Saturday, 1 January 2011

Octave Day of Christmas-Feast of the Circumcision & Mary, Mother of God


On this the Octave Day (Eighth Day) of Christmas, may I take a moment to wish you a blessed New Secular Year of 2011; as you may know, the Church's "new year" began five weeks ago, on the First Sunday of Advent and we are still in the midst of Christmastide which continues in the traditional calendar until February 2, Purification or Candlemas and in the revised calendar to the Baptism of the LORD, the Sunday after Epiphany (or the Monday if January 6 falls on a Sunday). Yes, the Epiphany is really on January 6, friends under 50 but the Canadian bishops and most others in their less-than-infinite wisdom transferred it and Ascension, which actually occurs on a Thursday, to Sunday as well. Silly.

Yesterday, I posted on my Facebook a little note to my catholic family and friends, "To my Catholic family and friends; January 1 is the Octave Day of Christmas and is a Holy Day of Obligation, so you should be at Mass, just like you were (sic) on Sunday last and Christmas. If you like, come to St. John's in Weston at 5:00 on New Years Eve or St. Mary's in Nobleton on New Years morning at 9:45 wherst I shall be singing. See you there!" A little reminder to my many Catholic family and friends as to the priorities in life. I'm not sure it worked.

A long and dear friend, a former girlfriend actually, Jewish, wrote me on Facebook and asked, "What happened to the 'Circumcision; a very nice Catholic gentleman once told me about this some many years ago." Of course, I need to ask her, if I was the "very nice Catholic gentleman" of whom she wrote.

Well, whatever happened to the Circumcision? Yes, friends, Jesus was a Jew and as a little boy of a good Jewish family, his mother and foster-father, Joseph, had him circumcised.

I wrote her back and explained what I will follow with here though in a little more detail.

One thing that I wrote to her was that ironically, when the Church finds itself post-Vatican II in a more open spirit to non-Christian religions, particularly Judaism, which I applaud, She has actually, in her liturgy and calendar, de-emphasised Her Judaic roots. This is evident in the loss of the sacrificial ember days, and the loss of the Feast of the Circumcision of Our LORD, as well as the Purification of Mary, but more on that in a moment.

It is also evident in the elmination of many of the psalms said in the Traditional Latin Mass or Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite and in the posture of the priest, facing the Altar, not the people (of course you may not know, this is how the Novus Ordo was meant to be celebrated and what is in the rubrics. For example: "here the priest turns to the people and says, Pray my brothers and sisters...." Therefore, it presupposes that he is not facing the people). Thus you have the clear image of introibo altare Dei...going into the altar of God to present the Sacrfice. Another Jewish friend, now I suppose considered a Hebrew Catholic and about to be ordained to the Diacanate and next year the fullness of the Levitical Priesthood as a Catholic priest has said this to me, "The old Mass makes me feel more Jewish than the new, in it, I see the Temple Worship laid out before me."

Now, some may argue that the Offertory in the revised liturgy is actually Jewish being a from the Jewish Pesach or what in English is called Passover (because the Angel passed over) but which is really, ףש meaning, lamb. (gee, notice something here?) The actual name for Passover is Lamb and in Hebrew is pesch from which we derive the Latin Paschal. In most languages other than English and German-Oster or Easter, which means, from the East, not from a Babylonian goddess as some anti-Catholics would have you think) have a derivative such as Pacque in French or Pasqua in Italian, Pascuas in Spanish, Pasko in Tagalog, well you get the point. So, Easter is more appropriately called Paschal Sunday recalling the Lamb and His shed blood, resurrected.

Back to the Offertory. The actual Offertory prayer in the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite or Novus Ordo is "Blessed are you Lord, God of all creation, through your goodness we have this bread to offer which earth has given and human hands have made, it will become for us the bread of life." The motzi prayer which means "brings forth" think here of motza, the flat unleavened cracker like bread (ah, a Holy Communion wafer???) or the manna from heaven (bread--gee connect this with Bethlehem---City of Bread and the Bread of Life) and you have, "Blessed are You, God, our Lord, King of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth." Now this fact is a big issue in the reformed liturgy for a lot of Traditionalists who see it as a real stumbling-block.

The Offertory in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite or Tridentine (Council of Trent liturgy) is "Accept, O Holy father, Almighty and Eternal God, this spotless host, which I, Your unworthy servant, offer to You, my living and true God, to atone for my numberless sins, offences, and negligence's; on behalf of all here present and likewise for all faithful Christians living and dead, that it may profit me and them as a means of salvation to life everlasting. Amen" and, "We offer unto Thee, O Lord, the chalice of salvation, entreating Thy mercy that our offering may ascend with a sweet fragrance in the sight of Thy divine Majesty, for our own salvation, and for that of the whole world. Amen." I would argue that this is actually more Judaic and Catholic because it more accurately describes the Holy Mass and richly presents to G-d the actual Sacrifice of which the Holy Mass is, the bloodless Sacrifice of Christ, the Lamb or Pesch--the blood atonement to the Father for the sins of Adam and Eve and all of us.

But back to the original question.

Whatever happened to the Circumcision?

In the Extraordinary Form calendar, today, January 1, is the Feast of the Circumcision of the LORD. "And 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." Luke 2:21. While the reading of the Gospel is the same in the Ordinary Form, the Solemnity today is Mary, Mother of God.

Now what are we to think of this?

One might argue that we can never have too many feasts in honour of our Blessed Mother and this name emphasises Mary as Theotokos or God-bearer, as the Council of Ephesus declared in 431. True; and I would not want to suggest anything that downplays Our Lady. But the Catholic Church and certainly not the Traditional calendar or Mass ever downplayed Our Lady, it does make me wonder; have we lost something of the Catholic roots of Judaism by downplaying the Jewishness of Jesus? This title by the way, Thetokos, God-bearer or literally, Mother of God, was not to promote Mary but to affirm against heretics that Mary did not give birth to just the human part of Jesus but also to His divine nature, because his human and divine nature could not be separated.

On February 2, it is the Presentation of the LORD in the Temple according to the Jewish custom of offering the first-born on to God and taking a sacrifice of a lamb or in the case of a poor family and according to Leviticus, two turtle-doves as Mary and Joseph did. But in the old calendar it is also called the Purification of Mary which recalls the Presentation but also her need as a Jewish woman to be purified in a mikvah or ritual bath following child-birth. (as an aside a man had to have a mikvah if he suffered from a nocturnal emission...hmmm, does that mean that the "m" word really is a sin and we need to be cleansed by the Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation? Think about that one for a minute my Catholic brothers!

So, we have traded Marian Feasts around perhaps in embarrassment about circumcision or some misguided thought that Mary was eclipsed in the Christmas season for I can think of no other reason why this was done. This is simply not true as John J. Tierney wrote in his article on "Feast of the Circumcision" in the Catholic Encyclopedia hundred years ago in 1908: "It is to be noted also that the Blessed Virgin Mary was not forgotten in the festivities of the holy season, and the Mass in her honour was sometimes said on this day. Today, also, while in both Missal and Breviary the feast bears the title In Circumcisione Domini et Octav Nativitatis, the prayers have special reference to the Blessed Virgin, and in the Office, the responses and antiphons set forth her privileges and extol her wonderful prerogatives. The psalms for Vespers are those appointed for her feasts, and the antiphons and hymn of Lauds keep her constantly in view." The tinkerers or come would say, conspirators, of the Concilium following the Second Vatican Council played chess with our ancient liturgical calendar and by doing so have made us less Jewish.

Somehow I think, something truly ecumenical was lost.

Regardless, a Blessed Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God and Circumcision of Our LORD to you and Happy Secular New Year.

May you be richly blest in 2011.

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