Posts Tagged ‘Mass’

Christmas Is Christian

Growing up as a Jehovah’s Witness we were constantly taught that the Jehovah’s Witnesses had re-established authentic Christianity that was originally taught by the Apostles but had been corrupted by pagan practices and beliefs such as the celebration of Christmas.  Therefore, as Jehovah’s Witnesses we did not celebrate Christmas.

The story is that the date of Christmas was basically chosen by the Early Church to co-opt a pagan Roman holiday that celebrated the “Unconquerable Sun”.  Because of this, the Jehovah’s Witnesses say that Christmas and the traditions associated with the Christmas celebration are pagan and this is just another example of how Christianity was corrupted in the centuries after the apostles died.

I usually respond to these objections in a couple of ways:

1. As a Catholic, I believe that human nature, while wounded, is basically good and that all religions contain some truth in it.  So, it is a common practice for Christian missionaries to look at a native non-Christian culture and religion and to emphasize those practices that are good and consistent with Christian beliefs so as to evangelize.  Therefore, if the claims made by the Jehovah’s Witnesses are true and the early Church did Christianize a pagan holiday and did take those elements of a pagan holiday that were good and give them a Christian meaning, I really have no problem with it.  That is an example of how we, as Christians, are commanded to evangelize and use those good beliefs and practices found in a native non-Christian culture or religion as a springboard to giving these people the fullness of truth in Christ.

2. In recent years, it has been demonstrated that much of the historical scholarship making the claim that the Early Church chose December 25th as the date for the birth of Christ because they wanted to co-opt a pagan festival is not accurate.  According to Professor William Tighe, the date that the Early Church chose for Jesus’ birth had nothing to do with the ancient Roman festival of the Sun but had to do with the Early Christian’s attempts to set a date for the death and resurrection of Christ.  In the West, the date that many Christians settled upon for this event was March 25th. Evidently there was a tradition in the early Church based on a Jewish understanding of the birth and death of the great Jewish prophets that Jesus, who would be the fulfillment of all of the prophets, would be conceived on the same date that he would die just like all of the Jewish prophets of old.  This means that the early Church believed that the Blessed Mother conceived Jesus on March 25th.  In fact, to this day, the Western Church celebrates March 25th as the Feast of the Annunciation when Jesus was conceived.  If one counts nine months from March 25th, one gets December 25th as the birth date for Jesus.

Furthermore, the earliest Christian source that places Jesus birth on December 25th is recorded for us by Hippolytus of Rome in his Commentary On Daniel in 202 A.D.  While this section of his work was thought to have been a forgery, it appears as though more current scholarship suggests that this section of his writing is authentic.

If one realizes that the earliest record we have of a pagan Roman celebration occurring on December 25th is dated to 274 A.D., one could conclude that Christians claimed this date as Christ’s birth some 72 years before the pagans chose that date for their festival. In fact, Professor Tighe suggests:

“Thus, December 25th as the date of the Christ’s birth appears to owe nothing whatsoever to pagan influences upon the practice of the Church during or after Constantine’s time. It is wholly unlikely to have been the actual date of Christ’s birth, but it arose entirely from the efforts of early Latin Christians to determine the historical date of Christ’s death.

And the pagan feast which the Emperor Aurelian instituted on that date in the year 274 was not only an effort to use the winter solstice to make a political statement, but also almost certainly an attempt to give a pagan significance to a date already of importance to Roman Christians. The Christians, in turn, could at a later date re-appropriate the pagan “Birth of the Unconquered Sun” to refer, on the occasion of the birth of Christ, to the rising of the “Sun of Salvation” or the “Sun of Justice.””-Calculating Christmas

Kind of funny as with most things taught to us by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, that just the opposite of what they claim is most likely true.

In any case, the birth of Our Lord is a joyous occasion for Christians throughout the world.  It is something that was celebrated with song by the angels in heaven and with amazement by the Shepherds of the fields and with gifts from the Wise Men of the East.  When I read the Christmas story in the Gospels, it sounds like a party to me and it is one party that I would like to celebrate with the hosts of heaven and all people of good will.

For more information, here are some links to other sources:

http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=16-10-012-v

http://piousfabrications.blogspot.com/2010/12/pagan-origins-of-christmas.html

http://www.bib-arch.org/e-features/christmas.asp#location1

Humbly Doing What We Ought to Have Done

Today, my wife and I attended the ordinary form of the Mass at the The Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Help of Christians at Holy Hill (www.holyhill.com).

It is a wonderful place for meditation and renewal.  It was most fitting that today’s Gospel reading for the Mass was taken from Luke 17:5-10.  In today’s Gospel, the Apostles asked the Lord to “increase our faith”.  The Lord said to them, “If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this sycamine tree, ‘Be rooted up, and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”

This comment is a rather impressive description of how powerful faith can be.  Our Lord tells us that if we have faith that is as small in size as a mustard seed that it can uproot a tree and replant it in the sea of all places.  However, we are so weak in faith in most cases that we are not even able to develop faith even of this small size-the size of a mustard seed- on our own.  After all, how many of us have accomplished this feat lately?

Prior to His comments on the size of one’s faith, Our Lord reminds us that we are weak and subject to great temptations and that if we were to give ourselves over to our temptations so as to create such scandal that it would stumble others, it would be better for us if a millstone were hung around our neck and we were cast into the sea.

After his comments on the size of our faith, we are reminded how we treat our servants and those who work for us.  We really do not reward someone for something that they should have done in their role as servants anyway.  Likewise, the things that Our Lord commands us to do are really things that we should be doing anyway if we are to live out our lives as good Christians.  And, how often do we feel as though we are wonderful people when we do something good for others?  How often do we feel as though we are superior to those individuals who we believe may not be living the life of Christ as well as we think we are?  How often have we forgotten that there, but for the grace of God, go I, when we see others fall into temptation and sin?

Since becoming Catholic, I am always amazed at Our Lord’s generosity and love towards us.  He commands us to do good things toward others and yet He gives us the power through the Sacraments to actually fulfill those commands because on our own we would surely fail.  And, here He reminds us that we must cooperate with the grace that He gives us in order to even do those things that we ought to do as faithful servants of His.   Let us remain humble in the sight of God and pray for ourselves and others that we may all grow in our faith through the generosity of Our Lord.

Prisoners of His Divine Love

In today’s Epistle reading for the Extraordinary form of the Mass from Ephesians 4:1-6, St. Paul exhorts us to live out the vocation to which we have been called.  What is this vocation?  It is to be a Prisoner of the Lord and, therefore, a Prisoner of His Divine Love.

St. Paul lists how we ought to behave toward one another because of our one baptism into the life of Christ.  We are to be humble and mild, peaceful and caring, towards others- including our enemies.

The Gospel reading for today in Matthew 22:34-46 gives us the words of Christ Himself, the very one who through His life, death, and resurrection has captured us as Prisoners of His Divine Love.

In response to a question from the Pharisees about which commandment of God is the greatest, He tells us it is the commandment to love the Lord, our God, completely with our whole soul and mind and our neighbor as ourself.  A task that is impossible for us without the help of God’s grace.

It is through our baptism and our willingness to be lead captive by Our Lord into His Life and His Love that we are able to show genuine love for others. We receive the ability to love as Our Lord loves by receiving the graces He gives us through our experiences in life and ultimately through the Sacraments.

The Pharisees, like us if left to our own devices, liked to follow rules for the purpose of making themselves right before God which is why they asked our Lord the question about the greatest of all the commandments.  They had, as it is so easy for us humans to do, forgotten that the Law is not an end in and of itself that somehow makes someone righteous but it is a teacher leading us to discover our need to be captured by the Divine Lawgiver who is also our Divine Lover.

Our Divine Captor, Jesus Christ  took on human nature and emptied out Himself completely in love to the point of dying on the Cross and this excruciating and most cursed way of dying has, ironically, become a blessing to all.  And, we, as His followers through our baptism, enter into His Life and Death which becomes not only an example of a Life of Love to follow but also the source of the grace and power we receive from God to actually love others unconditionally.

For those who are willing, the graces we receive from Our Lord through the Sacraments that He provides to us through His Church, can take us captive and make us Prisoners of His Love which compels and aids us to love others as Jesus loves us.  This helps us to become better priests, religious, husbands, fathers, wives, mothers, employers, employees, citizens and rulers.  It reminds us that as Christians we owe it to others to love them as Christ first loved us……and remember Christ loved us so much that he stretched out His arms upon a cross.  Just think how different the world would be if we all lived out our vocations as Prisoners of His Divine Love.