Saturday, December 17, 2011

Happy Holidays

The “Christmas wars” seem to have died down a bit in recent years, but there are still shots fired and plenty of smoke. The “Christmas wars” refer to the tug-of-war between those who want to keep Christ as the “reason for the season” and those who prefer to completely secularize it.

The “wars” have seen such things as law suits over manger scenes in public places, calling the Christmas tree a “Holiday tree”,  foregoing the word Christmas altogether for the likes of “Holiday Season” or “Yule”, and the battle over whether to say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”.

I prefer to say the latter (Happy Holidays) for a very simple reason: I’m Catholic. The Catholic season of Christmas begins with Christmas, not ends with it. And one of the things I greatly enjoy is wishing people a Merry Christmas throughout the whole Christmas season which continues for many days after Christmas.

So prior to Christmas I wish people “Happy Holidays” because I want to save my “Christmas” greetings for the real Christmas season, not the shopping one. Actually, for Catholics, I prefer to greet people in the four weeks prior to Christmas with “A blessed Advent to you”.

Since 1970, the Catholic Christmas season or “Christmastide” runs from the Christmas Vigil Mass (December 24) to the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which is the first Sunday after the Epiphany. Prior to 1970, Christmastide would run through to Septuagesima Sunday which was the third Sunday before the first Sunday of Lent.

Traditionally, of course, there are the Twelve Days of Christmas or Yuletide, the period between Christmas and the Epiphany. One of my great ambitions in life is to restore this period as one continuous period of feasting and merrymaking as it was in the Middle Ages. Just think of it: twelve days of non-stop Christmas climaxing on the Feast of the Epiphany. Wow! They sure knew how to party back then.

And why not? Liturgically it’s the Catholic thing to do! Sadly, by buying into the “Thanksgiving to Christmas” version of the Christmas season and giving only nominal recognition to the penitential season of Advent, we cheat ourselves of the fullness of the true Christmas Season and join “the world” in ending Christmas on Christmas.

And then we wonder why so many of us experience post-Christmas depression. We’re depressed because the Holy Spirit wants to “party” (as per the liturgical calendar) and we have joined “the world” and disinvited ourselves to the feast.

As a kid, I used to feel sorry for the children of other families who threw their tree out with the other Christmas trash on December 26. I remember riding my bike through the neighborhood, seeing those poor, lonely trees, with but a few pieces of tinsel left on them, unceremoniously laying on their sides next to the trashcans on the curb, and giving thanks that I was a Catholic because we always kept our tree up, in its full celebratory glory, until January 6, a tradition that I have kept with my own family.

Certainly, the Christmas Season is kept in our Catholic churches as per the liturgical calendar. The propers of the Mass continue to reflect the Incarnation and our manger scenes remain in place until the first Sunday after the Epiphany, but most of us have mentally and spiritually just gone back to work and don’t think of saying Merry Christmas until next December.

It’s probably too late to do it this year, but perhaps next year we Catholics can help restore the true Christmas Season by scheduling our Christmas parties during the true Season of Christmas and not during Advent. Maybe Christmas wouldn’t be so “hectic”. Meanwhile, it’s not too late to wish others a Merry Christmas, or even a Happy, Holy Christmas, all the way to the first Sunday after the Epiphany. And keep your trees up too!

On a related note, we Catholics should start a campaign to keep the “Mass” in Christmas. Keeping “Christ” in Christmas is a popular theme among Christians of all stripes, but that’s only half the word. Christ is kept in Christmas uniquely and especially at Mass: Christ’s Mass. Just as there is no Christmas without Christ, there is no Christmas without Mass.

But of course non-Catholic Christians do not have a “Mass” to go to. They may go to church, but Mass is quite a different matter. The Mass is where we respond to Christ’s command to “do THIS in memory of me”. No one else does that.

Oh, and one more thing. While I say “Merry Christmas” I mean “Mary” Christmas, without whom there would have been no Christ’s Mass. Well, Mary Christmas.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Fr. Eric's Commentary on the 3rd Sunday of Advent

Although Advent is a penitential time, since we must always keep in mind that Christ was born in order to save sinners, the birth of Christ is less a sorrowful event (when compared to the passion of Christ which we celebrate in Lent/Passiontide) and so therefore Advent does not have the same penitential note as Lent does.  Still, we are happy that, by the third Sunday of Advent, the preparatory period is more than half over.  We inject a little joyful white to the sorrowful purple, and a rose color emerges, which is the color of today's vestments.  Flowers are allowed on our altars on Gaudete Sunday, as well as the playing of the organ.
This Sunday's orations and lessons are short and focused : someone great and awesome is coming to be with us very soon.  He will bring to us redemption and salvation.  Therefore, rejoice!  Guadete!  The thrust of this Sunday's liturgy is to fill us with excitement and joy!
INTROIT : The exhortation that we should rejoice always is not just meant for the Advent and Christmas season, but for all times.  Christ is always coming to us - in many ways, but above all through Holy Mass.  In Holy Mass He comes to us as the Word made Flesh as the bread and wine are consecrated and changed into His Body and Blood.  Christ comes to save us from our sins and our crosses by either removing our crosses or by making the cross (if we cooperate) a means of grace, wisdom and virtue.  Therefore, we should never be solicitous, overly anxious or disturbed by life's troubles, but rather present our needs to God who blesses our land and frees us from captivity.
COLLECT : The Collect admits that, even while we pray to God, we pray as blind people, with darkened minds.  We are like the blind man who, while in the state of blindness, cries out to Jesus asking for sight.  Though blind, we do "see" something crucial; that we are blind, that we need the Lord, that He can restore our vision and see the light.  As Christ said in John 9:40-41, "If you were blind, there would be no sin in that.  But 'we see,' you say, and so your sin remains."   Christ brings us light, and He is the light itself.  In Him, we see God; in Him we see the people we are meant to be.
EPISTLE : Is taken from the passage of Philippians that we heard in the Introit, with the additional verse speaking about the peace of Christ that we can have, a peace the world cannot give, as Christ Himself said.  It is the peace of the believer who, despite the storms of life, trusts in God's goodness.  Those in darkness see only the storm; those in God's light see God's goodness in the storm.
GRADUAL / ALLELUIA : God is both far and near; He is both the One who sits upon the Cherubim high above in heaven, and the One who leads Israel like a shepherd leads his sheep on earth.  He comes near to us, in order to lead us to where is far for us (heaven and the divine life).  Therefore we beg Him to stir Himself up and come (Alleluia).
GOSPEL : In the Gospel, it is St John the Baptist who is our Advent preacher, pointing out to us who is this great and awesome man who is about to appear.  In figurative language (sandal straps), John explains how inferior he is to Christ.  John baptizes with water; it is merely symbolic of the repentance he hopes men are making when they are baptized with John.  But Christ offers more than what man can obtain through their repentance; Christ baptizes with "fire and the Holy Ghost," as indicated in another passage.  Christ's baptism gives grace (fire and the Holy Ghost).  John can only prepare us for grace; it is Christ alone who can give us the grace.  This is the great and awesome man who is coming!
OFFERTORY : At the Offertory, we offer to God our bread and wine, our lives, our mixture of good deeds and the sins of which we repent.  We give to God our longings, our desires for grace and salvation.  What does God offer us?  He gives us a Savior who "blesses our land, turns away our captivity and forgives our iniquities."
SECRET : Why the Mass?  A pleasant, spiritual get-together?  No, Christ instituted the Mass; Christ gave It to us.  He has a reason for it; the perfect praise of the Father which His sacrifice gives, and the salvation of our souls, which we pray for and obtain through the constant offering of His sacrifice.
COMMUNION : We come to Mass with our troubles and concerns.  We feel weighed down by them and fainthearted.  But in Mass, Christ dies for us, pays the price, wins for us the graces, saves us from the tomb as surely as He rose from the grave.  In Mass, God "restores the joy of our youth," "qui laetificat juventutem meam."
POST-COMMUNION : Mass is not "our" getting together to be spiritually edified by what "we" do or by what a preacher or singer does.  Mass is what Christ does.  In Mass, He atones for our sins.  And, in so doing, during this Advent season, we are prepared for the feast of His birth.
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