A Feast that is Missing in Action?

Today (January 1st)  we celebrated  the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.  In the past we celebrated the Feast of the Circumcision of the Lord, a Feast that is currently missing in action. We can discuss that in a moment.

But as for the Feast of Mary Mother of God, it is a great opportunity for us to reflect on who Jesus Christ is. Mary is Mother of God because Jesus is God. Some may want to argue that she only gave birth to his human nature and hence is only mother of what is human in him. But Jesus is ONE PERSON with two natures. This is something called in theology the “hypostatic union” and it is an essential teaching of Christ. He unites in one person the human nature and the divine nature. There are not two Jesuses. Neither is it true that his divine nature came upon him at a later time such as his baptism. No, his two natures were united in his one person from the moment of of his human conception. And since Jesus is one, Mary gives birth and is mother to the whole Christ. Mary is Mother of God because Jesus is God. This title was given to Mary at the Council of Ephesus in 431 in defense of Christ’s divinity. The Greek form of this title is Θεοτόκος (Theotokos) translated more literally as “God Bearer.”

Evidence for the celebration of this feast goes back in the Roman Church all the way to the 7th Century. Prior to that there is evidence of this feast being celebrated in other parts of Europe but usually on the Fourth Sunday of Advent. By the 13th and 14th Centuries However the Feast of the Circumcision of the Lord came to replace this feast, and the Feast of Mary Mother of God was eventually moved to October 11th and renamed the feast of the “Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.” Just after Vatican II The more ancient Feast of Mary Mother of God was restored to January 1st.

That said, and as much as I love the Blessed Mother and affirm her under this proper title, I regret the loss of the Feast of the Circumcision. I generally prefer to stick as close to the Biblical narrative as possible. In this case Scripture is clear, on the eighth day (i.e. January 1st for us), Jesus was Circumcised and his name given. Three important truths and events are celebrated here. First that Jesus was born under the law and submitted himself to it so that he might fulfill it. Secondly there is the first shedding of blood, and this refers to the passion. Thirdly his name is announced: Jesus, a name which means “God saves.” There is no other name given to men by which we are to be saved, there is no other blood that can atone for our sins than the blood of Jesus and there is no one who can fulfill the Law as Jesus does. It seems a bit of a loss not to explicitly celebrate these events in Jesus life and these truth about him on the very day (the eighth day) they happened.

You may wish to dispute this regret of mine and I hope you will use the comments section to advance your points. Obviously the Church has decided to return to the more ancient observance of Mary Mother of God and so this is out of my hands. But I thought it might be appropriate at least give a nod to the Feast of the Circumcision.

I suppose if I had it my what here is what I would do:

  1. Celebrate the Feast of Mary Mother of God on the Sunday Between Christmas and January 1st.
  2. Move the Feast of the Holy Family to the Sunday after Epiphany (where it used to be before 1968). In fact, I would also like to say that the Feast of the Holy Family is rather confusing where it currently is since most the Gospel most years is of the Finding of Jesus in the Temple when he was 12 years old. So, suddenly after Christmas he is 12, and then at Epiphany, days later he is back to being an infant. A little confusing. So this Feast seems better celebrated after Epiphany as a kind of bridge: Jesus at 12 years of age links the infant Chirst and the adult Christ as we return to Ordinary time.
  3. Restore the Feast of the Circumcision to January 1st.
  4. But nobody is asking me from Rome what I think!  🙂  So enjoy my “rant” for what it is, just a slight grief for a feast that is missing in action and a wish to tweek the Christmas calendar so it flows a little better.

For the record, it is still possible to celebrate the Feast of the Circumcision using the Old Latin Mass (Extraordinary Form). However even there, the prayers are a little unusual in that none of them mention the circumcision at all. Rather, they are prayers that focus on the motherhood of Mary. Only the Gospel mentions the Circumcision. Any way don’t fail to thank the Lord Jesus for accepting  humbly the obligations of the Law, shedding his first Blood and for revealing his precious and saving name!

Enjoy The Ave Maria by Rachmanivov on this Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.

15 Replies to “A Feast that is Missing in Action?”

  1. I could add to your rant, Monsignor, starting with the Slaughter of the Innocents only three days after Christmas. I suppose there might be some Paschal significance to that being on the third day, but the Gospel account has it occurring historically after the visit by the Magi. Which brings us to Epiphany, which is celebrated, not on Epiphany, but on a nearby Sunday. And then there is Ascension Thursday on Sunday. And so on.

    Personally, I too would like to have some day dedicated to the Circumcision of the Lord. Without such a feast day, it seems that any preaching/catechesis/instruction on the matter has almost totally evaporated. You mention “three important truths” regarding the circumcision of Jesus, but I would guess that there is probably an even deeper theology there. People would benefit, I would think, from a greater understanding of the theology of circumcision generally as the sign of the Covenant, as well as Jesus’ connection to and fulfillment of the Covenant with Abraham, et al. (as well as the Christian meaning of the Jewish Covenant). Likewise, I wonder if there is any significance or connection between the circumcision of Jesus (a/k/a Joshua in Hebrew) and the reinstatement of circumcision when the Israelites crossed over the River Jordan (where Jesus was baptized) into the Promised Land, under the leadership of Joshua (a/k/a Jesus in Greek), after the practice had been abandoned and the people had wandered in the desert for 40 years after being delivered from bondage in Egypt (Joshua 5:2-7)?

    Unfortunately, circumcision as the sign of the Covenant generally and the circumcision of the Lord specifically are not areas likely to be much explored now.

    But, then again, it would be nice if there were more exploration and a greater understanding of other Jewish roots, which I think would greatly enlighten and enhance our Catholic faith. (For example, the connection between the Eternal Light of Hannukah and the Eternal Light that is Jesus Christ.)

    1. Excellent reflections. I find nothing with which to disagree.

      Another puzzlement of the Christmas octave is the way it is filled with other observances not per se related to the Christmas celebration. e.g.: Stephen on Dec 26 which seems more of an Eastertide. Thomas Becket and John Apostle also layer things up. And, as you point out Holy Innocents celebrated before Epiphany. I get a lot of Liturgical whiplash during the octave not to mention that the Divine Office is a nightmare sometimes requiring a dozen page flips in Lauds and Vespers. I realize that these feasts are probably ancient in their placement and we should not easily discard millenia of practice but the overall experience is problematic to one who wants to stay focused on Christmas in some sort of consistent and logical way.

    2. I am with you 100%. I say gimmie that olé time religion in a Tridentine minute. By the by, restoration of the Leonine prayers must be included in that list as Well! Paul VI eliminated them in 1968. A decaf later I stated, “Satan has entered the Sanctuary.” So much for the apostasies and heresies that spewed forth from that little soirée I so quaintly refer to as Vatican Council II !

  2. I of course agree with you Monsignor that we need to restore the Circumcision of the Lord on Jan. 1. I would not, however, change the feast of Mary Mother of God, to the Sunday within the Octave of the Nativity. I would restore that feast to October 11. I like hearing about Simeon and Anna on the Sunday within the Octave of the Nativity.

    However, I think you post raises a much more important question and that is the fact that we do currently have two different calendars within the Roman Rite. It is quite unfortunate that we celebrate the feasts of different saints, or feasts like the Holy Family, on different days while in the same church building with the same priest saying Mass! It makes it very confusing for the faithful, harder on the Priests, and harder for the organist. Why can’t we just use the 1962 calendar across the board? Sure, this would require some revision to the missal to add Masses for Septuagesima, the Circumcision, and other feasts that aren’t currently celebrated under the new calendar, but it would be worth it to at least have one united calendar for the Roman Rite.

    1. Fair enough though we only hear of Simeon and Anna in the Ordinary Form on one of the three years So I guess we’d want to tweek the Lectionary too!

      As for having two calendars, it is a bugaboo to some extent. I suppose your solution is one but also one that would be resisted by many precisely because it IS 1962. In a way we actually have dozens of calendars in operation in the Roman Rite due to the many variations observed by Reliogious Orders and also local custom. Right now options and variations in the Roman Rite seem to be proliferating. On the one hand I like diversity, on the other I have concerns of balkanization. Not sure where to draw the line and unify things a bit.

  3. If Rome doesn’t ask your opinion, Msgr. Pope, I doubt they’d care for that of a Lutheran, particularly one who is unsuccessfully stifling an urge to make a smart-aleck remark about the number of men likely to attend Mass on a Feast of Circumcision. I’ll spare you the comment but will direct it instead to my husband when he returns from his errand to Home Depot. He likely has never heard of this Feast given that it was cut (sorry, couldn’t resist) when he was a toddler.

    Humor aside, I agree with your suggestions and with Bender’s insight that a restored Feast of Circumcision on January 1st is an opportunity to illustrate Jesus’s connection to and fulfillment of God’s promise to the Israelites and the connections between the Jewish and Christian faiths. I would add that this Feast also is an opportunity to illustrate the connections between the Old and New Testaments. The prophecies and storylines in the OT set the stage for Christ’s arrival and ministry; being unaware of how the OT leads to the NT is like walking into a movie theatre halfway through a film. One isn’t likely to fully grasp the plotline.

  4. I don’t know exactly how long the Octave feasts have been where they are, but as an Anglo-Catholic preparing to join the Roman Church I can say a couple of things. First, the feasts of S. Stephen, Deacon and Martyr, S. John the Evangelist, and Holy Innocents have fallen on their current dates since at least 1662.
    Secondly, I will miss the feast of the Circumcision of Christ when I finish “conversion”. Aside from all the reasons that have been mentioned by you Father and Bender, we need to understand circumcision to understand why we baptize babies. Furthermore, this feast day helps illumine why children are named at Baptism. But most importantly it is a reminder to all of us of what salvation ultimately cost Christ. The Circumcision while necessary wasn’t sufficient for the salvation of the world. The shedding of blood had to be coupled with the death of a willing and qualified victim. I think this feast day is an excellent opportunity to reflect on Circumcision as a pre-cursor of what was to come, but also to remember that the most precious Blood of Christ became effective only after his death and subsquent resurrection. (See: Hebrews 9:15-17)

  5. Bravo, Cynthia! I did resist the urge – actually, I was too cowardly to joke about it so I’m glad you did. 🙂

      1. I waited until dinner to bring up the topic of the Missing Feast (I thought distracting my husband while he was using a table saw to be NOT a good idea). *sigh* I didn’t get nearly the reaction for which I’d hoped. I thought at the very least our 8yo daughter would want an explanation of “circumcision” but she was too focused on the meatballs.

  6. Cynthia – I think when subjects like this come up, men tend to think of Lorena Bobbitt, so I’m not real surprised your husband didn’t react much.

    Someone else here did though – he knows who he is. 🙂

  7. There seems to be some confusion on the Feast of the Circumcision. Although John XXIII renamed it the Octave Day of Christmas, he changed nothing in the Mass of 1 January. So, yes, Monsignor, the oldest propers in the traditional Latin Mass that day (the collect and postcommunion) reference Mary, Mother of God. BUT, the Gospel (which defines the day, no?) is Luke 2:21 (yes, a mercifully short post New Year’s Eve Gospel!) on the cicumcision.

    Therefore, the solution to all of these problems is to only offer and hear the traditional Latin Mass, following the calendar of 1962 with no exceptions. (In fact, there were three traditional Latin Circumcision Masses in the Archdiocese of Washington on Friday, and at least five in the Diocese of Arlington.)

    I’ve done this for over 15 years and my spiritual — and physical — health is better off as a result.

    1. One also has the option of attending an Eastern Catholic Liturgy. The day after Christmas is devoted to the Mother of God. The Circumcision is on January 1. Epiphany (Theophany) is on January 6. All are considered Holy Days with Theophany being a day of obligation.

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