Feasts around Christmas

29 Dec, 2018 | Christmas, News

In the season of Christmas we celebrate many feast days but what do they mean? The feasts often focus on biblical events, such as the Holy Innocents and also on the family and the importance of family for all of us.

Wednesday 26th DecemberSt Stephen the first martyrclick here for more information.

Thursday 27th DecemberSt John, Apostle Evangelistclick here for more information.

Friday 28th DecemberThe Holy Innocents – The Holy Innocents are the children who were slaughtered at the orders of King Herod, in the hope that by killing every boy born in Bethlehem at the same time as Jesus, he would succeed in killing the new-born King of the Jews.  There was nothing about those baby boys that made them deserve death. Look at any one of them, and you can see that he had no chance to do anything, or be anyone, or become anyone. He had done nothing. He had done nothing bad, he had done nothing good. He was born, and then he died, and that was all there was to him. So passive are these babies that some people find it hard to understand how they can share the title of “martyr” with people like St Stephen (the day before yesterday), who insisted on preaching the truth until his hearers stoned him for it, or St Thomas Becket (tomorrow), who insisted on living the truth until his king had him killed because of it. These children did not insist on anything except their mothers’ milk; and unlike Stephen and Thomas, there was no voluntary act of theirs that we can see as making the difference between being martyred and not being martyred.  So in our rational human terms these children are a puzzle, and that is one reason why God has inspired the Church to celebrate this very feast – to show us how inadequate our seemingly rational, worldly-wise thoughts are. As he reminds us again and again throughout salvation history, his thoughts are not our thoughts. Babies may not rank high on the scale as far as our human calculus is concerned; but then neither do sparrows, and yet God has told us that God sees and counts every one of those.  The Holy Innocents can stand, therefore, for the “unimportant” and “unnecessary” pawns, child and adult alike, that permeate the whole of human history, the ones who can be sacrificed for some greater cause because they “don’t really matter”; the eggs that were broken to make an omelette… or even broken to make nothing at all. There are plenty of them, one way or another. The feast of the Holy Innocents reminds us that in God’s eyes (that is, according to the true value of things), no-one is unimportant, no-one is unnecessary, no-one “doesn’t really matter.” However meaningless their lives and deaths may seem to us, they shine glorious in heaven.  On a more personal level, the honour given to the Holy Innocents reminds us that if we suffer or even die for God’s sake, it has value even if we have little or no say in it ourselves. Honouring them effectively honours also the martyrdom of the people these children could have become, and their children’s children as well; and at the same time we can remember the contemporary and continuing massacre of those who die before birth for the convenience of those who have them killed.

Saturday 29th December St Thomas Beckett, Bishop – He was born in London and became a close friend of King Henry II. He was only a deacon when he was appointed chancellor of England. When he was ordained as archbishop of Canterbury, he underwent an abrupt conversion of life and began to defend the Church’s rights against the king. He had to take refuge in a French monastery for six years, and when he returned to his diocese four knights, inspired by careless words from the king, assassinated him in his cathedral on 29 December 1170. He was immediately acknowledged as a martyr and the king later did penance and endowed his shrine. He is remembered for his courage in defence of the rights of the Church.

Sunday 30th DecemberThe Holy Familyclick here for more information.

Tuesday 1st JanuaryMary Mother of Godclick here for more information.

Wednesday 2nd JanuarySt Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen, Bishops – Basil was born in 330 at Caesarea in Cappadocia, of a Christian family. A brilliant scholar and a virtuous man, he started by becoming a hermit but was made bishop of Caesarea in 370. He fought against the Arians and wrote many notable works, in particular the monastic rule that bears his name and which many monks in the East follow to this day. He was also generous to the poor. He died on 1 January 379. Gregory was born in 330, near Nazianzus. He travelled widely in search of knowledge. He followed his friend Basil into the wilderness, but he too was ordained and later made a bishop. He was elected Bishop of Constantinople in 381 but because of the factional fighting within the Church he retired to Nazianzus, where he died on 25 January 389 or 390. He is known as “Gregory the Theologian” in honour of his learning and eloquence.

Thursday 3rd JanuaryThe Most Holy Name of Jesus – The feast of the Holy Name of Jesus has been celebrated in the Roman Catholic Church, at least at local levels, since the end of the fifteenth century. The celebration has been held on different dates, usually in January, because 1 January, eight days after Christmas, commemorates the naming of the child Jesus; as recounted in the Gospel read on that day, “at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.”[ Medieval Catholicism, and many other Christian churches to the present day, therefore celebrated both events as the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ, usually on 1 January. Bernardino of Siena placed great emphasis on the Holy Name, which he associated with the IHS Christogram, and may be responsible for the coupling of the two elements.

Sunday 6th JanuaryThe Epiphany of the Lordclick here for more information.

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