The date of Christmas was set on December 25th to act as a reminder of Christ. The winter solstice was a primary pagan holiday, the longest night of the year. Even in pagan Rome, it was a key date for Christianity's 'approved' rival, Mithra. Why December 25th? Because after this time, the Sun gets stronger, brighter, higher, restoring light and life to a 'dead world.' So the Church set December 25th as the date to celebrate the Lord's birth, not because that's when He was born, but rather to illustrate that "In Him was life, and the Life was the light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it....The true Light that enlightens every man was coming into the world" (John 1:4-5; 9). So, though the date may have been of pagan origins, it was used to bring the light of Christ to all men. And indeed, it has overcome the darkness of paganism, pantheism, and atheism. It has overcome the spirit of the world.
The Christmas tree even has pagan roots in a sense. In the eighth century, St. Boniface brought Christianity to Germany. When he returned, he found that paganism was still very much alive and well. The son of a major chieftain, Gundhar, was about to be sacrificed to the 'gods'. It was December 24th, Christmas Eve. St. Boniface felled the sacred oak, sacred to the god Thor. "Not a drop of blood shall fall tonight, for this is the birth night of the Saint Christ, Son of the All-Father and Savior of the world." (Recall that St. Boniface was speaking to a group who saw the 'head' god as the All-Father. So he was transposing Odin with God, the Father) "This little tree, a young child of the forest, shall be a home tree tonight. It is the wood of peace, for your houses are built of fir. It is a sign of endless life, for it's branches are evergreen. See how it points toward Heaven. Let this be called the tree of the Christ-child; gather about it, not in the wild woods but in your homes; there it will shelter no deeds of blood, but loving gifts and lights of kindness." (Catholic Source Book, pg. 405)
Later, Martin Luther, reportedly inspired by the starry night, decorated his tree with candles to commemorate Christ's birth under Bethlehem's starry night. Later, unconsecrated hosts were hung from the Christmas tree to remind us the 'Bread of Life' born that night. Some began to hang apples, to remind us of the fruit of sin. So the Christmas tree began as a catechism of Christ in symbol.
Christmas carols and the nativity scene have a common source: St. Francis of Assisi. He was among the first who sang in common fashion, about the Lord. His birth, His life, and death. His glory, His passion. It became a practice to sing songs of glory to God, so, with the coming of the Renaissance, it was natural for the madrigals of the day to focus on Christ. (And many of these Renaissance songs are still heard today.)
In the town of Greccio in 1223, St. Francis despaired how little the townspeople thought of Christ on Christmas. So, on the night of December 24th he called the people out of town to a cave where he re-created the scene of Christ's birth. Reportedly the Christ-child Himself came once again to the manger and the people, seeing this, they were reminded of the greatness of the day. Many miracles were reported that night, but most of all, was the miracle of a reawakened faith by the people of Greccio. And to this day, many have nativity scenes to remind us of the real beauty and glory of Christmas.
But not all of our traditions were used to teach, or illustrate God's glory. Many of them were to simply carry on. The hymn "The Twelve Days of Christmas" was an underground Catholic catechism, as were candy canes. The tradition of the candle in the window came about for the desire to hear Christmas Mass.
The "Twelve Days of Christmas" were written to teach children their Catholic faith in secret, since to do so openly from 1558 to 1829, could be considered treasonous in England. The meanings behind the 12 days?
The partridge in a pear tree was Jesus Christ.
Two turtledoves were the Old and New Testament.
Three French hens stood for faith, hope, and love.
Four calling birds were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
Five golden rings recalled the Penteteuch - the first five books of the Old testament.
Six geese-a-laying stood for the six days of creation.
Seven swans-a-swimming represented the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit and the seven sacraments.
Eight maids-a-milking were the eight Beatitudes.
Nine ladies dancing? These were the night truths of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23.) Love, Joy, Peace, Long-suffering, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-control.
Ten lords-a-leaping were the Ten Commandments.
Eleven pipers piping stood for the 11 faithful disciples.
Twelve drummers drumming symbolized the 12 points of belief in the Apostle's Creed.
Even candy cane was a sort of catechism for the children. The cane is the shepherd's crook, the first witnesses of Christ's birth. It also stood for the Bishop's crook, the 'shepherd' of his flock. The red and white stripes represent Christ's purity and sacrifice, just as they do during Masses. The three thin stripes represented the Three Divine Persons while the thicker stripe represented the One God in those Three Divine Persons. The peppermint stood for the royal gift of spice, and, like the Body of Christ, the candy cane was given to be broken and shared.
In Ireland, the English tried to stamp out Catholicism. Priests were forced to visit homes in secret so the people could hear Mass at night. At Christmastime, the Catholic families would leave their doors unlocked and place a lit candle in their windows to guide the priests to their home so they could hear Christmas Mass. Any English soldiers seeing this were told that it was to welcome Mary and Joseph on Christmas Eve, since there was no room at the Inn. The soldiers just dismissed it as a harmless superstition and let the signal remain.
So, these signs, symbols and traditions of Christmas helped to remind us of Christ, His love, power and glory. They serve to teach us our faith and to hold fast to our faith. So, when we decorate, it may be helpful to try and see why we do these special things during this time of year. And why, so many of them are now disregarded or rejected for more 'inclusive' symbols.
Pax Christi, Pat
"Recalling the Lord's words, 'because of this all will know that your are My disciples, that you love one another' (John 13,35), Christians cannot desire anything more ardently than to serve men and women of the contemporary world with greater generosity and effectiveness" (Gaudium et Spes, 93).
This task, which Vatican Council II assigned us in closing the Pastoral Constitution on 'The Church in the Modern World,' responds to the fascinating challenge to build a world animated by the law of love, a civilization of love, "based on universal values of peace, solidarity, justice and liberty, which find their fulfillment in Christ" (Tertio Millennio Adveniente, 52).
The foundation of this civilization is the recognition of the universal sovereignty of God the Father, as inexhaustible source of love. On the occasion of the Great Jubilee of 2000, there must be a sincere examination of our acceptance of this fundamental value at the end of the millennium, to set off more rapidly toward the anticipated future.
We have witnessed the decline of ideologies that deprived so many of our brothers of spiritual references, but the deadly fruits of a secularism that generates religious indifference continue to exist, especially in more developed areas. Given the situation, undoubtedly it is not a valid answer to return to a vague religiosity, motivated by fragile instances of compensation or the search for a psycho-cosmic balance, which are manifest in many new religious paradigms that proclaim a religiosity without reference to a transcendent and personal God.
It is important, therefore, to analyze carefully the causes of the loss of the sense of God and re-propose courageously the announcement of the Father's face, revealed in Jesus Christ in the light of the Spirit. This revelation does not lessen but exalts the dignity of the human person as image of God who is Love.
2. Over the past decades, the loss of the sense of God has coincided with the progress of a nihilistic culture that impoverishes the sense of human existence and, in the ethical field, relativizes even the fundamental values of the family and respect for life. All this is carried out not in a flashy way but, rather, with the subtle method of indifference that makes all forms of behavior appear as normal, so that moral problems will no longer stand out. Paradoxically, there is a demand that governments recognize as 'rights' many forms of behavior that attack human life, especially the weakest and defenseless, not to mention the enormous difficulty of accepting another who is different, disturbing, foreign, sick, handicapped. In fact, the increasingly strong rejection of others as 'other' is a challenge to our conscience as believers. As I said in the encyclical 'Evangelium Vitae': "We are faced by a more vast reality, which can be considered a real and proper structure of sin, characterized by the imposition of a culture that is against solidarity, that is configured in many cases as a real 'culture of death.' " (n.12).
3. Faced with this death-loving culture our responsibility as Christians is expressed in the determination of the 'new evangelization,' among whose most important fruits is the civilization of love.
The Gospel and, consequently, evangelization, are of course not identified with one culture and are independent of all cultures (Evangelii Nuntiandi,20), yet they possess a regenerating force that can positively influence culture. The Christian message does not weaken culture, destroying its peculiar characteristics; on the contrary it acts on these interiorly, appreciating that original power that their genius is capable of expressing. The influence of the Gospel on culture purifies and elevates the human, making shine the beauty of life, the harmony of peaceful coexistence, the genius that each nation contributes to the community of men. Such an influx has its force in love, which does not impose but proposes, giving an incentive for free adhesion, in an atmosphere of respect and mutual acceptance.
4. The message of love that is proper to the Gospel frees situations and human values, like solidarity, the desire for liberty and equality, respect for pluralism in forms of expressions. The cornerstone of the civilization of love is acknowledgement of the value of the human person and, concretely, of all human persons. The great contribution of Christianity is recognized in this very area. In fact, from reflection on the mystery of the Triune God Himself and on the Person of the Word made flesh, the anthropological doctrine of the human person as a being in relation gradually arose. This precious acquisition has matured the awareness of society, establishing the person as the point of departure and the objective to reach. The social doctrine of the Church, which the spirit of the Jubilee calls us to readdress, has contributed to base the very laws of social coexistence on the rights of the person. The Christian vision of the human being as image of God implies, in fact, that the rights of the person by their nature exact respect from society, which does not create them, but simply recognizes them (Cf. 'Gaudium et Spes', 26)
5. The Church is conscious that this doctrine can remain dead letter if social life is not animated by the breath of an authentic religious experience and, in particular, by Christian witness continually nourished by the creative and healing action of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, it is conscious that the crisis of society and of modern man is caused to a great extent by the reduction of the specific spiritual dimension of the human person.
Christianity offers its contribution to the construction of society in keeping with the measure of the human person, assuring the him of a soul and proclaiming the demands of God's law, with which every organization and legislation of society must comply, if they intend to guarantee human development, freedom from every kind of slavery, and genuine progress.
This contribution of the Church takes place especially in the testimony offered by Christians, and in particular the laity, in their daily life. Modern man in fact accepts the message of love from witnesses far more than from teachers, or from thse when they are authentic witnesses (Cf. EN, 41). This is the challenge that must be addressed, so that new horizons will open for the future of Christianity and of humanity itself.
Job, an oriental chieftain, pious and upright, richly endowed in his own person and in domestic prosperity, suffers a sudden and complete reversal of fortune. He loses his property and his children; a loathsome disease afflicts his body; and sorrow oppresses his soul. Nevertheless, Job does not complain against God. When some friends visit him to condole with him, Job protests his innocence and does not understand why he is afflicted. He curses the day of his birth and longs for death to bring an end to his syfferings. The debate which ensues consists of three cycles of speeches. Job's friends insist that his plight can only be a punishment for personal wrongdoing and an invitation from God to repentance. Job rejects their inadqueate explanation and even that of a younger friend who argues that suffering is a preventive as well as a cure for sin.
In response to Job's plea that he be allowed to see God and hear frm Him the cause of his suffering, God answers, not by justifying His action before men, but by r eferring to His own omniscience and almighty power. Job is content with this. He recovers his attitude of humility and trust in God, which is deepened now and strengthened by his experience of suffering.
The author of the book and the time of its composition are not known. Its literary form, with speeches, prologue and epilogue disposed according to a studied plan, indicates that the purpose of the writing is didactic. The lesson is that even the just may suffer here, and their sufferings are a test of their fidelity. They shall be rewarded in the end. Man's finite mind cannot probe the depths of the divine omniscience that governs the world. The problems we encounter can be solved by a broader and deeper awareness of God's power, presence and wisdom.
At the Synod of Sutri the Holy Roman Emperor Henry III, German king removed Pope Gregory VI from the papal throne. He had been elected on May 5, 1045 and would die late in 1047. He took the place of Pope Benedict IX who was also forced to abdicate during these Dark Ages. Gregory personally led his army in protecting himself from invasion by Henry. To Gregory is attributed the forming of the first pontifical army.
Death of Saint Domingo, Spanish abbot and monastery founder.
Pope Pius XI issues his 25th encyclical Ad Catholici sacerdoti