 25th until AD 360 – decades after Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity in AD 315. In fact, the promotion of the feast was due to the influence of Julian the Apostate who attempted to turn back the tide of Christianity sweeping the Empire. Huh, so that means Sol Invictus was used by the Roman authorities in an attempt to “win back” Christians to paganism, not the other way around.

4. The “pagan origins” nonsense completely ignores the fact that thousands (some sources say millions) of Christians lost their property and in many cases their lives over their complete refusal to, as Rev. Longenecker puts it, “offer so much as one grain of incense to the pagan gods.” Yet, the “pagan originists” would have us believe the very people who were giving their lives over refusal to participate in anything even resembling paganism suddenly decided to “co-opt” pagan festivals.

5. If we actually take time to read the historical record provided us in the writings of the early Church Fathers, we find a clear answer as to why Christmas is celebrated on December 25th. As early as AD 386, we find a sermon by St. John Chrysostom linking the date of Christmas to the date of the Annunciation (the day the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive and give birth to Jesus). The wording of his sermon suggests this linking was already a long-accepted tradition within the Church. We need to remember early Christians were primarily Jewish converts and thus the roots of Christianity are in Judaism, not Romanism. The Jews believed the world began on March 25th. They also believed great men died on the same date as the date of their conception. Therefore, we find the early Christians believed the date of Jesus’ conception was March 25th. Let’s count nine months and see what we find: December 25th.

So, just as I pointed out last time, the date of Christmas has nothing to do with Romans or paganism, but everything to do with early Jewish belief and the dating of Jesus’ conception by early Christians.

Merry Christmas!

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Nativity by Lorenzo Lotto, 1523 (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Of course, everyone knows Christmas and most other Christian observances, even Christianity itself, are nothing but warmed over paganism – practices which were viciously ripped from the hands of innocent pagans by a marauding Catholic Church.

It’s just too bad everyone is wrong.

Strange how every year lately someone just can’t but help bringing up the worn out urban legend that Christmas is a “stolen” pagan winter solstice festival.  Of even more interest is the fact most of these people are self-described non-Christians and non-believers (especially in “organized religion”), others are even fallen away Christians, who for whatever reason (usually dissatisfaction with the “rules”) rejected Christ’s Church.  Yet, these very admittedly (by their own words) non-Christians somehow fancy themselves “experts” in Christianity.

Strange too is the fact these people’s “explanations” of the “truth” are often accompanied by all sorts of claims of “toleration.”  Rather dubious, I must say, considering how these people, in the name of “tolerance,” go out of their way to disparage Christianity.  “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

“Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15, RSV-CE).  Unfortunately, most Christians do not know the tenets and history of their faith well enough to counter these baseless charges.  Instead, they generally cede the point, often mumbling something about a “shameful” point in Church history.  As a result, since most Christians don’t know how or won’t take a stand, these sorts of myths continue to perpetuate.

So let’s take a look at the real facts surrounding the Christian Holy Day of Christmas.

Before we begin, it’s important to understand the correct definition of “pagan” and “paganism.”  Today, when most people, particularly its “practitioners,” use the word “paganism” they are referring to a New Age spiritism belief system.  However, this is not the formal meaning of the word, particularly when applied to the ancient world.  The Catholic Encyclopedia defines paganism thus: “Paganism, in the broadest sense includes all religions other than the true one revealed by God, and, in a narrower sense, all except Christianity, Judaism, and Mohammedanism.”  In the ancient world, a “pagan” was simply someone who wasn’t Christian or Jewish (since Islam didn’t come along until the seventh century).

Let’s begin our study by putting to rest once and for all the notion that the early Christian Church somehow “suppressed” or “got rid of” pagans.  The time period under consideration for all these claims of the Church “suppressing” paganism is within the first few centuries of the establishment of the Christian Church by Jesus Christ.  A time during which Christians were being mercilessly persecuted by the Romans (pagans) for the “crime” of following someone whose message was one of love: love of God, love of neighbor and love of self.

Widespread and systematic Roman (pagan) persecution of Christianity lasted into the fourth century, by which time the major feast days and practices of Christianity were already established.  Given what the pagans were doing to Christians, the Church was hardly in a position to “suppress” anyone – even if she had chosen to do so.  Since the major feast days and practices were established during a period when the Church was under almost constant persecution, one can hardly say these days and practices were established to “stop” paganism since the pagan Roman authorities were in control and the Church was not in a position to “stop” anyone (again, even if she’d chosen to do so).

During this time period, the vast majority of converts to Christianity were Gentiles (non-Jews).  Keep in mind as well these were people who freely converted to Christianity during a time when such a choice meant subjecting one’s self to almost certain persecution and in many cases, even death.  People were not forced to become Christians – such a notion is anathema for a Church which believes God grants man free will and that it’s up to man to use his free will to freely choose God’s gift.  Those who brush off Christianity really need to understand this point.  At a time when simply going along with the status quo was easier and more conducive to one’s lifespan, many people freely chose Christianity even while seeing what was happening to fellow Christians at the hands of non-Christians.

Christianity calls people to join through faith and reason, not through force and subjugation.  St. Paul provides a perfect example of how early Christians interacted with Gentiles (pagans), inviting them to become Christians.  We read in Acts of the Apostles, when St. Paul entered Athens, he saw a temple dedicated to an “unknown” god.  Did he tear into the people, calling them fools for believing such nonsense?  No – instead he praised the people for their faith:

Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious.  For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’” (Acts 17:22-23, RSV-CE)

He then used that as a spring board to introduce them to the “good news” of Jesus and entered into a dialogue with the people, inviting them to become Christians of their own free wills.  What a terrible act of suppression and attempt to get rid of paganism by force!

In addition, if you actually know Church history, you know why stories of Jesus’ birth were not of prime importance to the Apostles and early Christians.

In the immediate aftermath of Jesus Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension into Heaven, early Christians were most concerned with hearing the message of Jesus’ preaching.  They expected the Parousia (Second Coming of Christ) to happen within their lifetimes.  Therefore, they wanted to know the message of Jesus rather than being focused on details regarding the person of Jesus.  For these people, getting their lives in order so that they might be ready for the return of the Lord was their top priority.

However, as time passed (again, time during which Christians were viciously and systematically persecuted by non-Christians) and it became clear the Parousia wasn’t going to happen immediately, the Church began to settle itself in for the long term.  As this happened, people’s interest in Jesus began to go beyond just his preaching.

It was during this period that interest developed in establishing a feast day to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ.  So much time had passed since the actual events, no one any longer knew with complete certainty when this really happened – although as we’ll see shortly, compelling evidence existed for the date chosen.

Even more importantly, our ancient ancestors (Pagan, Jewish and Christian alike) were not nearly as concerned with detailed biography as we understand it in the modern sense.  Therefore, establishing exact historically accurate (as we understand this concept in the modern world) dates weren’t the prime concern of early Christians; so the historicity of the date is not a critical point.  The critical point we must examine is motivation, both of the early Christians as well as the Romans (pagans), in assigning significance to December 25th.

As it turns out, not only was Christmas not some sort of “hijacking” of a pagan festival, but the pagan festival generally cited as the one “stolen” by Christians was actually started by pagans to take December 25th from Christians.  As Dr. William Tighe, a church history specialist at Pennsylvania’s Muhlenberg College, puts it: “the pagan festival of the ‘Birth of the Unconquered Sun’ instituted by the Roman Emperor Aurelian on 25 December 274, was almost certainly an attempt to create a pagan alternative to a date that was already of some significance to Roman Christians. Thus the ‘pagan origins of Christmas’ is a myth without historical substance.”

As Biblical scholar Mark Shae notes:

But in fact, the date [December 25] had no religious significance in the Roman pagan festal calendar before Aurelian’s time, nor did the cult of the sun play a prominent role in Rome before him.

There were two temples of the sun in Rome, one of which (maintained by the clan into which Aurelian was born or adopted) celebrated its dedication festival on August 9th, the other of which celebrated its dedication festival on August 28th. But both of these cults fell into neglect in the second century, when eastern cults of the sun, such as Mithraism, began to win a following in Rome. And in any case, none of these cults, old or new, had festivals associated with solstices or equinoxes.

What was the reaction of early Christians to Aurelian’s implementation of his Sol Invictus festival?  Shae continues:

The first irony is the reaction of the Christians of the late Roman Empire to Aurelian’s attempt to co-opt Christmas and make it a pagan day of celebration. Instead of fighting with Sun-worshipers who were trying to rip off their feast, early Christians simply “re-appropriate[d] the pagan ‘Birth of the Unconquered Sun’ to refer, on the occasion of the birth of Christ, to the rising of the ‘Sun of Salvation’ or the ‘Sun of Justice.'”

The natural symbolism of the winter solstice (return of the sun and new life) happens to also fit perfectly with Christian theology: birth of the Son of Man and the “new life” found in Him.  Consequently, early Christians didn’t “take” anything from the pagans, but instead simply refused to allow Aurelian to claim some sort of “copyright” on December 25th.  Christians continued to leave it up to people’s free will to decide if worshiping the sun or worshiping the Son made more sense.

It also turns out that records associating December 25th with the birth of Jesus are actually significantly older than records associating December 25th as a pagan festival day.  Again quoting Biblical scholar Mark Shae:

[T]he definitive “Handbook of Biblical Chronology” by professor Jack Finegan (Hendrickson, 1998 revised edition) cites an important reference in the “Chronicle” written by Hippolytus of Rome three decades before Aurelian launched his festival. Hippolytus said Jesus’ birth “took place eight days before the kalends of January,” that is, Dec. 25.

Tighe said there’s evidence that as early as the second and third centuries, Christians sought to fix the birth date to help determine the time of Jesus’ death and resurrection for the liturgical calendar—long before Christmas also became a festival.

So the inescapable historical record is that December 25th was an important day for Christians before it was an important day for pagans – or more correctly, an important day for one rather obscure pagan Roman sun-worship cult.

Also, the debate in the early Church which fixed the day of Jesus’ birth was not about that date, but about the dating of Good Friday.  The Eastern Church argued for dating Good Friday to April 6th while the Western Church argued in favor of a March 25th date (keep in mind, during this time, there was only one Christian Church since the Great Schism, which saw the breaking of the Church into the Eastern [Greek] Church and Western [Latin] Church did not occur until 1054 – well after the time period we’re looking at).

What does the date of Good Friday have to do with Christmas?  Everything.  I’ll let Dr. Tighe explain it:

At this point, we have to introduce a belief that seems to have been widespread in Judaism at the time of Christ, but which, as it is nowhere taught in the Bible, has completely fallen from the awareness of Christians. The idea is that of the “integral age” of the great Jewish prophets: the idea that the prophets of Israel died on the same dates as their birth or conception.

This notion is a key factor in understanding how some early Christians came to believe that December 25th is the date of Christ’s birth. The early Christians applied this idea to Jesus, so that March 25th and April 6th were not only the supposed dates of Christ’s death, but of his conception or birth as well. There is some fleeting evidence that at least some first- and second-century Christians thought of March 25th or April 6th as the date of Christ’s birth, but rather quickly the assignment of March 25th as the date of Christ’s conception prevailed.

It is to this day commemorated almost universally among Christians as the Feast of the Annunciation, when the Archangel Gabriel brought the good tidings of a savior to the Virgin Mary, upon whose acquiescence the Eternal Word of God (“Light of Light, True God of True God, begotten of the Father before all ages”) forthwith became incarnate in her womb. What is the length of pregnancy? Nine months. Add nine months to March 25th and you get December 25th; add it to April 6th and you get January 6th. December 25th is Christmas, and January 6th is Epiphany.

St. John Chrysostom (Archbishop of Constantinople, died AD 407) argued from a Biblical standpoint, an argument which had nothing to do with any pagan festival, for the December 25th date of Jesus’ birth:

Luke 1 says Zechariah was performing priestly duty in the Temple when an angel told his wife Elizabeth she would bear John the Baptist. During the sixth months of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, Mary learned about her conception of Jesus and visited Elizabeth “with haste.”

The 24 classes of Jewish priests served one week in the Temple, and Zechariah was in the eighth class. Rabbinical tradition fixed the class on duty when the Temple was destroyed in A.D. 70 and, calculating backward from that, Zechariah’s class would have been serving Oct. 2-9 in 5 B.C. So Mary’s conception visit six months later might have occurred the following March and Jesus’ birth nine months afterward.

Seeing clearly that December 25th, Christmas, is a Christian Holy Day not derived from a pagan winter festival, how did it become “common knowledge” that Christmas is simply a “warmed over” or “ripped off” pagan festival?  These sorts of claims of grew in the wake of the anti-Catholicism following the Protestant Reformation during the sixteenth century as Protestants looked for ways to disparage the Catholic Church as “non-Biblical.”

With regards the “pagan” roots of Christmas, we can trace the origins of these claims to the 17th and 18th centuries:

Paul Ernst Jablonski, a German Protestant, wished to show that the celebration of Christ’s birth on December 25th was one of the many “paganizations” of Christianity that the Church of the fourth century embraced, as one of many “degenerations” that transformed pure apostolic Christianity into Catholicism. Dom Jean Hardouin, a Benedictine monk, tried to show that the Catholic Church adopted pagan festivals for Christian purposes without paganizing the Gospel.

In the Julian calendar, created in 45 B.C. under Julius Caesar, the winter solstice fell on December 25th, and it therefore seemed obvious to Jablonski and Hardouin that the day must have had a pagan significance before it had a Christian one.

Note that Jablonski began, not with evidence, but with an assumption that the winter solstice must have had a pagan significance before it had a Christian one. In other words, Jablonski simply noticed a correspondence between the Julian calendar’s solstice and Christmas and assumed the pagan feast must have been the prior one even though he had no proof for his theory. Meanwhile, Hardouin, rather than challenge that assumption, simply went along with it. And it’s upon these two authors that the entire myth about Christmas being a warmed-over pagan Sun-worshiping feast is based.

Now, as Paul Harvey would have said, we know the rest of the story.  Christmas is a Christian Holy Day, not a “hijacked” pagan winter solstice festival, and the urban legend of pagan roots for Christmas came from a 17th century Protestant whose self-admitted objective was to disparage Catholicism.

In the end though, we must avoid getting bogged down in the wrong question:

The crucial thing is not, “Did the early Christians get the date of Christmas right?” It is, rather, “What mattered to them as they determined the date of Christmas?” And when you look at that, you again immediately realize that what dominates their minds is not Diana, Isis, sun worship, or anything else in the pagan religious world. What interests them is, from our modern multicultural perspective, stunningly insular. Their debates are consumed, not by longing for goddess worship, or pagan mythology, or a desire to import Isis and Diana into the Faith, but the exact details of the New Testament record of Jesus’ death, alloyed with a Jewish—-not pagan—-theory about when Jewish—-not pagan—-prophets die. They don’t care a bit how pagan priests ordered their worship in the Temple of Diana at Ephesus. They care intensely about how Levitical priests ordered their worship in the Temple of Solomon at Jerusalem. These Christians are completely riveted on Scripture and details of Jewish and Christian history and tradition. They don’t give a hoot what sun worshipers, Osiris devotees, or Isis fans might think.

[© 2010 All rights reserved.  This copyrighted material may not be reposted or reproduced in any form without permission.]

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St. Stephen

Feast Day of St. Stephen, First Martyr

Stephen, one of the seven deacons chosen by the Apostles amongst the most pious and holy disciples to help them, received from them mission to organize the meals where the poor were fed in common.  St. Stephen was renowned for his virtues and worked such great wonders and signs among the people that the Jews from five different synagogues became alarmed and summoned him before the Sanhedrin.  The Jews stoned this holy deacon, who invoked our Lord, saying: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit…Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.”  His name is inscribed in the Canon of the Mass.

From The Roman Catholic Missal, 1962

Collect

Dan obis, quaesumus, Domine, imitari quod colimus; ut discamus et inimicos diligere; quia ejus natalitia celebramus, qui novit etiam pro persecutoribus exorare Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum Filium tuum Qui tecum vivit et regnat.

Grant us, we beseech Thee, O Lord, so to imitate what we revere, that we may learn to love even our enemies: for we celebrate the heavenly Birthday of him who knew how to pray for his very persecutors to our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son: Who with Thee liveth and reigneth.

Epistle (Acts 6:8-10; 7:54-59)

St. Stephen, stoned by the Jews, asked pardon for his persecutors.

In those days Stephen, full of grace and fortitude, did great wonders and signs among the people.  Now there arose some of that which is called the synagogue of the Libertines and of the Cyrenians and of the Alexandrians and of them that were of Cilicia and Asia, disputing with Stephen.  And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit that spoke. Now hearing these things, they were cut to the heart and they gnashed with their teeth at him.  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.  And they crying out with a loud voice stopped their ears and with one accord ran violently upon him.  And casting him forth without the city, they stoned him; and the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man, whose name was Saul.  And they stoned Stephen, invoking, and saying: Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.  And falling on his knees, he cried with a loud voice, saying: Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep in the Lord.

Gospel (Mt. 23:34-29)

Jesus had upbraided the Jews for having killed and stoned the prophets.  Our Lord foretold to the Apostles their martyrdom for His name’s sake.  The Jews fulfilled the words of the Savior, and Stephen is the first of the witnesses of Christ.

At that time Jesus said to the scribes and Pharisees: Behold I send to you prophets and wise men, and scribes, and some of them you will put to death and crucify, and some you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city: That upon you may come all the just blood that hath been shed upon the earth, from the blood of Abel the just, even unto the blood of Zacharias the son of Barachias, whom you killed between the temple and the altar.  Amen I say to you, all these things shall come upon this generation.  Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets and stonest them that are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered together thy children, as the hen doth gather her chickens under her wings, and thou wouldest not?  Behold, your house shall be left to you, desolate.  For I say to you, you shall not see Me henceforth till you say: Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord.

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Holy Family

The Feast of the Birth of our Lord.  On this day all priests are granted by the Church the privilege of celebrating three Masses.  Formerly the Masses for this day were celebrated at intervals; that is, at midnight, at dawn, and in the day time, a custom still observed in Cathedrals, monastic communities, and many parish churches.  They are said always – by each priest who uses this privilege – in the order in which they are arranged in the Missal, namely: 1) the Midnight Mass, 2) the Mass of the Dawn, 3) the Mass of the Day; even though the times at which they are said do not correspond to their titles.

Collect

Deus, qui hanc sacratissimam noctem very luminis fecisti illustration clarescere: da, quaesumus; ut, cujus lucis, ejus quoque gaudiis in coelo perfruamur: Qui tecum vivit et regnat.

O God, Who hast made this most holy night shine forth with the splendor of the true Light: grant, we beseech Thee, that we, who have known the mysteries of His light on earth, may enjoy also His happiness in heaven: Who with Thee liveth and reigneth.

Gospel (Lk. 2:1-14)

St. Luke tells us of the birth of our Lord: And Mary brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger.

Now it came to pass in those days, that there went forth a decree from Caesar Augustus that a census of the whole world should be taken.  This first census took place while Cyrinus was governor of Syria.  And all went to register, each to his own town.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee out of the city of Nazareth into Judea to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem – because he was of the house and family of David – to register with Mary, his espoused wife, who was with child.  And it came to pass, that when they were there, her days were accomplished that she should be delivered.  And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him up in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were shepherds in the same district living in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night.  And behold, an angel of the Lord stood by them and the glory of God shone round about them; and they trembled with great fear.

And the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all the people; for this day is born to you in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.  And this shall be a sign unto you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will.”

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Christ Child Bethlehem

Collect

Deus, qui nos redemptionis nostrae annua exspectatione laetificas: praesta, ut Unigenitum tuum, quem Redemptorem laeti suscipimus, venientem quoque judicem secure videamus, Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum Filium tuum: Qui tecum vivit et regnat.

O God, Who dost gladden us by the yearly expectation of our redemption, grant that we, who now joyfully receive Thine only-begotten Son as our Redeemer, may also without fear behold Him coming as our Judge, even the same Lord Jesus Christ Thy Son: Who with Thee liveth and reigneth.

Epistle (Rom. 1:1-6)

Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Son of David according to the flesh, and the Son of God according to the spirit of sanctification.

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an Apostle, separated unto the Gospel of God, which He had promised before by His prophets in the holy Scriptures concerning His Son, Who was made to Him of the seed of David according to the flesh: Who was predestinated the Son of God in power according to the spirit of sanctification by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead: by Whom we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith in all nations for His name, among whom are you also the called of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Gospel (Mt. 1:18-21)

The Angel appeared to Joseph and announced to him that Mary his wife should bring forth a Son, conceived by the Holy Ghost.

When Mary the mother of Jesus was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.  Whereupon Joseph her husband, being a just man and not willing publicly to expose her, was minded to put her away privately.  But while he thought on these things, behold the angel of the Lord appeared to him in his sleep, saying: Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.  And she shall bring forth a Son, and thou shalt call His name Jesus: for He shall save His people from their sins.

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Christmastide

During the season of Advent we longed for the coming of Christ.  In Christmastide we experience the joy of His coming into the world.  The Church is full of the mystery of the Incarnation of Christ.  Jesus as God, begotten of the substance of the Father before all the ages and born of the substance of His Mother in the world, is given to us.  “And His name shall be called the Angel of Great Counsel.”

By the union of our souls with Jesus born to human life, we are born to the divine life.  “As many as received Him He gave them power to be made Sons of God” (St. John).

In the birth of Jesus we learn to know God as His Father: “All things are delivered to Me by My Father.  And no one knoweth the Son but the Father: neither doth any one know the Father but the Son and he to whom it shall please the Son to reveal Him” (St. Matthew).

During Christmastide, the liturgy shows us the Messias as the Son of God, clothed with humanity, glorified by the humble surprised shepherds, and adored by the Magi from the East.  Let us fall down before the Child and bless God, for the birth of Jesus is the beginning of our Redemption through grace to the supernatural life.

For Christmas, the old custom of celebrating its feast at midnight has been kept, for it was at this hour that Mary in her spotless virginity gave to the world its Savior.  In the midst of darkness, the Light was born.  Therefore the Church celebrates Christmas on December 25, the time of year when the days begin to lengthen.  The custom of having three Masses originated in Jerusalem.  A Mass was said is Bethlehem at the very early hour in the morning.  Later a second Mass was celebrated in the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem.  About midday a third Mass was celebrated.  Each of the three Masses has its identifying characteristic.  The Midnight Mass celebrates particularly the birth of Jesus, the Mass at dawn commemorates the adoration of the shepherds, the daytime Mass celebrates the eternal generation of the Word and the dignity of the Son of God.

Whereas Advent is the season of “absence of Jesus,” Christmastide is a season of great joy in our possession of the Savior.  Eight days after Christmas the Church celebrates the Circumcision of Jesus.  On January 6, she commemorates the adoration of Jesus by the Magi (Epiphany), and Christmastide closes eight days later.

From The Roman Catholic Daily Missal, 1962

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St. Stephen

Sunday, December 20 – 4th Sunday in Advent

St. Dominic of Silos (1073), Abbot, Patron Saint of Captives (Historical)

Sts. Abraham, Isaac & Jacob, Old Testament Patriarchs (Historical)

Monday, December 21

St. Peter Canisius (1597), Priest, Doctor of the Church (New)

St. Thomas (1st Century), Apostle, Martyr, Baptized the Magi (Traditional)

Tuesday, December 22

St. Frances Xavier Cabrini (1917), Virgin, Religious Sister, Foundress of Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, Patroness of Immigrants (Traditional)

Sts. Chaeremon & Ischyrion (3rd Century), Martyrs (Historical)

Wednesday, December 23

St. John of Kanty (John Cantius) (1473), Priest, Patron Saint of Poland (New)

St. Yvo of Chartres (1115), Bishop (Historical)

St. Servulus (590), Beggar (Historical)

Thursday, December 24 – Vigil of Christmas

Sts. Adam & Eve (First Age of the World) (Historical)

St. Adele (1137), Widow (Historical)

Friday, December 25 – The Birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ – Holy Day of Obligation

St. Anastasia (304), Martyr (Traditional)

Saturday, December 26 – Second Day in the Octave of Christmas

St. Stephen (35), the First Martyr, Patron Saint of Stonemasons (New, Traditional)

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