OVERVIEW OF THE CHRISTMAS SEASON Handout

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1 OVERVIEW OF THE CHRISTMAS SEASON Handut Since mst catechetical grups d nt meet ver the Christmas hlidays, this handut is prvided fr at hme reflectin during the busy days f the seasn.

2 Our culture has s ver-sentimentalized this feast that is ften difficult fr us t get in tuch with what this seasn truly prfesses. First evidence f Christmas bservance is in the furth century. There are tw schls f thught abut its rigin: First: respnse t a pagan feast inaugurated by the Rman emperr Aurelian in hpes f strengthening and uniting his empire. The feast, sl invictus, was a celebratin hnring the shrtest day f the year in which the sun reached its lwest pint. It reaches this pint n December 25, the winter slstice. Christians apprpriated this feast t their understanding f Jesus wh declared himself Light f the Wrld. The primary symbl f the Christmas seasn is LIGHT. Christ is the light f the wrld. This is ne reasn we put lights n trees. Secnd: Hypthesis cncerning date f December 25: Jhn the Baptist was cnceived during the autumn equinx and brn during the summer slstice. As Jesus was t have been brn six mnths later that put his birth right at December 25 th, illustrating Gd s incredible timing. If Christmas celebrates the cming f Christ the Light, in what way has Christ already dispelled darkness in yur wn life? Hw wuld yu describe the presence f the light f Christ in yur wn life? Rapid expansin f the feast was a result f the influence f the Arian heresy which asserted that Jesus was the highest f all creatures, but he was als less than Gd. The Arian heresy was refuted at the Cuncil f Nicaea which adpted the Nicene Creed. The first celebratin f the feast f the nativity-- a small papal mass. The thelgy f Christ is fund in Jhn s prlgue which affirmed Christ as the Wrd f Gd made flesh. Replica f the cave f Jesus birth (a small chapel) is under the church f St. Mary Majr in Rme. Midnight Mass: Since wd was added t the space, it is called mass near the crèche. Jesus birth was prclaimed at this mass. Celebratin f Midnight Mass emerged frm this liturgy. Mass at Dawn: Early Christmas mrning the Ppe arrived at St. Anastasia s Church and prclaimed the stry f the shepherds. This liturgy resplendent with images f light became knwn as Mass at dawn. A significant dctrinal theme f the Christmas liturgies: As a result f the Incarnatin a divine/human exchange tk place. Christ divinized humanity and elevated human beings t the divine status f Gd s child. We are given a share in Christ s divine nature! Christmas and Easter are bkends t the greatest stry ever lived Gd s plan f salvatin and redemptin begun at the creatin f the wrld, accmplished thrugh the Incarnatin f his Sn (Christmas) and brught t fulfillment in his passin, death and resurrectin (Easter). Mary Birmingham, All Rights Reserved. 2

3 Hly Family The feast f the Hly Family lifts up the family f Nazareth as a mdel fr struggling Christian families. Mary Mther f Gd The feast f Mary, the Mther f Gd, while hnring and venerating Mary as Gd s Mther, is nevertheless a Christ-centered liturgy. The liturgy reflects the salvatin wn thrugh Mary s yes t Gd. The feast defines Mary s rle in the Church, a mdel disciple and an icn f faithful bedience. Epiphany A definitin f the wrd Epiphany means shwing frth r manifest. Our fcus n this feast cntinues t be the Incarnatin f Christ. Epiphany centers its attentin n the divinity f Christ that is being manifested in the wrld. Epiphany remembers the jurney f the three magi. Even thugh it ften appears that the appearance f the magi is the primary fcus f Epiphany it is nt. The fcus is n the manifestatin f Christ. It is anther pprtunity t acknwledge the svereignty f Christ as we did n the feast f Christ the King. Christmas is the time we primarily celebrate the cming dwn f the Sn f Gd wh became ne f the pr children f men and wmen. If that is s, what impact has that had n the wrld? When we lk at the state f the wrld, what evidence is there that Christ becming human has had any impact whatsever? What evidence is there in yur wn life? Baptism f the Lrd The feast f the baptism f the Lrd is als a feast f manifestatin which is why it is lcated in the Christmas seasn. The feast is celebrated n the Sunday fllwing Epiphany. If the Sunday f Epiphany fllws January 6, then the feast f the Lrd s baptism is n Mnday that year. The Gspel readings in each f the three cycles are: Cycle C: the wedding feast at Cana. Cycle A: Jesus baptism. Gd s vice names Jesus Sn. The Hly Spirit cmes upn him and anints him fr the rle and destiny he is abut t undertake. Cycle B: Mark s versin f the baptism f Jesus The Baptism f the Lrd is in a sense the beginning f Ordinary Time and the fficial end f the Christmas seasn which is why the next Sunday that is celebrated is called the Secnd Sunday in Ordinary Time. Mary Birmingham, All Rights Reserved. 3

4 Octave f Christmas The Octave f Christmas is cmprised f eight days. Each day is a slemnity. There is als an ctave fllwing Easter. The Octave prclaims and manifests what it means t walk as children f the Light in this brken wrld that is s in need f a Savir. This is n time fr an ver-sentimentalized understanding f the Christ event. It is time t reflect n the stark reality f the Christmas seasn manifestatin f Christ the Light f the wrld and all the inherent implicatins. Christmas is a sber reminder that discipleship can lead t martyrdm. We need nly hear the stry f the hly inncents and the martyrdm f Stephen tld in the perid f the Octave t be reminded f that truth. We are reminded that Christ s Incarnatin and subsequent sacrifice is an invitatin fr cmplete and ttal kensis a self emptying f ur wn lives. Christmas is a reminder that we are all called t witness t ur faith. The wrd martyr cmes frm the wrd fr witness. Discipleship is an invitatin t die fr thers t participate in the Paschal Mystery f Jesus Christ---t carry ur crss fr the nging redemptin f the wrld. Can yu envisin a way in which t might be called t witness t Christ? Imagine that yu are called befre a curt and charged with being a Christian. What evidence wuld there be t cnvict yu? Imagine being placed in the lins den. Hw d yu feel abut thse wh curageusly gave their lives fr the sake f the Gspel? What wuld it take fr us t fllw their example? Feasts during the Octave St. Stephen. The feast remembers St. Stephen, the first martyr fr Christianity. It hnrs his ministry and his martyrdm. The feast is a reminder that we t are called t die fr ur faith in Christ. Stephen is als a reminder f the service t which we are all called. As deacn he served the needs f the pr f their cmmunity. Stephen and ther martyrs are ften prtrayed with a wreath as were war heres wh were hnred fr their acts f bravery and curage. Jhn the Apstle. The feast f Jhn the Apstle recalls Gd s revelatin t the wrld given t the Apstle Jhn wh gives an eye witness accunt f the Jesus event. Hly Inncents. This feast dates t sixth century. This liturgy recalls Jesus flight int Egypt and the slaughter f the infants at the hand f Herd wh was searching fr the heralded Child/King. The children are hnred fr inncent, martyred the lives they gave as salvatin histry unflded arund them. Mary Birmingham, All Rights Reserved. 4

5 A great part f ur Christian traditin is celebrated in the days and the feasts f the Christmas seasn. The liturgies and feasts f Christmas are integral t cmplete acquaintance with the entire rich depsit f faith. The liturgies f the Christmas seasn celebrate and emphasize each f the primary, essential truths f Christianity and Cathlicism. Nw that yu have spent time spiritually preparing fr the cming f Christ in yur heart at Christmas, where in life d yu mst need Christ t cme dwn? What in yur life is in mst need f Gd s salvatin? If Christmas als celebrates thse wh have witnessed t Christ thrugh martyrdm, can yu name sme small ways that yu have been a similar witness? In what way have yu taken up the crss fr the sake f the Gspel in yur lifetime? Hw wuld yu say yu have exemplified Jhn the Baptist s insistence that he must decrease s Christ culd increase. In what way have yu becme less in rder fr Gd t becme all in all? In what way is yur heart prepared fr the cming f Christ this Christmas? DECISION FOR CHANGE: What ne bthersme behavir r attitude might Gd be calling yu t change in preparatin fr Christmas? What ne spiritual activity are yu willing t engage in as Christmas draws near? Have yu remembered the pr in yur Christmas giving? Refer t Wrd and Wrship Wrkbk by Mary Birmingham fr an in depth explanatin f all the feasts f the Christmas seasn. Mary Birmingham, All Rights Reserved. 5

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