When should Catholics take down their Christmas decorations?

Like anything else in the catholic church– thanks to nearly 2000 years of existence in time– there are traditional rules that govern when and how Christmas decorations should be taken down around the house. Typically on the Sunday between January 2 – 8 following the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God on January 1, the catholic church celebrates the solemnity of Epiphany. This is a celebration of the reign of Christ over all of mankind (traditionally focused on the subjugation of the Gentiles) and specifically the visitation to Christ by the Magi following His birth. Christmas itself is not just celebrated for one day within the catholic liturgical calendar, rather the celebration is called the Octave of Christmas and for eight days including the 25th the theme in the readings at Mass and the psalms during the Liturgy of the Hours remain the same, transfixed on the birth of Christ. The Octave comes to a close concurrently with the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God and the church then prepares for Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord (the first Sunday after 6 January).

Tradition across many catholic parts of the world dictate that Christmas decorations remain up until the eve of Epiphany. If one forgets to take down the decorations on this date, they must remain up through the week traditionally known as Epiphany-tide until Candlemas (this year, Sunday 12 January). It is certainly outside of tradition for catholics to take down their Christmas decorations before the end of the Octave of Christmas, which is probably why a secular tradition is to leave the lights up (and on) through to New Years. Because the celebration of a solemnity starts on sundown on the “day before” the actual liturgical date, the eve of Epiphany is tonight since tomorrow (Saturday evening) will be Sunday Evening I of Epiphany for the church. So if you’re a traditionalist (or desire to be) and can’t get to taking down the decorations tonight, you will have to leave them up until Candlemas on 2 Feb.

The Magi present gifts to the Lord while Mary and Joseph look on. (https://unsplash.com/photos/Y_XS34BFX00)

Traditions such as when to take down Christmas lights are not essential elements of the faith. That is something that needs to be made clear. Having local traditions around mundane things like Christmas decorations can have profound effect on living liturgically– that is, aligning your life with the seasons and celebrations of the Church. Since God came into the world, He who was when the world began, entered into time, and the Church continues to keep this time through her liturgical seasons and celebrations. As lay faithful we partake in this keeping of time when we attend Mass and memorialize different celebrations. We can also bring these liturgical themes into our daily lives through traditions that are rooted in the same manner of timekeeping. Praying the Liturgy of the Hours is a wonderful way, alongside attending Mass, to keep this time. But there are also a host of temporal ways that we can live liturgically and learning about and perhaps trying to follow traditions around things like Christmas decorations just might be the way for you and your family to experience the joys of Christmas and Epiphany-tide with greater joy and love of our Lord and Saviour.

All-powerful Father,
you sent your Son Jesus Christ to bring the new light of salvation to the world.
May He enlighten us with his radiance,
who lives and reigns with you and Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Featured image by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash.

St. Thomas Aquinas’ Prayer Before Mass

Do you have a ritual of preparation before mass? For some people fasting one hour prior to consuming the Body and Blood of Christ is important– however this traditional Roman Catholic observation has fallen out of practice among the vast majority of those attending mass regularly. Some people pray the Rosary either alone or as a group before mass. Others I’ve seen lighting votive candles for loved ones or specific prayer requests in and around the church.

In preparation for mass I like to pray St. Thomas Aquinas’ prayer before mass. I find that it has a very direct and almost hilariously blunt formula for preparation. Aquinas reminds us in the prayer that we come to mass a sick people, who are in need of the “physician of life” and his “fountain of mercy.” He then asks that such healing take place during the mass and goes on to request that his faith bring him salvation and not punishment when the day comes that he can look on Christ not through the veils of bread and wine but as Himself in glory.

Almighty and everlasting God,
behold I come to the Sacrament of Thine only-begotten Son,
our Lord Jesus Christ:
I come as one infirm to the physician of life,
as one unclean to the fountain of mercy, a
s one blind to the light of everlasting brightness,
as one poor and needy to the Lord of heaven and earth.

Therefore I implore the abundance of Thy measureless bounty
that Thou wouldst vouchsafe to heal my infirmity,
wash my uncleanness,
enlighten my blindness,
enrich my poverty
and clothe my nakedness,
that I may receive the Bread of Angels,
the King of kings,
the Lord of lords,
with such reverence and humility,
with such sorrow and devotion,
with such purity and faith,
with such purpose and intention
as may be profitable to my soul’s salvation.

Grant unto me, I pray,
the grace of receiving
not only the Sacrament of our Lord’s Body and Blood,
but also the grace and power of the Sacrament.

O most gracious God,
grant me so to receive the Body of Thine only-begotten Son,
our Lord Jesus Christ,
which He took from the Virgin Mary,
as to merit to be incorporated into His mystical Body,
and to be numbered amongst His members.

O most loving Father,
give me grace to behold forever
Thy beloved Son with His face at last unveiled,
whom I now purpose to receive
under the sacramental veil here below.
Amen

I like to end mass with St. Thomas’ prayer for the end of mass as well but that is a topic for another post. Let me know what sort of rituals or routines you have before you attend mass that you use as a means of preparation in the comment section!