Christmas Conundrum

As soon as the New Year celebrations have been satisfactorily concluded, according to local custom, the modern Catholic needs to take a deep breath and prepare for the dash through Our Lord’s childhood, adolescence and early adulthood which, the Church has decreed, should all be crammed into the next fortnight (or less, depending on where the Sundays fall).

The 1962 Roman Missal, the last official rubric for the Mass prior to the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, shows how the Church developed the nativity theme in a much more measured way then we do today though still confining it to the 20 days between December 25 and January 13.

The Sunday in the Octave of Christmas was simply that, though it took precedence over the three major feasts that immediately follow Christmas Day where there was a clash. The gospel reading for that day were the words of Simeon and Anna at Christ’s Presentation in the Temple.

January 1 had lost its title of the Feast of the Circumcision, and by that time also its status as a Holyday of Obligation though the gospel — the briefest in the Calendar at one verse — was Luke 2, 21, the account of the circumcision. The Sunday before the Epiphany was then the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus (with the same Gospel) and the Feast of the Epiphany itself was celebrated on January 6 where it should be.

[Father Z has a wry take on the modern practice of shunting feasts to the nearest Sunday, commenting that

“I suppose that they reasoned that more people would celebrate the important feast that way.  I say that 1) that signals that bishops think that our obligations according to the religion of virtue aren’t that important, 2) the liturgical year isn’t that important, and 3) parishes lose a collection.”

I leave my readers to draw their own conclusion!]

We then come to the Feast of the Holy Family on the Sunday after Epiphany with its gospel recounting the events surrounding that visit to Jerusalem when he was 12 years old. And finally the Commemmoration (not a feast) of Our Lord’s Baptism on January 13, marking the end of Christmastide.

So we have replaced the Feast of the Circumcision with the Feast of Mary, Mother of God, suppressed the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus (“since the imposition of the name of Jesus is already commemorated in the office of the Octave of Christmas.” , whatever that means), turned Epiphany into a moveable feast, moved the Feast of the Holy Family from the Sunday after Epiphany to the Sunday after Christmas, and promoted the Baptism of Our Lord to the status of a Feast which is itself transferred or “not celebrated” in those years when the Epiphany is celebrated on January 7 or 8.

And the gospel of the Second Sunday after Epiphany — the Marriage Feast at Cana, a key reading in the narrative of Christ’s life — is now only read one year in three.

One is tempted to wonder whether any of this has improved either the narrative or the worship.

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