Skip to comments.Catholic Caucus: The 16 Days of Christmas (Christmas to the Baptism of the Lord)
Posted on 12/25/2005 10:19:38 PM PST by Salvation
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The purest of Virgins gave us our God, who was this day born of her, clothed in the flesh of a Babe, and she was found worthy to feed him at her Breast: let us all adore Christ, who came to save us.
Ye faithful people, let us all rejoice, for our Savior is born in our world: this Day there has been born the Son of the great Mother, and she yet a pure Virgin.
O Queen of the world, and Daughter of a kingly race! Christ has risen from thy womb, as a Bridegroom coming from the bride-chamber: He that rules the stars lies in a Crib. Antiphon from the ancient Church of Gaul
Here are some suggestions on having the family dramatize certain parts of the Christmas story, such as the Wise Men's journey to Bethlehem, or the Shepherd's Mass.
There is another charming custom which by all means should not be forgotten on Christmas Day. This is the beginning of the Wise Men's journey to Bethlehem. The three kings start out separately in far countries, perhaps even in such remote places as the children's bedrooms. From there they continue to advance each day, assisted by the children, on their hazardous journey over bookcases and mantelpieces not forgetting their dramatic meeting in the hall about halfway to Bethlehem. At last, on Epiphany, they will arrive in all their splendor to pay homage at the crib.
At another time during the day, many families re-emphasize the central fact of Christmas by acting out St. Luke's Gospel. The living room becomes a stage with more imagination than effort and with a few odds and ends of material and old draperies the family and guests are transformed into the chosen group surrounding the Redeemer. Even the new Christmas dolls and animals can have parts to play.
The Gospel forms the basis of the play. One person reads the story slowly and with care while the others act what is being read. No one can lay down rules about how the actors should go about doing this. In one family the "cast" may like to mime the Gospel; in another, the narrator may be adept at spontaneous dialogue. Still others may like to work from a simple script, and for these, a short play is given at the end of this book. This play has been worked out with narration, dialogue and music chant selections for school production, familiar carol substitutes for the home. When done in the family, it is important to draw all present into the play. In this way, there will be no awkwardness because there will be no "audience" to satisfy. And then, those who join in will be able really to enter into the simple actions and to make an adoration of it.
For more ambitious families or parish and apostolic groups, effective prayer-dramas can be worked out on the whole history of salvation as the Church sets it before us in the Advent-Christmas liturgy. Beginning with the fall in Genesis, a script can be built around the great prophecies of Christ's coming, reaching a first climax in John the Baptist, and culminating in the Christmas and Epiphany texts from Mass and Office.
Activity Source: Twelve Days of Christmas, The by Elsa Chaney, The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN, 1955
St. Stephen's Day immediately follows Christmas, and the Church rejoices in this first testimony by blood to the fact of the Incarnation. Children love the Acts story about St. Stephen, who for love of God was stoned to death while praying for his enemies. It is also becoming a practice to pray particularly for our enemies, and it is appropriate to remember the persecuted Church throughout the world and all the people who, like Stephen, are being afflicted for their faith.
In some homes and communities a box is labeled and set beside the Christmas tree. Members of the family, in gratitude for their Christmas blessings, choose one of their gifts for the "St. Stephen's Box" clothing and other useful articles which are sent abroad to the poor or to a mission country.
"As the family gathers around the lighted Christmas tree in the evening to eat minced meat pie dessert, the mother or father reads the story of Good King Wenceslaus who "looked out on the Feast of Stephen" and who enjoyed eating his minced meat pie after sharing his meal with a poor peasant family. The story is delightfully told in More Six O'Clock Saints by Joan Windham, and can easily be acted out by the children. Afterwards all join in singing Christmas carols, especially "Good King Wenceslaus."
From Twelve Days of Christmas by Elsa Chaney, Liturgical Press.
Legend and Patronage of St. Stephen
The story of this saint can be found in the Acts of the Apostles (ch. 6 and 7). His feast was assigned to the day after Christmas because he holds a unique place among all the saints of the New Testament, having been the first martyr for Christ.
From early times, St. Stephen was venerated as the patron of horses. This patronage is probably based on the fact that in pre-Christian times horses were sacrificed at the winter solstice among the Germanic nations. Others use the fact that in medieval times 'Twelfth Night' (Christmas to Epiphany) was a time of rest for domestic animals, and horses, as the most useful servants of man, were accorded at the beginning of this fortnight something like a feast day of their own.
A poem of the tenth century pictures the saint as owner of a horse and relates how Our Lord miraculously healed the animal of the His beloved disciple.
In many rural sections of Europe, horses are still blessed in front of the church on St. Stephen's Day. In past centuries, water and salt, oats and hay were also blessed, to be kept by the farmers and fed to their horses in case of sickness.
St. Stephen's Horns from Central Europe (Podkovy) and Roast Suckling Pig (Maialino Arrostito), from Italy are some dishes to be served on this day.
From The Catholic Cook Book edited by William Kaufmann, pp. 73-75.
St. John the Apostle, is the disciple "whom Jesus loved". It is a custom in the old countries to drink of "St. John's Love". The Church provided a special blessing of wine in honor of the Saint. According to legend St. John drank a glass of poisoned wine without suffering harm because he had blessed it before he drank. The wine is also a symbol of the great love of Christ that filled St. John's heart with loyalty, courage and enthusiasm for his Master; he alone of all the apostles was not afraid to stay close to Our Lord during the Passion and Crucifixion.
St. John's wine, blessed by the priest or sprinkled with water by the father of the family, is served with the main meal. In Catholic sections of Europe, even the children receive a little sip of it after the main course of the dinner. The wine is poured in glasses and passed around to the family and guests. As each glass is given, say:
"I drink you the love of St. John."
Response will be "I thank you for the love of St. John."
The following prayer is said over the wine:
Leader: Our help is in the name of the Lord.
All: Who has made heaven and earth.
Leader: The Lord be with you.
All: And also with you.
Leader: Let us pray. Be so kind as to bless and consecrate with Your right hand, Lord, this cup of wine, and every drink. Grant that by the merits of Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist, all who believe in You and drink of this cup may be blessed and protected. Blessed John drank poison from the cup, and was in no way harmed. So, too, may all who this day drink from this cup in honor of Blessed John, by his merits, be freed from every sickness by poisoning and from any harms whatever. And, when they have offered themselves in both soul and body, may they be freed, too, from every fault, through Christ our Lord.
Leader: Bless, Lord, this beverage which You have made. May it be a healthful refreshment to all who drink of it. And grant by the invocation of Your holy name that whoever tastes of it may, by Your generosity receive health of both soul and body, through Christ our Lord.
Prayer Source: Feast Day Cookbook by Katherine Burton and Helmut Ripperger, David McKay Company, Inc., New York, 1951
Here are some ideas and suggested prayers for celebrating the feast day of the Holy Innocents.
Little ones have always held the center of the stage on the feast of the Holy Innocents, some crowned as kings, some as boy bishops, some in convent schools as superior this day; there were processions and games and feasts all to their choosing. Perhaps we know someone who has no baby and would like to borrow a "holy innocent." Big families with their wealth of babies might lend one to reign over childless households for a day.
In some places children were spanked to remind them of the sufferings of the Innocents. We do not do this, but we do tell the story of their martyrdom and the madman Herod who valued life so lightly that he could order the slaying of his whole family, even his three sons. So why not the sons of others? Why not, if necessary, the Son of God?
There was a saying: It is better to be Herod's pig than his son. As a Jew he could not eat pork; so he would not kill his pig.
Dom Chapman wrote with gentle humor: "I drank milk all day in honor of the Holy Innocents."
Charles Péguy writes in his Holy Innocents:
That name for which they died, they did not know. . . .
And after many more lines, plunging new thoughts about them, he says:
These Innocents hat simply picked up in the scuffle
The kingdom of God and eternal life. . . .
If you do not as yet have the custom, this is the day to begin the beautiful practice of blessing your children. There is a traditional Blessing of Children given by the priest in church on this day. If it is not a custom in your parish, perhaps it could become one if enough parents inquired about it. This is the way it reads in the new English Ritual [Editor's Note:: This is actually from the older version of the Roman Ritual. See the newer blessings.]
Let us pray. O Lord, Jesus Christ, Who didst embrace and lay thy hands upon the little children when they came to thee, and didst say to them: "Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs, and their angels always see the face of my Father," look with a Father's eye upon the innocence of these children and their parents' devotion, and bless them this day through our ministry. By thy grace and goodness let them make progress in desiring thee, loving thee, fearing thee, obeying thy commandments thus coming to their destined home, through thee, Saviour of the world, Who with the Father and the Holy Spirit livest and reignest, God, forever and ever. Amen.
For parents there is the beautiful blessing of children for use at home: "Bless you, my child, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." It is a custom to add some loving petition such as "and may you have a sweet sleep"; or if a child is sick, "and may you be better by morning"; or if a child is anticipating some special occasion, something like "and may you have a lovely feast day tomorrow."
The father or mother places one hand on each side of the child's head as the words are pronounced and accompanies the invocation of the Trinity by making the Sign of the Cross with the right thumb on the child's forehead. It makes a beautiful end to a day, and it is an added source of confidence when starting on a journey, off to school, before exams, to the doctor, to the dentist anywhere. Let us who are parents ask our parents to give us their blessing.
Activity Source: Year and Our Children, The by Mary Reed Newland, P.J. Kenedy & Sons, New York, 1956
The saints who are assigned immediately following Christmas are honored because of their special connection with Christ. December 29, the Feast of Saint Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, who was martyred in his cathedral by the soldiers of Henry II in 1170, is the true anniversary date of his death. Because of the great shock and sensation that this martyrdom caused at a time when all of Europe was Catholic, the Roman authorities, in the thirteenth century, deemed it appropriate to assign the celebration of his feast within the privileged days of Christmas week, thus adding him to the group of "Christ's nobility."
Carol singing from house to house is an ancient tradition in central Europe on the twelve nights between Christmas and Epiphany. The Poles call these nights the "Holy Evenings" (Stoiete Wieczory). Another widespread practice is the performance of religious plays portraying events of the Christmas story (such as the Nativity, the visit of the Magi, the flight into Egypt, and the massacre of Bethlehem). In southern Germany and Austria many such plays are still performed in rural communities. Among the northern Slavs (Poles, Ukrainians, Czechs, Slovaks) a puppet theater (szopka) is in vogue; its religious scenes alternate with secular dramatic exhibits. In the cities of Poland children put on Christmas dramas (jaselka). A similar performance (Bethlehemes jatek) is done by children in Hungary; a representation of the manger is carried from house to house, little dramatic plays are enacted and carols sung.
Today would be a good time to gather with family and friends enjoy some Christmas goodies and spend an evening singing Christmas carols.
The Church takes us today to Nazareth, into the blessed home that witnessed the Incarnation of the eternal Word in Mary's chaste womb. She shows us Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the Holy Family, the "blessed trinity" on earth, the first Catholic Church in which "through Him and with Him and in Him" all honor and glory was given to the Blessed Trinity above. "Blessed are they that dwell in Thy house, 0 Lord, they shall praise Thee forever and ever" (text from the old gradual)
The Gospel in Year C is from Luke, which describes the life of the Holy Family, a life of prayer, love and obedience. In holy fellowship the Three go to Jerusalem, to God's Temple, to sacrifice to the Most High, singing in their hearts: "One thing I have asked of the Lord, this will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life." This spirit of prayer and sacrifice they take back to their little home, preserve it until the day when they return to the Holy City to renew and deepen it.
Furthermore, the Gospel shows the holy love which unites Mary to Joseph and both to the divine Child. "Behold Thy father and I were seeking Thee sorrowing." A loving seeking of the Beloved! And how touching are the few but significant words: "And He was subject to them." The Son of God subject, obedient to Mary and Joseph!
The virtues reigned supreme in the first Christian home. There is mercy, benignity, humility, modesty and patience. But above all these things, there is charity, which is the bond of perfection. There the word of Christ dwells abundantly in all wisdom. There continuous thanks is given to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
A splendid pattern for everybody! "Truly to fathers of families, Joseph is a superlative model of paternal vigilance and care. In the most holy Virgin Mother of God, mothers may find an excellent example of love, modesty, submission of spirit and perfect faith. Whilst in Jesus, who was subject to His parents, the children of the family have a divine model of obedience which they can admire, reverence and imitate . . . The rich may learn that virtue is to be more highly esteemed than wealth. Laborers, and all who are seriously straitened by their slender means of subsistence, will not lack reason for rejoicing rather than grieving at their lot. In, common with the Holy Family, they have to work, and to provide for the daily wants of life" (from Leo XIII).
Lord help us "to order our lives after the example of the Holy Family, that with Jesus, Mary and Joseph we may obtain everlasting fellowship" (text from the old collect ). Adapted from Vine And Branches, Vol. One by Martin B. Hellriegel, ©1948, Pio Decimo Press.
Parents have the privilege of blessing their children. Today have a formal ceremony using the form from the Roman Ritual old form or from the Book of Blessings or from Helen McLoughlin's suggested prayers and blessings: Holy Innocents or Childermas Day: Parental Blessing of Children.
The family should take time especially today to pray together. The rosary, with the Joyful mysteries, is an excellent family prayer. If the family is too young to say the rosary, choose the Fifth Joyful Mystery, the Finding of Jesus in the Temple and talk out loud about this event with the Holy Family. Explain the cultural reasons why Jesus would be lost: the "family" traveling was the whole clan, and men and women would travel in separate groups, but the children would be free to be with either parent. Find out how many days' travel this would mean, on foot. What would they eat, where would they sleep, how do you think Mary and Joseph felt losing their Son? What is the significance of Jesus "listening and asking them questions"? What does it mean when he said "I must be about my Father's Business"?
An excellent book that meditates on the life of the Holy Family is Family for Families by Father Filas. Excerpts could be read aloud at the dinner table during the Christmas season.
Also the Prayer of Consecration of the Family to the Holy Family, Prayer of Parents for Their Children and Prayer to the Holy Family can be said on this feastday as a family.
Plan a family dinner, having all the family members getting involved. Each member can plan or choose a favorite dish (depending on the age). From Elsa Chaney's Twelve Days of Christmas comes the suggestion of a centerpiece made by "surrounding the Christ-Candle with smaller white candles representing the Holy Innocents. The number of small candles might be as many as there are children in the family. Each child is allowed to light one small candle from the flame of the Christ-Candle, signifying that inasmuch as he received his life from Christ, he will live and if need be die for Christ just as the Holy Innocents did."
Before or after dinner, have family activity such as games, movies or an outing (ice skating, sledding, walk outdoors). If you prefer to stay indoors try making popcorn balls, an activity that can get all hands involved from young to old.
Activity Source: Original Text (JGM) by Jennifer Gregory Miller, © Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005 by Jennifer Gregory Miller
Day Seven ~ Activities for New Year's Eve
The last day of the year is called "Sylvester" in Europe. This word is derived from the liturgical feast, celebrated on December 31, of St. Sylvester, pope and confessor, who died in the fourth century.
The end of the old and the beginning of the new year was, and still is, observed with popular devotional exercises. Special services are held in many churches on New Year's Eve to thank God for all His favors in the past year and to implore His blessings for the new one.
A distinctive feature of the traditional celebration of "Sylvester" is the feasting and merrymaking during the night, often combined with masquerades, singing, and noisemaking. This is a relic of the pre-Christian reveling in ancient Rome; its original significance was to salute the New Year and to drive the demons away.
The main item of Sylvester drinking is the punch bowl. Today we have quite a variety of punches. The modern form of punch originated in England in the early seventeenth century. It consists of alcohol, water, spice, sugar, fruit essence. The word seems to be an abbreviation of "puncheon," which was the name of the cask from which grog used to be served on English ships. For your celebration, make a bowl of your favorite punch, with alcohol or not, to share with your family and friends.
From The Catholic Cook Book, by William I. Kaufman, ©1965.
New Year's Eve: An Hour of Watching
For centuries the beginning of a new year has been the source of many customs and ceremonies in every land. We find the Druids with their boughs of mistletoe, the wassail bowl, the rauchnacht or incense night in Austria, the search for the elbetritch, the Roman celebrations in honor of the two-faced Janus, the etrennes of the Jour de l'An. When the Roman emperors were Christianized, they did not prohibit all the customs which came from pagan times, but an attempt was made to "baptize" them, or at least to avoid any superstitious practices among Christians.
The Church celebrates the octave of the Nativity and the Solemnity of the Mother of God on the first day of the year. As a loving mother, she recognizes that the first day of the civil year is a holiday in every land, and as a consequence has made this day a holyday of obligation, desiring that we bring our first thanksgiving and homage to God. May the New Year cause all men to remember that the precious gift of time which God has given us is to be used according to His divine providence in the attainment of eternity.
New Year's Eve, along with its innocent gaiety, is really a day for serious reflection. It is true that for the Christian the real beginning of the year takes place with the First Sunday in Advent, and the children should be taught to make their annual day of recollection before that Sunday, which celebrates the New Year of grace. However, on the eve of the civil New Year as well the children may join their parents in a holy hour, in prayer and thanksgiving for the gifts and benefits which God has given them in the past year, and pray for necessary graces in the forthcoming civil year.
Hospitality is a hallmark of the evening. Christmas spirit should embrace the aged, the stranger, the poor and the lonely. None should be excluded from the family festivities on New Year's Eve. The Chinese, who are particularly devoted to elderly members of the family, could be imitated in their respect and deference to the aged. Family spirit during this season shows love and kindness to the patriarchs and matriarchs of the family.
A serious note is added to the evening by an "Hour of Watching." The prayer hour should be carefully timed so that it reaches a climax at midnight. There is no better way to conclude the closing of the civil year and the opening of the New Year than by family prayer followed by midnight Mass. There should be contrition and thanksgiving for the past, and a prayer of peace and holiness during the oncoming year. The New Year hour of prayer should contain practically the same themes, concluding with the ringing of the bells and assistance at midnight Mass.
Many parishes offer a midnight Mass and sometimes serve a champagne breakfast afterwards. If no local parish offers an organized holy hour or midnight Mass, the family could assemble a half-hour or hour before midnight and pray together, perhaps a rosary, some meditations read out loud, and conclusion with the Act of Consecration of the Human Race. We are praying for peace and unity in our world, and for our church and civil authorities, and trying to make reparation for all the sins that are especially committed on this night of revelry.
End the Holy Hour and begin the new phase of our life by renewing the act of consecration of the human race to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This was first made by the great Pope Leo the XIII in 1899 and was intended to be a new "Covenant of Love" between the Heart of the Redeemer and the hearts of men. Let us offer it especially that there may be indeed "One flock and one Shepherd."
Adapted from True Christmas Spirit by Rev. Edward J. Sutfin, ©1955 and Twenty Holy Hours by Fr. Mateo Crawley-Boevey, SS.CC., © 1978.