A Franciscan Reflection on the Christmas Octave from Rome, Italy

Paul Keggington

December 26, 2010

Franciscan Sister Marie Kolbe Zamora reflects on the Christmas Octave with festive photos from Rome, Italy.

Christmas Bells

Click on the photo to  hear the Christmas bells from Rome!

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds . . .” (Rom 12. 2)

Franciscan Sister Marie Kolbe Zamora in Rome

Franciscan Sister Marie Kolbe Zamora reflects on the Christmas Octave through words and pictures while studying in Rome, Italy.

Recently, I received a Christmas greeting from a Sister in a foreign mission.  The greeting began something like this: «Soon it will be December 26th and Christmas will be past».  This declaration, that gave me pause, was the catalyst for this reflection which I offer.

Advent, one of the major penitential seasons of the Church year, is a time in which the Lord summons us to plant seeds of patience, understanding, silence and discerned charity in the soil of our Gospel / Baptismal lives.  As we wait for the coming of the Lord, we are called to prepare ourselves; to “fatigue” ourselves a bit more as we prepare for the Lord’s coming not only into my life, but into our lives.  Who of us have not fatigued ourselves in preparation for some feast to celebrate a birthday or a wedding or an anniversary; to celebrate a job well done, a major goal met or a project completed?   I don’t think that any one of us is a stranger to the fatigue that is all-of-a-piece with Advent.

And yet, can it be that our Advent fatigue outweighs the Christmas celebration? Can it be that my penance outweighs the Lord’s coming? Can it be that we embrace the penance of this four week season in order to feast for . . . one day?  Is it possible that the Church is an accomplice to a culture that is addicted to ceaseless work and the product of its own hands? “If this is the case”, I thought to myself, “it is no wonder that people might think the Church to be a community of curmudgeons”.  With this thought in mind, I turn to the Christmas Liturgy to see what it has to say for itself!

First, I open the Liturgy of the Hours, which I like to think of as an “immersion experience” in living the life of Christ.  I notice that for the solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord, there is a rubric after second Vespers (Evening Prayer II) that makes reference to the “Octave of Christmas”, or the eight days of Christmas.  As I continue to examine the Liturgy of the Hours for this solemnity, I notice that the psalms and canticle that make up Christmas Lauds / Morning Prayer are carried forward each day within the Octave (that is, until January 1st), with the exceptions of St. Stephen on the 26th, St. John the Evangelist on the 27th, and the Holy Innocents on the 28th. The psalms and canticle for Christmas Vespers, however, are exactly the same for all eight evenings.

Next, I open the Sacramentary / Roman Missal to see what the Eucharistic Liturgy has to say for itself, and once again I notice that the Octave of Christmas is prominent.  As I examine the prayers for these eight days, I notice that there are three special prefaces for Christmas for use during the Octave.  The second of these, addressing God the Father, says “Today You fill our hearts with joy as we recognize in Christ the revelation of Your love”; the third says “Today in Him a new light has dawned upon the world: God has become one with humanity, and we have become one again with God”.  Then I look at the Eucharistic prayers themselves, and I notice that during the Octave of Christmas, the first three (especially the second and the third) include a special prayer calling our attention to the fact that the entire worshiping assembly (through time and space) is united on the day in which Mary gave the world its Savior.  Briefly, then, the Christmas Liturgy, as it is given to us in the Liturgy of the Hours and in the Sacramentary / Roman Missal, presents each day of the Octave of Christmas as a today of Christmas.

At this point, it might seem to us that the Church has her days mixed up; or that the use of today is only rhetorical, to add emphasis; or maybe the priest got the rubrics mixed up and said the wrong prayer . . .  Sometimes, perhaps, we are so accustomed to these prayers that we do not even hear them anymore.  Sometimes we never heard them before.   

 Maybe . . . sometimes . . . it never really occured to us that the Liturgy corresponds to reality. 

As I read and think about these Liturgies, it seems to me that the Church means to call attention to the reality that our liturgical “memorializing” of Jesus’ birth is an act of worship by which the mystery of Jesus’ birth, in time and space, is mysteriously present . . . todayThat is, by our liturgical “act of remembering”, 2010 is truly and mysteriously united to the event of Jesus’ birth (life) over 2000 years ago.  Furthermore, it would seem that Christmas only begins on December 25th each year; that even though December 26th is set aside as a time to recall and be edified by St. Stephen, December 26th is still Christmas day; that even though December 27th is set aside as a time to thank God for the life and testimony of St. John the Evangelist, December 27th is still Christmas day.  It would seem that all of the hours, beginning with first Vespers for the Solemnity of Christmas, until Second Vespers for the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God . . . all of those hours are Christmas day! 

It would seem that the Church recognizes that one twenty-four day does not suffice to adequately celebrate as earth-shaking an event as the manifestation of the Incarnation!  And so, as though to “stop time” and prolong the festivities, she gives us a day that is 192-hours long that we might appropriately jubilate and extol the greatness of God who becomes little!  What a joy!  What a feast!  This is the Church I love . . . a Church that knows how to celebrate after the fatigue of doing penance; a Church that, in her Liturgy, provides a concrete way for all of us to anticipate that great and final day that will never end.

The reasoning of civil authorities and world markets does not lend itself to such a joyous celebration of Christmas.  Charles Dickens knew their logic.  His lovely tale A Christmas Carol, however, is not about this logic, but rather is about the joy that conversion from this logic brings. It is my prayer this Christmas that we Christians might more deeply enter into the logic of the Gospel, offered us in the Liturgy, so that in our hearts and among ourselves we might ring the bells on Christmas Day . . . all one hundred ninety two hours of it!

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