Tag Archives: Sacred Liturgy

Circumcision of Our Lord

Circumcision Fra Filippo LippiToday is the octave day of Christmas and the liturgical observance of the Lord receiving circumcision according to the Law of Moses. In the West, various saints and liturgical texts attest to this feast as being in existence early in our Church history. We know that the local Council of Tours (AD 567) prescribed this feast. By the eighth century the Byzantine Church put the Circumcision on the calendar.

In the Torah all Jewish males are required to follow this first legal observance. In sacred Scripture we read:

This is my covenant which you shall observe between me and you, and thy seed after thee: All the male-kind of you shall be circumcised. And you shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, that it may be for a sign of the covenant between me and you. An infant of eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every manchild in your generations: he that is born in the house, as well as the bought servant, shall be circumcised (Genesis 17:10-12).

Scholars will speak of circumcision as a sacrament of the former dispensation; it is an Old Testament type for Catholic sacramentality. Following the line of thinking of Saint Hilary of Poiters, Jesus had no need for circumcision but that we need this act of conforming to the Law of God. Jesus was circumcised so that He might redeem those who were under the law. Thus, after the Incarnation, the Lord’s circumcision was the initial gesture that freed us from the Mosaic Law opening the door to sacrament of Baptism granting forgiveness of Original Sin, becoming adopted  sons and daughters of God, and becoming members of the Church (Cf. Gal. 4:5). The Lord demonstrates that Baptism is necessary for salvation. This physical act is the Lord’s first shedding of blood for the new covenant.

Also central to today’s Liturgy is Mary’s following of the Divine command to name her infant son, Jesus (meaning: God saves). The Archangel Gabriel specified the name of the Incarnate Word of God and Mary and Joseph follow what was revealed. Thus, we honor the Holy Name of Jesus (a fuller liturgical observance will be on January 3).

Let us pray. Almighty God, whose only-begotten Son on this day received bodily circumcision, lest He should break the law which He came to fulfil, purify your minds by spiritual circumcision from every allurement of vice, and pour into you his own blessing. Amen.

Advent Ember Days 2015

The 2015 Winter Ember Days are December 16th, December 18th, December 19th.

DSC_0554What are the Ember Days?

The venerable observance of the Ember Days, Quatuor Tempora, in Latin, ought to be kept today by Catholics for no other reason to remain in the gesture of gratitude before God. Sadly, however, the Ember Days are sort of defunct in the Catholic Church, generally speaking. There are people in small portions of God’s Kingdom who maintain the liturgical and personal remembrance of what God has done through the beauty of His creation.

The Ember Days were days of fast with partial abstaining from meat as a form of penance. Remembering that fasting was always linked to prayer of giving thanks God for the gifts in nature and asking for the grace of being humble and moderate in our stewardship and use of nature. Likewise, fasting and prayer was linked with an act of charity.

The fasts for Ember Days are known as “Jejunia quatuor temporum,” (“the fast of the four seasons,”). The biblical warrant is Jewish practice of fasting four times a year:

Thus says the Lord of hosts: The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth shall be to the house of Judah, joy, and gladness, and great solemnities: only love  truth and peace (Zachariah 8:19).

The Jewish sensibility ought to be ours: prayer, fasting and charitable works to be done with joy and gladness. Sour and cynical people go home! Also, someone might quip that that the Ember days came before the post-modern obsession with ecology divorced from the Divine Majesty. True. So let’s bring the integrity of the Jewish and Catholic faith back to its robust nature!

We know historically that, The Didache, a first century text, speaks of the Christians  fasting on Wednesdays (the day on which Jesus was betrayed by Judas) and on Fridays (the day on which Jesus was crucified) to differentiate from the Jewish custom of fasting on Tuesdays and Thursdays. In time the central tradition of the Church at Rome kept the fast only Fridays as a penitential day except during Eastertide.  Yet, in monasteries you will find to this day the retention of Wednesday, too, as a day of penance. Nevertheless, by the third century the Ember days were born.

The first of these four times comes in Winter, after the the Feast of Saint Lucy (December 13) ; the second comes in Spring, the week after Ash Wednesday (date varies) and the third comes in Summer, after Pentecost Sunday (date varies); and the last comes in Autumn, after Holy Cross Day (September 14).

Their dates can be remembered by this old mnemonic:

Sant Crux, Lucia, Cineres, Charismata Dia
Ut sit in angaria quarta sequens feria.

Which means:

Holy Cross, Lucy, Ash Wednesday, Pentecost, are when the quarter holidays follow.

Simply recalled: “Lucy, Ashes, Dove, and Cross.”

An interesting note: by AD 494 Pope Gelasius designated Ember Saturdays as the day to confer Holy Orders. The tradition of the very early Church had the discipline that ordinations be preceded by fast and prayer (see Acts 13:3).

Here is a good article to read on the Ember Days.