Fr. Bloomfield's Blog

I am a Roman Catholic Priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit, currently assigned to Divine Child Parish in Dearborn, Michigan. When I manage to keep the page updated, hopefully something interesting can be found here!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Faith Seeking Understanding for December 31, 2006

The Octave of Christmas is perhaps the most joyful time of the Church year. An “octave,” as the name implies, means simply “eight.” In the Church calendar, an octave is the week following a major feast day concluding with another feast on the “eighth day,” almost as an echo of the great celebration. Throughout the Middle Ages, Octaves were celebrated for many different feast; in the current calendar, the Church celebrates two octaves: Christmas and Easter.

Unlike the Octave of Easter, however, the Christmas Octave includes several other feast days: St. Stephen (Dec. 26th), St. John the Evangelist (Dec. 27th), the Holy Innocents (Dec. 28th), and St. Thomas à Becket (Dec. 29th). The Sunday within the Octave is the Feast of the Holy Family. Even with all these feasts, however, we aren’t distracted from the primary celebration of the Birth of Christ, since the Saints draw their holiness from the Incarnation and in turn direct us back to contemplate our Lord as well.

The Octave-Day of Christmas is the Feast of Mary, Mother of God. This year, it falls immediately after the Feast of the Holy Family, allowing us to contemplate these mysteries in their fullness. For many centuries, this feast was called the Feast of the Lord’s Circumcision, since in St. Luke’s gospel we read: “And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb” (2:21). Mary and Joseph were faithful to the Covenant that God had made with his Chosen People; circumcision was the sign of that covenant.

Concerning his birth and following circumcision, St. Bernard of Clairvaux says, “He was born of a woman, but by whose fruitfulness the fruit thus came forth, so that the flower of virginity was not crushed; he was wrapped in swaddling clothes, but these wrappings were honored by the praises of angels; he was hidden in the manger, but was revealed by a shining star from heaven. Just so, his circumcision proves the truth of his humanity; and his name, which is above every name, shows the glory of his majesty. Circumcised as a true son of Abraham; he was named Jesus as the true Son of God” (Sermo I in circumcisione Domini, n. 2).

The current feast, however, calls to mind the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Incarnation; she is in fact theotokos, the “God-Bearer,” as the Council of Ephesus declared in 431 A.D. Not simply a passive onlooker, the Blessed Virgin Mary truly cooperated in a unique and singular manner in the story of our salvation. Just as every human mother does not simply give birth to her children, so too, our Blessed Mother exercised her role in salvation history throughout her life. Mary is at the beginning of our Lord’s life, and at the end: “She gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger” (Lk. 2:7) and then “Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister….” (Jn. 19:25). Her entire life was a fulfillment of the promise she made to the angel at the Annunciation: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Lk. 1:38).

In between the Crib and the Cross, we find a mostly silent, contemplative Mary, who occasionally speaks (“They have no wine,” for example, at the wedding in Cana), but mostly ponders in her heart the greatness of her Son, and gently points him out to the entire world. Mary’s work continues today – may we be reminded of her importance in our lives, and renew our devotion to her maternal heart, always drawing us closer to Jesus.

Thank you so much for your kindness and generosity for all the Christmas cards and gifts I have received; please be assured of my gratitude and prayers. I pray that all of you will have a blessed and holy New Year, and that through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, we may each grow in holiness every day of 2007, drawing closer to the Heart of her Divine Son. May God bless you all!