THE FEAST which we celebrated last Thursday marks, for many of us “conservative” (read “traditionalist”!) Catholics the proper end of Christmastide. In fact before the modernisation/simplification/dumbing down (pick your own description) of the liturgy 50 years ago The Feast of the Presentation was officially the end of the Season of Christmas.
I have commented before on the Church’s helter-skelter dash through the very early days of Jesus’ public life from the marriage at Cana through his baptism by John to the calling of the first apostles and though this may leave us a little breathless there is really very little choice when we consider what needs to be got through between now and Easter, at best a bare three months away.
Why, then, does the Church deal with all the events associated with Jesus’ birth in real time? The Annunciation, which the Church quite logically takes as the date of His conception, is followed three months later by the birth of John the Baptist (“… she whom people called barren is now in her sixth month …”) and six months after that by Jesus’ own birth and 40 days after that by His presentation to God as a first-born son, “according to the scriptures” (a phrase we hear repeated frequently throughout the New Testament).
So ir is made abundantly clear to us that these are real events that really happened. The chronology of these events — the “time line”, if you like — from conception through to the requirement that a first-born be ‘redeemed’ by the offering of a pair of turtle doves is there in black and white. Whether any of those precise dates is correct is irrelevant but we can be assured because the gospels tell us so that these happenings did take place and the Church reinforces that by deliberately incorporating them into its liturgy and placing them correctly in relationship to each other.
The one episode in Jesus’ life not accounted for in the gospels so far is His 40-day fast in the desert which chronologically ought to follow from His baptism by John. But though chronology may have its uses it is not everything and the beginning of Lent — itself a reminder of that episode — is the right and proper time for us to begin the serious matter of looking forward with Jesus to the Day of our redemption. I hope this year to have more frequent but shorter postings aimed at giving us all something to think about and reflect on during that time.