When Holy Mother Church celebrates Christmas it takes her 8 days.
The Octave of Christmas, eight days to celebrate one feast because there is too much of importance to celebrate in a 24 hour period. We do that at Easter as well, and we used do it at Pentecost; at Easter we start with Easter Sunday and end with Divine Mercy Sunday.
Christmas is that important. St. Francis of Assisi called it the feast of feasts – His first biographer, brother Thomas of Celano (who knew St. Francis), said that he celebrated Christmas more than any other feast with an indescribable joy…because on that day God became small and sucked milk like all children of men. A little graphic but it brings home the significance of Christmas to St. Francis and hopefully for us as well.
However, during this Octave of Christmas there are many other celebrations:
- We start with Christ’s birth on the 25th;
- The 26th is the Feast of St .Steven, first martyr who died for his faith in Christ;
- The 27th was the Feast of St. John;
- The 28th, today, is the Feast of the Holy Family but normally, when it doesn’t fall on a Sunday today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents;
- Tomorrow, the 29th is the Feast of St. Thomas Beckett Bishop and Martyr;
- Next Thursday the Octave concludes with the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.
So, I have to ask the question: why does Holy Mother Church, during her celebration of the Nativity of the Lord ‘busy-it-up’ with these other celebrations? Doesn’t it dilute the importance of the Birth of our Lord?
Dr. Scott Hahn, in his new book about the Nativity of our Lord (titled Joy to the World), started with what at first seems like an unusual topic.
He talks about the Christmas story, and how it has villains and how it has a hero, Christ. But he goes on to say something, that I thought was very profound:
‘Yes Jesus is at the center of the drama, but he doesn’t behave like a conventional hero. He doesn’t fit the classical model, He is not acting alone. He is not intruding himself to change the course of events. In fact, he’s hardly acting at all. He’s passive: nursed and placed to sleep in a manger, found on his mother’s lap by the magi, carried away in flight to Egypt. Like any baby, he exercises a powerful attraction – drawing love from those who draw near. Yet he is visible only because other arms are holding him… The Christmas story has an unconventional hero – not a warrior, not a worldly conqueror, not an individual at all, but rather a family…’
He goes on to point out that someone had to wrap Christ in swaddling clothes, someone had to place Him in the crib; someone had to take him into exile in Egypt; someone had to provide for him. Our Father David pointed out that Christ even needed help to follow Jewish law and customs since someone had to bring him to the Temple for his presentation as we just heard proclaimed in the Gospel.
Dr. Hahn continues this section with: ‘The family is the key to Christmas. The family is the key to Christianity… When God came to save us, he made salvation inseparable from family life, manifest in family life.’
The Octave of Christmas is all about Christ, therefore it is all about family.
Brothers and sisters, the importance of the family cannot be overstated. It is where Christ entered our world. In a very important way it is where God grew up and learned about us. It is where the boy Jesus learned about the faith. It where the boy Jesus was bathed in love, learned compassion, was taught about society. It is where He was protected, felt safe, learned responsibility. It is where the boy Jesus came to understand all about His heavenly father, His true father. Our hero of salvation was brought into and raised up in the world by His heroes – family.
The story of Christmas is not one of a single hero riding in and snatching us out of the jaws of danger and then everything is all right. The story of Christmas is an ongoing story, one that is best taught by and witnessed to in the circle of the family. This feast of the Holy Family is a very Christmas Holiday; it reinforces not only joy of family but the responsibility of family and each of the members. It should encourage us to go out from this Mass and witness to what it means to be a Christian family. We should be inspired to live family life within our beliefs as Mary and Joseph did. It means radiating neighborly love and compassion, participating in the celebrations of faith, offering our self to each other while being obedient to the will of God – it means living a life of Trinitarian love.
But in addition, it means proclaiming this Gospel message. Let’s take up the mission of the Holy Family, live our life with Christ in our midst gazing up at us from the crib and looking down at us from the cross. There is no better way to bring the light of Christ into the darkness of the world than having a family that shines with the example of the Holy Family.
My brothers and sisters don’t allow the prayer we proclaimed at the beginning of Mass to be hollow – live what we just prayed for and what our Lord came for:
O God, who were pleased to give us
the shining example of the Holy Family,
graciously grant that we may imitate them
in practicing the virtues of family life and in the bonds of charity,
and so, in the joy of your house,
delight one day in eternal rewards.