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.

Merry Christmas 2019

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.

Thou hast multiplied the nation, and not increased the joy: they joy before thee according to the joy in harvest, and as men rejoice when they divide the spoil.

For thou hast broken the yoke of his burden, and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, as in the day of Midian.

For every battle of the warrior is with confused noise, and garments rolled in blood; but this shall be with burning and fuel of fire.

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:2-6 (KJV)

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In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

The same was in the beginning with God.

All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

In him was life; and the life was the light of men.

And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.

The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.

He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.

That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.

He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.

He came unto his own, and his own received him not.

But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:

Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. John 1:1-14 (KJV)

Advent Week 4 – Love

We light the fourth Advent Candle for Love. A God who is love, who sent a Son that in the fullness of time would sanctify the entire world. A love of God that underpinned Mary and Joseph’s trust in one another and the Divine Will. And a love that sustains Christians all over the world as we prepare to celebrate the Incarnation and Birth of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. John 3:16 (KJV)

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God our Father,
you sent your Son
to free mankind from the power of death.
May we who celebrate in the coming of Christ as man
share more fully in His divine life,
for He lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Advent Week 3 – Joy

And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda; And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth. And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: And she spake out with a loud voice, and said,

Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord. Luke 1:39-45 (KJV)

We light the third Advent Candle for Joy. Joy that our God loves us so much as to send his only Son to save us from our sin. Joy that Jesus comes as the Messiah and is the Lamb of God, freely giving Himself for our salvation. And joy for the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven, when we will all come together in praise of our Lord.

Joy is much more than happiness but at the same time it is not an increase of happiness in any way. In fact, joy and happiness are two completely different things. Happiness can be achieved through many means. It can be achieved while doing good things and while doing bad things. This is why giving some money at Christmas makes us happy, and so does drinking a glass of fine whiskey. Getting rich and living comfortably can also make us happy. But none of these things on their own bring us joy. Happiness is fleeting, joy is everlasting. That is certainly a major difference between the two.

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Joy erupts when what makes us happy is coupled with satisfaction. And not the shallow satisfaction that is linked with gratification in our modern consumer culture, but the true satisfaction of a held need– not to be confused with desire. We have a need for food and sustenance, we feel a certain sense of joy when that need is met with good, healthy food and even better when that food is joined with good company. This is when two needs of ours are met, which is undoubtedly why food and company go hand in hand.

The baby John inside of Elizabeth leaped for joy at the presence of the Lord. This was because even the child John was aware of its purpose to herald the coming of the Lord to the people of Israel. He didn’t know in the sense of knowledge and being able to articulate it– that would be silly, he is a mere baby in a womb at this point. But his spirit is alive and it is in his spirit that we find the deep need for God that the presence of the Lord immediately fills. This filling of the deep spiritual need is what draws the baby to leap with joy inside of his mother.

We approach this Gaudet Sunday with our hearts, minds and souls transfixed on the joy that the Lord brings by His mere presence. We are reminded in the Gospel reading of Christ demonstrating that He is in fact the Messiah, the one spoken about by John, because of the things He has done– things we can all bear witness to ourselves. The joy that comes from Christ is rooted in His incarnation and presence here on Earth as man, that is the meaning of joy within the season Advent.

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for He has looked with favour on His lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is His Name. He has mercy on those who fear Him in every generation. He has shown the strength of His arm, He has scattered the proud in their conceit. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty. He has come to the help of His servant Israel, for He has remembered His promise of mercy, the promise He made to our fathers, to Abraham and His children for ever. Amen.

Reflections on Advent – Faith

Faith is probably one of the most used words in Christianity and also concurrently the least understood. It is also a word that is used in a completely different context and meaning within the secular world, and sometimes this different meaning bleeds into the Christian meaning. Faith, within the catholic faith, is much more than just belief in something that cannot be proven by science or our senses. Faith itself actually has two meanings within Catholicism; the body of faith (what we believe) and the act or virtue of faith (loosely, how we believe).

Faith begins with the fact that we all die, and that suffering is a part of our existence as human beings. Thomas Merton wrote that “we are not at peace with others because we are not at peace with ourselves. And we are not at peace with ourselves because we are not at peace with God.” The answer to understanding the purpose of death and suffering within life is faith, and specifically the catholic faith as a whole.

We have faith in a God who has not abandoned us in our sinful ways but has revealed Himself as the Creator of the Universe and who, out of love, gave His only Son for our sake. We have faith in the Gospel, the good news of humankind, that God came down from Heaven and died on a cross for our salvation– in order to break the bondage of darkness and death over our houses. We have faith in the Church, founded by Jesus, as a real presence of the Body of Christ here on earth. Deep down we are all afraid of suffering, being alone, not being understood, not being loved. And because we are afraid we sin and we disconnect ourselves from God who, through faith, can bring light to where there is darkness in our lives.

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The object of faith is that which God has revealed through Divine Revelation. Together this is collected in what the Holy Church calls the Deposit of Faith. We have faith that this knowledge is sacred and has been entrusted carefully to the Church in order to bring souls to God. Through the creeds, through our works and through the liturgy we proclaim and manifest that Deposit of Faith and partake in the salvation of the world. We do not “just believe”, we believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth…

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that “faith is a personal act– the free response of the human person to the initiative of God who reveals Himself” (CCC 166). This simple definition is why we light the Second Advent Candle for faith. Mary’s response upon being visited by the angel is an act of faith that is clear and obvious which is why the story is relevant almost two thousand years later, and certainly relevant during the Advent season of preparation. Mary as a virgin is biologically incapable of giving birth to a human being. Today we often like to look back at ancients as dull beings looking to the sky for the answers to everything, but rest assured they understood the basic mechanics of how each of them came into the world– it took a woman and a man having sex with one another. And Mary simply did not meet that criteria. Let alone the fact that the angel was telling her she would birth the Son of Man! It simply was not possible for any of it to happen.

But she does not argue. She does not ask questions or ask for time to deliberate. Her answer is clear and unequivocal, “be it unto me according to thy word.” Amazing. What faith, what response to the initiative of God. Faith was not a feeling for Mary, it was not something that depended on whether or not she woke up feeling pious that particular morning of the Visitation. Faith was much more than that to Mary and indeed to all faithful Christians.

There is an old Chinese story about Fact, Faith and Feeling that is entirely descriptive of my point here. While Fact, Faith and Feeling are walking together along the top of a narrow wall, Faith can ensure him and feeling stay steady as long as he keeps his eyes on Fact, but if Faith looks away from Fact and turns to Feeling, Faith and Feeling fall off of the wall (Fact never falls). It is a fact for Mary that all things are possible with God and therefore she has faith that what the angel is telling her will come true. That is Faith keeping an eye on Fact and leaving Feeling in the backseat– the only way they all stay on the wall.

This reflection is dedicated to the amazingly beautiful collections by Alex Markovichat at Glitchy Preacher. What an amazing window into a world almost utterly unknown to the rest of us, head over to Glitchy Preacher to learn more about Russia and marvel the amazing collection of artwork they have curated. If you enjoy what’s there, give them a follow (good things happen to bloggers when they get follows).

Almighty Father,
give us the joy of your love
to prepare the way for Christ our Lord.
Help us to serve you and one another.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen

Feature image by David Beale on Unsplash.

Advent Week 2 – Faith

And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth. To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.

And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.

Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?

And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. For with God nothing shall be impossible.

And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her. Luke 1:26-38 (KJV)

We light the second Advent Candle for Faith. Faith that all things are possible with God, faith that He has a divine plan for each and every one of us that sees salvation for every man willing, and faith that we who repent and seek the Kingdom of Heaven will one day live everlasting with God, our Father.

While are first movements toward the birth of Christ come in the fuel of hope, the rhythm and cycle that we move into becomes our faith. Faith is much more than the belief in something that cannot be proven. Faith is about knowing by means which otherwise give us little indication of how the world works. I know my mother and father love me, I have faith that they love me, I cannot see this love, I cannot feel this love, I cannot even measure this love, but I am aware of it being present and its impact in my relationship with my parents. Faith and love share a unique relationship (more on that in a future Advent post).

Mary had faith in spades. When she was visited by an angel from the Lord she did not refute what was being told of her, no matter how wild it seemed from a logical perspective. Mary was a virgin and yet Mary was to have a child. And an elder of the area, a previously married man, is to take Mary and they are to have a son together that will be named Jesus. And not just that but her cousin, who is barren, will also have a child. She doesn’t question, she doesn’t waver– no doubt there are parts of her that want to– she simply says, “be it unto me according to thy word.” That is faith.

Sailors have faith. They depart safe harbours which are close to their family and friends and head out on small islands into wild seas. They have faith that their ships will keep the deadly water out. Faith that their captain can keep them away from trouble no matter what the weather throws at them. And faith that with each passing day they get closer and closer to being back in a safe harbour, with family and friends. Mary’s journey with Joseph feels a lot like a sailor departing on a long sail without little knowledge of where they are going and what they are doing while out there. But they have faith, and put that faith into the hands of their captain. To stress the analogy, Mary’s captain is God Himself. That is faith.

Almighty and merciful God,
let neither our daily work nor the cares of this life
prevent us from hastening to meet your Son.
Enlighten us with your wisdom
and lead us into his company.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.