Archive for December, 2010
For many people, Christmas ends on Christmas day, so over the ensuing few days, amidst the various after-Christmas sales, the trees are unceremoniously taken down and dragged out to the curb.
But for those of us who do have a sense of Christmas extending beyond December 25th, the question still remains: When does Christmas season actually end? When should we take down not only our tree, but also other seasonal items such as nativity sets?
Traditionally, Christmas season is twelve days (like the song), which would take us to January 6th, the traditional date for celebrating the Epiphany, when the wise men brought gifts to the child Jesus. Now Epiphany is only approximately 12 days after Christmas, as it falls on the second Sunday after Christmas. This year, since Christmas was last Saturday, the feast of the Epiphany will take place this coming Sunday, January 2nd.
But while Epiphany is an important feast within the context of the Christmas season, it doesn”t bring about the end of the Christmas season. The Christmas season ends on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, at which point “Ordinary Time” begins. The Sunday after the Baptism of the Lord is thus the second Sunday of Ordinary Time.
The Baptism of the Lord usually falls on the Sunday after Epiphany, which this year will be January 9th.
Lastly, prior to the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), the Christmas season extended all the way to February 2nd, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord (aka Purification of Our Lady or Candlemas), based on Luke 2:22-38. While that is no longer the case, there is still something of a Christmas “flavor” to the early weeks of Ordinary Time leading up to the Presentation of the Lord.
But what does all that have to do with taking down my tree? And besides, if I wait too long to take it down, the garbage trucks won”t take it!
Well, rest assured there are no “rules” on all this. My recommendation, based on the liturgical season, is to keep Christmas decorations up till the Baptism of the Lord (January 9th). If that seems a little extreme for your household, I”d counsel at least waiting till after Epiphany (January 2nd). That”s especially true for nativity sets that include the three wise men.
And after all, why cut short “the most wonderful time of the year”?
I”m sure many readers have heard of The Bucket List. It”s the movie in which characters played by Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman have terminal cancer. They decide to make the most of their remaining time by composing a “bucket list” of things they wanted to do before they die.
And then the adventures began!
Since the new year is now only three days away, I thought I would do something a little different. So, I have composed a ”Becket” list, in honor of St. Thomas Becket, the 12th-century archbishop and martyr whose feast the Church celebrates today. The Becket list, part serious and part whimsical, contains things I would like to do before the end of the year. Without further ado (after all, I gotta get busy!), here”s my list:
(1) Recall all the blessings of 2010.
(2) Do all the things I put off till the Christmas holiday, when presumably I would “have more time.”
(3) Pray for those who “left” us this year. I”m thinking mostly of those who died in 2010, especially my oldest brother, Bob, but also of my daughter Mary Kate, who in August became Sr. Mary Kate.
(4) Figure out how to operate the kids” Wii game.
(5) Lose ten pounds (five “old” pounds and the five put on over Christmas).
(6) Finish the three books I”m presently reading (without starting a fourth until they’2012-04-24 18:32:26′re finished!).
(7) Set goals and make resolutions for 2011.
(8) Clean my office!
(9) Tax stuff. Sure, the IRS gives us extra time for some things, but as much as possible I like to have my “ducks” lined up. And surely this includes end-of-the-year donations to Catholic apostolates and charities!
(10) Playoffs! Of course I have to make plans to watch the playoff run of the Kansas City Chiefs, the AFC West champs!
What”s on your Becket list?
Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Innocents, the little boys who were massacred by Herod in an attempt to put the Christ Child to death. These “innocents” are now venerated as martyrs.
There is an obvious connection between the Holy Innocents and the victims of abortion, whose deaths are also made possible by political regimes that really want to kill God. After all, not only does Christ present Himself as an alternative to Caesar, but His Church is the definitive bastion of the natural law, objective truth, and moral goodness in the public square. In other words, the Church is the leading voice against the “tyranny of relativism” and immoral expedience imposed by modern-day Herods.
But there is yet another set of innocents. I’m thinking of today’s youth, whose psychosexual development has largely been left in the same hands as those who wanted them killed in the womb. And so, in the name of “sex education,” today’s youth are robbed of their human dignity, their reproductive capacity, and ultimately the spark of the divine that makes them capable of receiving the gift of eternal life.
Against these odds, we have the Feast of the Holy Innocents to remind us that God’s mercy and goodness will triumph, though our witness requires courage and possibly martyrdom.
Father, the Holy Innocents offered you praise by the death they suffered for Christ. May our lives bear witness to the faith we profess with our lips. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
In honor of the feast of St. John the Evangelist, I thought I would devote a “top ten” list today to my favorite quotes from St. John”s Gospel.
I was going to open it up to all five books of the Bible written by St. John, so that I could include favorite quotes from his epistles (e.g., 1 John 3:1) and the Book of Revelation (e.g., Revelation 21:1, 4). However, the magnificent Gospel according to John provides more than enough material to work with! Here”s my list:
(1) And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. (John 1:14) What a profound teaching on the Incarnation! And I”m pleased that in both of my children”s schools they pray the Angelus daily, which includes this beautiful verse.
(2) For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16) This verse gives us the motive for the Incarnation, that in the words of the early Fathers of the Church, God became man so that man could participate in the very life of God. Wow!
(3) Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (John 6:53) The entire Bread of Life discourse in John 6 is fantastic. I chose this verse as it vividly teaches that the Eucharist sustains us in our journey to God. I could easily have chosen the response of St. Peter to Our Lord”s words: Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life . . .” (John 6:68)
(4) The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10:10) This is part of Our Lord”s “Good Shepherd” discourse. What’2012-04-24 18:32:31′s not to love about a God who is our good shepherd, who came to give us abundant life? Baaa!
(5) Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12:24) This may be my favorite verse in the entire Bible. Dostoevski said that his classic, 1,000-page novel Brothers Karamazov is but an artistic reflection on this profound verse. And the next verse continues the paradox: He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. (John 12:25)
(6) A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. (John 13:34) Not only is this a powerful verse in its own right, but I think this teaching of Our Lord is one that really resonated with John and sustained him for decades. Later in life, he is reputed to have told his disciples over and over again: ”Children, love one another.”
(7) I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5) I love this verse because it reminds me that apostolic fruitfulness is entirely dependent upon our connectedness to Christ through prayer and the sacraments.
(8) “I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” (John 17:20-21) The ecumenical imperative that we encounter today is rooted in these words of the Lord that are recorded only in St. John”s Gospel. God is one. The Church is one. Christians still have a little work to do!
(9) When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. (John 19:26-27) This one is especially dear to me, since today is the feast day of my son Samuel John. I gave him that name because I wanted him to be a “beloved disciple” who welcomes Mary into his heart and, one day, into his home (or rectory).
(10) When they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. (John 19:33-34) This one may leave some readers scratching their head. I marvel at the way in which all the prophecy comes together in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. And here in particular the Church has always interpreted the blood and water flowing from the side of Christ as symbolizing the life-giving sacraments, as indeed the Church in a sense was “born” when His side was pierced (see Catechism, no. 766).
And btw, honorable mention goes to:
John 3:31–He must increase, but I must decrease.
John 16:33–I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.
John 20:22-23–And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
Merry Christmas, everyone! All is well here in KC, the home of the Kansas City Chiefs, the AFC West champions!
When you think about it, doesn’t “Christmas Eve” sound like an apt title for the Blessed Virgin Mary?
As Christmas day rapidly approaches, I thought our readers would appreciate a snippet of a sermon by St. Augustine, which is the reading for today’s Office of Readings (matins) in the Church’s liturgy:
“Awake, mankind! For your sake God has become man. Awake you who sleep, rise up from the dead, and Christ will enlighten you. I tell you again: for your sake, God became man. . . .
“Let us then joyfully celebrate the coming of our salvation and redemption. Let us celebrate the festive day on which he who is the great and eternal day came from the great and endless day of eternity into our own short day of time.”
Come Lord Jesus, do not delay; give new courage to Your people who trust in Your love. By Your coming, raise us to the joy of Your kingdom, where You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Pope Benedict XVI dedicated today”s Wednesday audience at the Vatican to conveying a reflection on Christmas. Here is the portion of his address that was given in English:
“In these last days before Christmas, the Church invites us to contemplate the mystery of Christ”s birth and to receive the gift of His presence, which is the fulfillment of humanity”s deepest hopes and expectations. We share in the quiet joy which filled the hearts of Mary and Joseph, and all those who first welcomed the promised Savior, who is Emmanuel, God-with-us. By taking our flesh, the Lord saved us from the sin of our first parents; now He bids us to become like Him, to see the world through His eyes and to let our hearts be transformed by His infinite goodness and mercy. This Christmas, may the Christ Child find all of us spiritually prepared for his coming. The traditional Christmas crib, which families prepare in these days, is an eloquent sign of our expectation of the Lord who comes. May the wonderment that the crib evokes in children and adults alike bring us closer to the mystery of God”s love revealed in the incarnation of His beloved Son. Let us ask the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph to help us contemplate this great mystery with renewed joy and gratitude.”
And these closing words of his address help us to put the last few days before Christmas in perspective:
“In the midst of the frenetic activity of our days, may this time give us some calm and joy and enable us to touch with our hand the goodness of our God, who became a Child to save us and to give new encouragement and light on our journey. This is my wish for a holy and happy Christmas: I address it affectionately to all of you here present, to your families, in particular to the sick and the suffering, as well as to your communities and your loved ones.”
I need to begin this post on liturgical music with the disclaimer that I”m neither a liturgist nor a musician. My perspective is that of someone who loves the Mass and who can also carry a tune.
In addition, I want to focus on a very narrow aspect of liturgical music–namely, the selection of hymns for Sunday and Holy Day Masses. To understand my concern, bear with me as I draw a comparison with the music at a professional sports event.
Has anyone ever been to a game where to get the fans fired up they continually play songs that nobody knows (or likes)? Or where they played loud music or otherwise incited noise while the home team had the ball? (For those of you who might not know, the idea is to be quiet when your team has the ball, so they can hear the quarterback better.) Or has anyone been to a baseball game in which they substituted a new song for “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” for the seventh inning stretch?
The answer to these and other such questions is “definitely not.” In other words, professional sports teams recognize the importance of playing the right music at the right time to help create the appropriate environment for cheering on the home team. It”s not rocket science, and any team organist not on board with that concept will soon be looking for other work.
For some reason, though, this concept is lost on many parishes that I”ve visited over the years. So many times I”ve gone to Mass absolutely ready to worship–and sing!–only to experience music selections that are so foreign to me (if not banal or repulsive) that it”s more of an annoyance or distraction than an aid to prayer. Does it have to be that way?
Now, those who provide the music for parish liturgies have several things to keep in mind. They should strive for excellence in execution, calling forth and utilizing the musical gifts, talents, and instruments at the parish”s disposal. Since the purpose is divine worship, not entertainment, the appropriate amount of reverence and decorum must be maintained. And since the music is calling forth something deep within us, the music ministers should be Spirit-filled and not simply going through the motions.
But all that aside, what can we say about the musical selections themselves? I’2012-04-24 18:32:38′ve come up with three points that I think summarize what the Church is looking for in this area.
(1) Know the Mass. Surely, all music ministers know (or at least should know) the general parts of the Mass. Yet, maybe–through additional training, courses, retreats, lectures, workshops, homilies, etc.–they can come to a more accurate and profound understanding of the Mass so that the musical selections flow from an intense awareness of the movement of the liturgy. After all, don”t we expect the team organist to be fully “into” the game?
(2) Honor the Tradition. The easiest thing for the team organist is to fall back on songs that everyone knows and likes to hear at sporting events. These songs have multi-generational appeal and encourage everyone to sing along. Musicians are creative by nature, and they naturally want to try new and innovative things. Yet, they have to respect the fact that many decisions have already been made for them (e.g., “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in the seventh inning). Similarly, the Holy Mass is not generally the time for musical innovation–especially if it”s to the detriment of our rich liturgical tradition, including the Gregorian chants, which Vatican II especially singled out as having “pride of place” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, nos. 114-16).
Traditional hymns like “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” (Advent), “For All the Saints” (All Saints Day), “Crown Him with Many Crowns” (Christ the King), “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today” (Easter), “The Glory of These Forty Days” (Lent), or “At That First Eucharist” (Corpus Christi), just to name a few, are time-tested and, if executed well, help the faithful enter into the theme of the day or season.
I will say that Christmas is the one day everybody seems to get right. Could you imagine going to Midnight Mass on Christmas and hearing only one or two songs you recognize? Thank God for classics like “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “Joy to the World,” which are such an integral part of the liturgical celebration of Christmas.
(3) Ease in Newer Music. At football games, we do hear some newer music. However, new music isn”t introduced at the game. Rather, if a song has become a big hit or was sung on American Idol, only then do they consider using it, because only then does it have sufficient familiarity and widespread appeal among the fans.
If there”s a beautiful new hymn we want to introduce, let”s teach the faithful before Mass and use it with some regularity so that it becomes familiar to all of us. Note to music minister: The fact that a new hymn is in the Music Issue of the missalette does not mean it”s beautiful. It simply means that it”s in the Music Issue!
Now, on this point there is a significant difference between the approach for football music and for liturgical music. Football music is catering primarily to emotions, and we”re looking for songs that are popular for their own sake. Liturgical music does not ignore the emotions, but it also must engage the whole person, including one”s thoughts and the exercise of one”s will, so as to elevate the soul. Some new liturgical music selections may be “catchy” and become familiar through (over)use, but that”s not the measuring rod for excellence in liturgical music.
Thank you for letting me get all this off my chest–I feel much better! God bless all of you as Christmas approaches. And may all your Christmas liturgies be “joyful and triumphant”!
Today”s Gospel, the first part of the event commonly known as the “Visitation” (Luke 1:39-45), is very familiar to most Catholics. It”s read a few times during the year at Mass, and of course it”s one of the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary.
Sometimes we hear a passage over and over again, and it can be a challenge to open our minds and hearts to allow the Holy Spirit to give us new insights.
In hearing this Gospel anew today, I was struck by how much we should be devoted to our Blessed Mother, especially on Christmas.
When Elizabeth greets Mary, John the Baptist leaps for joy in his mother”s womb at the sound of Mary”s voice (vv. 41, 44). After all, Mary has brought Jesus to him! (The best baby shower gift of all time!) But there”s more.
All Scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit. Even more, Scripture says that Elizabeth was “filled with the Holy Spirit” when she cried out: “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb . . .” (vv. 41-42). When we turn to Our Lady, when we pray the “Hail Mary,” we are simply making our own the doubly inspired words of Elizabeth.
Okay, but enough already, right? Perhaps we’2012-04-24 18:32:40′re a little hesitant or unsure about turning to Mary. But what were the next words out of Elizabeth”s mouth? She said, And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Instead of obsessing over whether she should make such a fuss about Mary, she does pretty much the opposite: She marvels at the great honor bestowed upon her that Mary would actually come to her.
Mary wants to come to each one of us this Christmas, as the definitive bearer of our long-awaited Savior. Let us run to greet her, and leap for joy in the presence of the Gift she has brought to the world, the Gift that, as the saying goes, is the “reason for the season.”