Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Holy Mother of God or The Circumcision

I was amused when a retired priest, who came to celebrate this morning, wished me "a Happy Secular New Year" this morning. He was of course mindful that the Church's New Year began on 1st Sunday of Advent. Of Course in England the New Year used to begin on the Feast of the Annunciation, which is the original feast of Mary's Motherhood. I am sure someone will know when it the 1st of January became widely recognised as New Years day.

Up until recently today's feast had the title of the "The Circumcision of the Lord", it must have been incredibly embarrassing for nuns to explain to little girls, but today it seems a shame that we do not remember this very Jewish aspect of the Lord's life, such glorious material to preach on, especially when according to the Jewish Council of great Britain there is a rise of anti-semitism in Europe and the US.

The Circumcision reminds us of the very Jewishness of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, of the importance of Jewish ritual and Law in his life. As lovely as it is to think of the Blessed Virgin as Mother of God, Theotokos, earlier title of the Feast gives us an great deal of catechetical material. I have no knowledge of why this feast's name should be changed but it does seem paradoxical that it should happen after the Council which called us to be ever more conscious of the Jewish origins of our faith.


Dr. Peter H. Wright said...

Ah, a very useful post.

I was recently researching the title of the Feast on this date.

It is not totally surprising that the reformed calendar dropped the Feast of The Circumcision from this date.

The Circumcision appears to have been celebrated only since medieval times, and the reformers were rather enthusiastic about removing what they called "medieval accretions".

The Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God is surely influenced by Eastern tradition, but the Byzantines celebrate this Feast on the very first day after the Feast of the Nativity, i.e. 26 December.

Of course, this Marian Feast is profoundly Christological which perhaps explains its celebration on the Octave day of Christmas, when we can ponder anew the Birth of Christ.

As Fr. Ray's guest aptly points out, 1 January is the beginning of the secular New Year.

It is better to honour Mary the Theotokos on this day than to celebrate the pagan New Year.

Of course, it is important to meditate on the part played by Mary in the Incarnation, and this appears to be the thinking of Paul VI in "Marialis Cultus" (1974).

The Proper of the Mass for this Feast dwells not only on Mary as the Mother of Christ, the Son of God, but also on her co-operation with the Holy Spirit.

She is thus described as "an authentic icon of the mystery of the Holy Trinity".

Of course, the "old" Missal still follows the old calendar, so that 1 January still is celebrated as the Feast of the Circumcision.

Perhaps the safest thing to say is not "A Happy Secular New Year" and certainly not "A Happy Pagan New Year", but "A Happy Feast Day".

Happy New Year.

The Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God

Moretben said...

The Circumcision appears to have been celebrated only since medieval times

The Byzantines also celebrate the Feast of the Circumcision today.

Dr. Peter H. Wright said...

Moretben, you're quite right !

Unless they still use the Julian calendar, in which case they would celebrate the feast on 14 January.

gemoftheocean said...

Dr. Peter has a very interesting comment.

For what it's worth Fr. Ray, re: what circumcision meant, it was the sort of thing that went over our heads at the time. I remember looking up that particular word when I was nine or so, and right after that I looked up the word "foreskin."

As far as I remember, I kept the "secret" to myself.

I do remember thinking the same re: it being good to know about the Jewish customs, calendars, etc. When I was teaching 6th graders (aged 11 or so) their CCD classes back in the 1970s, and early 80s, I remember going over to one of our local Orthodox synagogues and gettting some of the simple instructional material they used for their young children explaining the feasts etc. They were glad I took an interest...and our kids got something out of it too, I hope!
[The text books at that time were exceedingly lame, so I brought in a lot of extra material where I felt their books lacking.]

Re: "circumcision" I wussied out and I don't recall mentioning that particular custom - they'd changed the calendar by then anyway. Though I think had I been asked by 11 year olds I would have just said simply what it was... had I had the 8 years olds back then, I'm not sure what I would have said! Probably something like "ah--well, my dear, here's a dictionary, what do we do when we don't know a word?"

As regards the calendar, to quote from Roman Civilization Sourcebook I, The Republic, edited by Lewis & Reinhold, under the section regarding the Julian calendar:

"..in 153 BC the beginning of the civil year was changed from March to January 1st (Praenestine Fasti, CIL, vol 1, 2nd edition, p. 231) "the new year begins, because on that day the magistrates enter office; this began 601 years after the foundation of the city"). But the discretionary power of the College of Pontiffs [not popes, mind! - kh] in regulating the calendar led, in the middle of the 1st century BC, to the manipulation of the calendar for political purposes. Since 58 B.C. there had been only one intercalation, with the result that the caledar got to be 90 days ahead of the solar year. In 46 B.C., "the last year of confusion," Julius Caesar, by virtue of his authority as pontifex maximus and dictator, increased the year to 445 days, adding 23 days after Feb 2, and 67 days after September 27. Thus by Jan 1, 45 B.C. , the calendar was in alignment with the solar calendar. Thereafter the intercalary month was abolished, a calendar of 365 days was established by lengthening 7 months with an extra day or two and provision was made for an extra "leap year" day to be added every fourth year between the 23rd and 24th of February. This Julian Calendar is essentially our calendar of today."

The book I acquired while in college taking some class or other. I didn't appreciate it at the time, particularly, but I've found it quite useful here and there over the years!

Partly those damn lawyers! Even then. Apologies to digi if she's reading this.


Dr. Peter H. Wright said...

I'm told the Russian Orthodox Church still uses the Julian calendar, which means it will celebrate Christmas on 6 January 2008.

It will celebrate The Circumcision on 14 January 2008.

(This is also the Feast of St. Basil the Great.)

Apparently, on this date the Church will also celebrate New Year.

However, the Russian state has used the modern calendar since 1918

So, the state celebrates New Year on 1 January, while the Church celebrates New Year on 14 January.

The latter date is known as Old New Year (no, I'm not joking).

It is observed not only in Russia, but also in several Orthodox countries : Serbia, Macedonia, etc., but is less prominent than New Year.

Incidentally, some Orthodox Churches have adopted the modern calendar, but rather than acknowledge the Gregorian calendar introduced by the Pope, they call it the revised Julian calendar.

Confused ?

So am I.

Happy New Year (I think)

Andrew said...

The Eastern Churches still celebrate this very biblical feast (cf Luke 2:21). This is also the day a Jewish child would be formally named and the Christ child received the name Jesus as the Gospel according to Luke tells us.

It's terrible that the modernizing post-Conciliar Church, in trying to promote ecumenism, would supplant this common feast of East and West, a feast of so venerable and specifically biblical a lineage with a made up one. Such arbitrary actions widen the rift between Rome and the Eastern Churches and serve to underscore how at the flick of a pen, the Roman Pope can cast away millennia of Church Tradition. In what way would the supreme power of the Roman Pontiff be made more manifest than in this, the alteration of Tradition and the Liturgy? Can the East be faulted for being wary of Roman power after exercises such as these?

Rubricarius said...

Several points:

1) The Circumcision (renamed Octave Day of the Nativity in the 1962 Missal) has texts which are very Marian - e.g. the collect Deus, qui salutis. The Byzantine tradition has the Synaxis of the Mother of God on December 26th as has been pointed out. I don't think the reanaming of the feast is really a serious damage to ecumenical relations as some comments suggest.

2) Originally there were two closely related sets of texts one for the Octave Day and one for a feast of the Mother of God. Early medieval sources often give both e.g. as in the HBS edition of the Missal of Robert of Jumieges.

3) The Russian Church does not celebrate Christmas on January 6th. It, along with other Christians using the Julian Calendar keeps Christmas on December 25th which is the secular January 7th.

4) Some Christians do keep 'Christmas' on January 6th, its ancient date e.g. the Armenians. Theophany celebrates both what we would call Christmas and Epiphany before the separation and development of two, distinct, feasts. The Julian Calendar Armenians in the Holy Land (if Israel hasn't blown them all up) celebrate their Theophany of course on January 19th.

Rubricarius said...

Sorry, one more point.

The Russian Church celebrates New Year in September.

The practice of calling tomorrow 'New Year's Day' is a pagan Roman practice after the God Janus who had two heads and could look both forwards and backwards. Hence the month January.

As December, from basic etymology, is the tenth month and the year has twelve clearly the first month is March.

O for wholesale return of celebrating the New Year on March 25th! I always do but wonder how many other people do.