|Because It Is Required!
The Sunday within the Octave of the Nativity: the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary & Joseph.
Lessons from the secondary proper, according to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite:*
• Sirach 3: 2-6, 12-14.
• Psalm 128: 1-5.
• Colossians 3: 12-21.
• Luke 2: 22-40.
• Genesis 15: 1-6; 21: 1-3.
• Psalm 105: 1-4, 6-9.
• Hebrews 11: 8, 11-12, 17-19.
• Luke 2: 22-40.
The Sunday within the Octave of the Nativity.**
Lessons from the proper, according to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Galatians 4: 1-7.
• Psalm 44: 3, 2.
• Luke 2: 33-40.
[In the Byzantine-Ruthenian Rite, the Sunday after the Nativity is dedicated to St. Joseph, King David and the Apostle James. The Gospel is that of the Flight into Egypt; thus, this homily would not pertain.]
9:25 AM 12/28/2014 — In the modern world of marketing and advertising, the Christmas season begins the day after Thanksgiving, and ends abruptly on Christmas Day. In the life of the Christian, the Christmas season begins on Christmas day, and the fifteen day celebration culminates on the Sunday on which we commemorate His baptism in the Jordan by John. One of the most important Gospel lessons we read during this time is today's, whenever the lessons from cycle B are read: the account of our Lord's Presentation in the Temple; we'll read it again on the Feast of the Presentation on February 2nd. Our Lord's parents perform this service for Him because, as St. Luke notes in our Gospel lesson, quoting from Exodus: "Dedicate to me every first-born thing that Israel yields, whether it be man or beast, the first-fruits of every womb; all these are forfeit to me" (Exodus 13: 2 Knox). So, Joseph and Mary do just that, even buying the two birds for the sacrifice that the law of Moses requires.
What I would like to offer for your reflection today is not simply remembering another event in the life of our Lord—as if that alone isn’t important enough—but what this particular event signifies. Those of you who attend weekday Mass here in the Shrine might remember back to the Eighth Day before Christmas, when we read the Gospel of the Genealogy, as it’s called, from the beginning of Matthew's Gospel, and how I explained to you why it's so important to reflect on that oppressive list of all those unpronounceable Old Testament names: Matthew’s Jewish audience will only know that Jesus is the Messiah if He fulfills all the requirements laid out by the holy prophets. The genealogy proves that. Today's commemoration proves the same, but in a way that looks forward rather than back.
Jesus Himself, remember, said that he came not to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them. Jesus doesn’t cancel Judaism, He completes it. His parents take Him to be presented to God in the Temple because the Law of Moses commands it; and, as Jesus grows into manhood and commences His public ministry, we see Him, again and again, doing everything according to the law: He went for the feasts to Jerusalem; He sent the people He had cured to the priests to perform the sin-offering commanded by Moses; He paid the temple tax every year; He admonished the multitudes who came to hear Him preach to obey the Scribes and Pharisees as those who sit in Moses’ place; and, even though it had been introduced long after Moses, He participated every Sabbath in the Synagogue service, fulfilling His duty to read and comment on the Word of God whenever it was His appointed turn to do so. On those few occasions where He appears at first to be violating the law, such as curing someone on the Sabbath, He is able to point out to the Pharisees criticizing Him how they have misread the law, with all of His interpretations being confirmed in the Talmudic Tradition.
In every way, our Savior paid dutiful attention to the religious system under which He was born; and, even after He had left them in bodily form and ascended back into the heaven from which He came, and sent the Holy Spirit down upon them—at which point one might argue that the Law of Moses would no longer apply—the Apostles continued to follow His example. No, they never did require adherence to the law of Moses as necessary for salvation, but neither did they forbid or criticize adherence to it. Even St. Paul, who was the first to champion the rights of the Gentile Christians not to be circumcised, insisted that all the laws should be followed so as not to cause scandal or offense; and himself circumcised Timothy when he chose him to be his assistant, so that he might be accepted by the Jews to whom he was being sent. All of this is clear in the New Testament.
Now, I did say that today's observance points more to the future than the past, and here’s how: we live in an age which prides itself on its devotion to authenticity: we want our politicians to be honest, we want our history to be critical, we want our news to be accurate, we want the things we buy to perform as advertised, and we want our religion to be relevant and address the needs of today. The problem is that the litmus test we often impose on religion is too similar to the litmus test we impose on everything else, when it should be the other way ‘round: it’s our religion that imposes the litmus test on our authenticity. It’s way too easy for us to look at everything our Church requires of us—by way of moral absolutes, by way of liturgical requirements, by way of interior conversion—and to judge them as good or bad—as applying to us or not applying to us—based on some twisted misinterpretation of conscience, when what should be happening is that the teaching of Christ, revealed in Holy Scripture, explained by the Fathers, expanded and made practical by the teaching of the Church, should be the litmus test by which we judge ourselves every day.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not merely an historical record, nor is the liturgy of the Church a museum piece; nor is the life of a Christian a matter of saying “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays” or wearing some piece of Christian-inspired jewelry.
When His parents took Him to be presented to God in the Temple in conformity to the law, Jesus, as God, knew exactly what He was doing: He was setting not only the pattern for His own life on earth, not only the pattern for how His Apostles would establish the Church, but giving us our first lesson in Christian living. We do not conform the faith to suit us; we conform ourselves to suit Christ. And the next time someone challenges you, saying, “Why do you Catholics do this, that or the other?” it isn’t at all an inadequate response to say, “Because it is required.”
* In the ordinary form of the Roman Rite, the Old Testament lesson, Psalm and Apostolic lesson are all proper and unchanging, with the Gospel lesson taken from a three year cycle for the feast corresponding to the cycle of the dominica (the Sunday cycle); however, alternates for all but the Gospel lesson are provided according to the same three year cycle, which may be used at the discretion of the celebrant.
If, because of the date of Christmas, there is no Sunday within the Octave, this feast would be celebrated on December 30th.
** In the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite, this day does not carry the title of the Holy Family, and is known simply as the Sunday within the Octave; nonetheless, the Gospel lesson and focus of the liturgy are the same as that of the ordinary form.
The 2nd Class Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs, which ordinarily occurs on the 28th, is displaced by this Sunday, but a commemoration of it is made at the conclusion of Lauds and Vespers.