Posts Tagged ‘Christmastide’

"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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From January 14 to Septuagesima Sunday

This period, which begins the day after the Octave of Epiphany, is an extension of Christmastide.  Jesus asserts His Divinity, not by the appearance of angels or the star of the Magi, but speaking Himself as God.  He subjects our hearts to His teachings, explaining His Divine doctrine with parables and manifesting the truth of His words and works by many miracles.

At the time of our Lord, Palestine contained four provinces: Peraea, Judea, Samaria, and Galilee.  It was in the province of Galilee that the miracles and preaching of Jesus took place.

At Cana, He changed the water into wine, His first miracle, at the request of His mother.  At Nazareth, He preached His doctrine, and “all wondered at these things that proceeded from the mouth of God,” says the Communion of the fourth, fifth, and sixth Sundays after Epiphany with the words of Luke.  In Galilee, a word from our Lord cleansed the leper.  From the shore of the Lake of Genesareth, He miraculously stilled the storm.  All these miracles He performed to show His apostles that He was God.

From The Roman Catholic Daily Missal, 1962

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The Holy Family

The special devotion which sets forth the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph as the model of virtue for all Christian households began in the seventeenth century.  It commenced almost simultaneously in Canada and France: the Association of the Holy Family being founded in Montreal in 1663, and the Daughters of the Holy Family in Paris in 1674.  Numerous other congregations and associations under the patronage of the Holy Family have been established since that time, and they are spread over the world.  The archconfraternity was established by Pius IX in 1847.  In 1893 Leo XIII approved a feast for Canada, and Benedict XV extended the Feast of the Holy Family to the whole Church and ordered its celebration to take place on the Sunday after Epiphany.

Domine Jesu Christe, qui Mariae et Joseph subditus domesticam vitam ineffabilibus virtutibus consecrasti: fac nos, utriusque auxilio Familiae sanctae tuae exemplis instrui: et consortium consequi sempiternum: Qui vivis et regnas.

O Lord Jesus Christ, Who, being subject to Mary and Joseph, didst sanctify home life with ineffable virtues: grant that, with the aid of both, we may be taught by the example of Thy Holy Family, and attain to eternal fellowship with them: Who livest and reignest.

Gospel Lk. 2:42-52

The Devine Child Jesus sits in the midst of the doctors who are astonished at His wisdom and His answers.

When Jesus was twelve years old, they going up into Jerusalem, according to the custom of the feast, and having fulfilled the days, when they returned, the child Jesus remained in Jerusalem; and his parents knew it not.  And thinking that He was in the company, they came a day’s journey and sought Him among their kinsfolks and acquaintance.  And not finding Him, they returned into Jerusalem seeking Him.  And it came to pass, that, after three days, they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, hearing them and asking them questions.  And all that heard Him were astonished at His wisdom and His answers. And seeing Him, they wondered.  And His mother said to Him: Son, why hast thou done so to us? Behold thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.  And He said to them: How is it that you sought Me?  Did you not know that I must be about My father’s business?  And they understood not the word that He spoke unto them.  And He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them.  And His mother kept all these words in her heart.  And Jesus advanced in wisdom, and age, and grace with God and men.

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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


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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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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