I mentioned in passing last week that my paternal grandmother was on the brink of death. She took a turn the very next day and passed away surrounded by family. Thank you for your prayers: She will be buried on December 31.
These Seven Days…
…in the Ordinary Form
It is the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. The readings are Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14; Colossians 3:12-21; and Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23: The flight of the Holy Family to Egypt and their return to Nazareth. Augustine has a beautiful concise reflection on Herod’s reaction to Christ:
The miserable tyrant supposed that by the Saviour’s coming he should be thrust from his royal throne. But it was not so; Christ came not to hurt others’ dignity, but to bestow His own on others.
And Chrysostom draws a message for growing in holiness from the story:
See how immediately on His birth the tyrant is furious against Him, and the mother with her Child is driven into foreign lands. So should you in the beginning of your spiritual career seem to have tribulation, you need not to be discouraged, but bear all things manfully, having this example.
The Rest on the Flight into Egypt was a popular subject in art for centuries. Here are two curious examples: The only “nightscape” by Rembrandt, and a postcard-like representation by Luc-Olivier Merson.
Wednesday, January 1, is the Solemnity of of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Holy Mother of God. It is a Holy Day of Obligation, and the readings are Numbers 6:22-27, Galatians 4:4-7, and Luke 2:16-21. Here is Pope St. Paul VI on the institution of this feast in his Apostolic Exhortation Marialis Cultus (5):
In the revised ordering of the Christmas period it seems to us that the attention of all should be directed towards the restored Solemnity of Mary the holy Mother of God. This celebration, placed on January 1 in conformity with the ancient indication of the liturgy of the City of Rome, is meant to commemorate the part played by Mary in this mystery of salvation. It is meant also to exalt the singular dignity which this mystery brings to the "holy Mother...through whom we were found worthy to receive the Author of life." [From the Mass for the new feast.] It is likewise a fitting occasion for renewing adoration of the newborn Prince of Peace, for listening once more to the glad tidings of the angels (cf. Lk. 2:14), and for imploring from God, through the Queen of Peace, the supreme gift of peace. It is for this reason that, in the happy concurrence of the Octave of Christmas and the first day of the year, we have instituted the World Day of Peace, an occasion that is gaining increasing support and already bringing forth fruits of peace in the hearts of many.
The Feast of Mary’s Maternity had been celebrated in Portuguese territory on October 11 beginning in the eighteenth century. This feast was removed from the calendar in deference to this re-focusing of the January 1 celebration.
The Nativity, from the Menologion of Basil II, around the turn of the first millennium.
Thursday, January 2, is the Feast of St. Basil the Great. (The feast is January 1 and perpetually superseded by the Circumcision in the old calendar.) One of the most popular saints in the Christian East, Basil is experiencing a small renaissance in the West for his consistent and unyielding commitment to social justice (rightly understood) in his words and actions. Here’s the Catholic Encyclopedia:
While assisting Eusebius in the care of his diocese, Basil had shown a marked interest in the poor and afflicted; that interest now displayed itself in the erection of a magnificent institution, the … Basileiad, a house for the care of friendless strangers, the medical treatment of the sick poor, and the industrial training of the unskilled. Built in the suburbs, it attained such importance as to become practically the centre of a new city with the name of he kaine polis or “Newtown.” It was the motherhouse of like institutions erected in other dioceses and stood as a constant reminder to the rich of their privilege of spending wealth in a truly Christian way.
On the topic of the duties of the wealthy, Basil famously delivered these remarks, harrowing for all of us living in the comparative luxury of modern America:
Now, someone who takes a man who is clothed and renders him naked would be termed a robber; but when someone fails to clothe the naked, while he is able to do this, is such a man deserving of any other appellation? The bread which you hold back belongs to the hungry; the coat, which you guard in your locked storage-chests, belongs to the naked; the footwear mouldering in your closet belongs to those without shoes. The silver that you keep hidden in a safe place belongs to the one in need. Thus, however many are those whom you could have provided for, so many are those whom you wrong.
Read more on this topic in Basil’s “Sermon to the Rich.” We mark this feast, and in some extremely small way try to honor this legacy, by having each member of the family select a toy or article of clothing they like to give away. (This has the added benefit of clearing out the play areas a little bit after the influx of Christmas gifts…).
A fresco portraying Basil consecrating the gifts during the Divine Liturgy.
Saturday, January 4, is the Feast of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. The first person born in what is now the United States to be canonized, Elizabeth Ann Bayley was born into a posh Episcopalian family in New York City in 1774. She married William Seton in 1794, and the couple had five children while Elizabeth devoutly practiced her Episcopalian faith in her worship and in her charity.
She found the Catholic Church not in America but in Italy. She accompanied her husband on a trip to the Mediterranean seeking a more healthful climate, but he died in December, 1803. On the voyage, though, Elizabeth met and enjoyed the company of Italian Catholics, who introduced her to the Faith. She entered the church at St. Matthew’s, then the only Catholic church in New York City, and was confirmed by Bishop Carroll of Baltimore.
Elizabeth’s conversion cut her family off from the typical avenues of support for a widow, and she found stability by entering religious life and immersing herself in the charitable work of the Church. There, she dedicated herself to the education of the children of the poor, founding multiple schools and communities that spread around the continent. Along with St. Frances Cabrini, she is remembered as a founder of American Catholic education.
Elizabeth Ann Seton, looking regal, before her conversion and entrance into religious life. An old priest friend from Philadelphia once told me of a regional addendum to grace before meals: “Mother Seton, keep us eatin’.”
…in the Extraordinary Form
It is the Sunday within the Octave of Christmas. The Epistle is Galatians 4:1-7 and the Gospel is Luke 2:33-40, in which we hear the words of Simeon to Mary:
Behold this child is set for the fall, and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted; And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that, out of many hearts, thoughts may be revealed.
Regarding the language of resurrection, St. John Chrysostom writes:
The resurrection is a new life and conversation. For when the sensual man becomes chaste, the covetous merciful, the cruel man gentle, a resurrection takes place. Sin being dead, righteousness rises again.
And the Venerable Bede writes on the second verse of Simeon’s prophecy:
But now even down to the close of the present time, the sword of the severest tribulation ceases not to go through the soul of the Church, when with bitter sorrow she experiences the evil speaking against the sign of faith, when hearing the word of God that many are raised with Christ, she finds still more falling from the faith, when at the revealing of the thoughts of many hearts, in which the good seed of the Gospel has been sown, she beholds the tares of vice overshooting it, spreading beyond it, or growing alone.
The Presentation, also from the Menologion of Basil II.
Wednesday, January 1, is the Feast of the Circumcision of our Lord and the Octave of the Nativity. It was and remains a Holy Day of Obligation; the Epistle is Titus 2:11-15 (borrowed from Christmas Midnight Mass) and the Gospel is Luke 2:21 (the same as the following day, the Holy Name). In the interest of time, and because the commentary is comprehensive but succinct, I will reproduce the St. Andrew Missal description of this feast in full:
This feast has a threefold object:
It is the Octave Day of Christmas; therefore the Mass is largely borrowed from those of Christmas.
It celebrates the divine Mother as well as her Baby, and constitutes the oldest feast of the Maternity of Mary. [Thus we can see how it became the solemnity of her maternity in the new calendar.] The prayers are taken from a special Mass in the honor of our Lady, which originally was celebrated at St. Mary Major; the Collect and Postcommunion have been borrowed by the votive Mass of the B.V.M. for this season.
The Gospel recalls the Circumcision of our Lord. As this is the first blood that the Saviour shed for us, the Church insists on the fact that our souls have been cleansed by this divine blood.
The Circumcision, also from the Menologion of Basil II.
Thursday, January 2, is the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. (The feast is January 3 in the new calendar.) This feast is traditionally pegged to the Circumcision because it was at that event that Jewish boys were given their names. The feast of of relatively recent vintage, with roots in the later Middle Ages (fifteenth century). The Catholic Encyclopedia remarks somewhat extravagantly that “it is the central feast of all the mysteries of Christ the Redeemer; it unites all the other feasts of the Lord, as a burning glass focuses the rays of the sun in one point, to show what Jesus is to us, what He has done, is doing, and will do for mankind.” This feast traditionally gives the entire month of January its devotional focus on Christ’s Holy Name.
Everyone likes J.K. Simmons.
Those Seven Days…
Pity the fool who stores up treasures on earth…
Traditions require real work to sustain. When we weary of the task, the Holy Spirit continues regardless: But it all works better when we cooperate with Him.
A shepherd and his flock.
Yeah, that’s my parish, nbd…
As for me…
This is the last edition of TSD I’m writing as an employee of EWTN Publishing. On January 1, I’ll be a freelance writer and editor and speaker and so on. I covet your prayers for this venture.
Did I miss something important? Get something wrong? Do you have ideas for how to improve These Seven Days? Drop me a line at email@example.com. This is a work in progress, and your feedback will help to make it the best it can be.
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