DAILY CATHOLIC  CHRISTMAS-NEW YEAR'S ISSUE     December 24, 1999 - January 2, 2000  vol. 10, no. 245

DAILY LITURGY December 24 - December 31, 1999

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Friday, December 24, 1999

      First Reading: 2 Samuel 7: 1-5, 8-12, 14
      Psalms: Psalm 89: 2-5, 27, 29
      Gospel Reading: Luke 1: 67-79

       O Thou that sittest upon the cherubim, God of hosts, come, show Thy face, and we shall be saved.

    (Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be)


      First Reading: Isaiah 62: 1-5
      Psalms: Psalm 89:4-5, 16-17, 27, 29
      Second Reading: Acts 13: 16-17, 22-25
      Gospel Reading: Matthew 1: 1-25

SATURDAY, December 25, 1999


      First Reading: Isaiah 62: 1-5
      Psalms: Psalm 96: 1-3, 11-13
      Second Reading: Titus 2: 11-14
      Gospel Reading: Luke 2: 1-14


      First Reading: Isaiah 62: 11-12
      Psalms: Psalm 97:1, 6, 11-12
      Second Reading: Titus 3: 4-7
      Gospel Reading: Luke 2: 15-20


      First Reading: Isaiah 52: 7-10
      Psalms: Psalm 98:1-6
      Second Reading: Hebrews 1: 1-6
      Gospel Reading: Luke 2: 15-20


       With the Vigil of Christmas begins the Christmas Season in the Liturgical calendar. It officially ends with the Feast of the Epiphany. The Feast of the Nativity, or the Incarnation, or Christmas is a holy day of obligation and one of the most joyous in the Church. In celebrating this glorious event we commemorate the birth of the Christ-child as related in Luke 2: 1-20. It was the culmination of the long-awaited coming of the Messiah foretold throughout Scripture. Such as Isaiah 7:14 where the prophet foretold the Coming of Emmanuel; from Abraham to the Root of Jesse, father of David who continued the line as the Key of David - the Savior's lineage which came all the way down to Jacob, father of Joseph as transcribed in Matthew 1: 1-16. The story of a child born of a virgin in a poor, run-down stable on the outskirts of Bethlehem while lowly shepherds tended their flocks because there was no room at the inn is well-known by all detailed in Matthew 1:24-25, Luke 2: 1-20, and John 1: 14 wherein the beloved Apostle says it so eloquently: "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us." The feast, originally celebrated on the Feast of Epiphany in the East, was transfered to December 25 in 354 by Pope Liberius for the universal Church in the West where it was called "Christmas." Many believe this date was set to observe this wondrous feast to offset the observance of pagan ceremonies held simultaneously. These pagan feasts celebrated the winter solstice. There is credence for this supposition because at the time Liberius instituted Christmas on December 25 he was embroiled in debate with Julian the Apostate who, as Emperor, was trying to establish a universal pagan church. A special privilege of allowing the priests to say three Masses on Christmas day reverts back to around the 4th Century when the Holy Father celebrated Midnight Mass in the Basilica where the original Bethlehem manger was preserved. He then said a second in the church of St. Anastasia at dawn for her feast day was on December 25th as well, and followed that up with a day Mass at the Basilica in the Vatican. Today there are three different texts/readings for the three Masses on Christmas. The etimology of "Christmas" is derived from the Anglo-Saxon Cristes Maesse which means "Christ's Mass." In fact, most of the present customs in many countries evolved over the centuries as a result of Holy Mother Church's "Christianizing" of pagan celebrations during that time of year.

SUNDAY, December 26, 1999

    SUNDAY December 26:
    Traditional Feast of Saint Stephen, First Martyr

    White vestments
      First Reading: Genesis 15:1-6; 21:1-3 or Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14
      Psalms: Psalm 105:1-4, 6-9 or Psalm 128:1-5
      Second Reading: Colossians 3: 12-21 or Hebrews 11: 8, 11-12, 17-19
      Gospel Reading: Luke 2: 22-40


        This feast is always celebrated on the Sunday after Christmas and commemorates the holy bond of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. The Holy Family is the model for all homes, especiallly in this day and age when family concept is no longer held sacred and the sacred is profaned when same-sex unions call themselves family. In the Holy Family we have the ideal role models God intended for all His children: Jesus as the obedient child, observing all He can in bringing love to His Mother and foster father, contributing to the family unit; Joseph as the humble, loving, patient patriarch of the family, guiding Jesus gently but firmly, and lovingly protecting his spouse whom he respects so much he will not defile in word or action, defending her honor in all chasteness; and finally Mary, the loving Virgin Mother who never complains despite the rugged travel while with child, the harsh elements and the meager food. She tenderly cares for her Divine Son, spending sleepless hours in meditative union with God, always in joy, caring for her loving spouse Joseph by preparing the meals, washing his garments, etc. Yes, this is the ideal family and no one can perceive of such a family today - but it is the ideal to strive for and because of that, this feast is very special within the Church - a family member of the Communion of Saints. The Feast of the Holy Family first gained observance status in the 17th Century and garnered greater stature in the 18th Century when Pope Leo XIII consecrated families to the Holy Family. Pope Benedict XV extended the Divine Office and the Mass of this feast to the universal Church in 1921.
December 26 is traditionally the Feast of Saint Stephen, the first martyr but is superseded today by the Feast of the Holy Family:
        The first deacon of the Church, Saint Stephen was hand-picked by the Apostles to help the original twelve to minister to the poor. He was of Jewish descent who spoke Greek fluently from his education in Alexandria. Returning to Jerusalem he was converted to Christianity, many feel by Jesus Christ Himself during Our Lord's public ministry. After the descent of the Holy Spirit the Apostles ordained the seven deacons by laying their hands upon them while they prayed with Stephen being the first ordained. The deacons main ministry was to the Hellenic Jewish Christians in Jerusalem and Stephen, with his expertise in Greek and oratory, led the deacons in converting numerous Jews which caused great consternation among the Sanhedrin who accused Stephen of blasphemy because their best could not debate the brilliant Stephen who was inspired by the Holy Spirit. Chapter 6 and 7 of the Acts of the Apostle relate the events that took place leading up to Stephen's martyrdom. When brought before the Sanhedrin as a prisoner, the assembled body thought that if they threatened punishment, he would recant and cease his activities. Were they in for a surprise when Stephen defended Christ and His teachings. When the Sanhedrin denounced the Holy Spirit as a lot of hogwash and ordered him to stop preaching, Stephen smiled and described the instantaneous beautiful vision he had of Jesus standing at the right hand of God the Father, continuing about Jesus that he did not die but rose from the dead and ascended bodily into Heaven. In short, he not only refused to abandon his Savior, but also pinged the consciences of the Sanhedrin by reminding them of what God had intended with His chosen race of Israel, but which they had abandoned. This infuriated the pompous rulers; so much so that they siezed him in a fit of anger and dragged him outside the city where they stoned him to death, as Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit...Lord, do not lay this sin against them" (Acts 7:59-60). As Scripture accounts, there was a young soldier standing by who approved of the zealots violence. His name was Saul who would go on to become the great Paul, but for now he was still mired in the darkness as the lifeless Stephen laid in his own spilled blood, crushed to death. It was the first martyrdom of the Church after Christ's death on the Cross and it set a precedent and pattern that would be the seeds of Christianity for all time. His relics were discovered near the north gate of Jerusalem and the bishop of Jerusalem transferred them to Saint Sion. In 439 a new basilica was built in his honor, but was destroyed in 614 by the Persians. However the relics were preserved and the ruins became an oratory only to be destroyed again in 1187. His relics were preserved and separated, some going to northern Africa, others to Prague, some to Constantinople and the rest to Rome where they were preserved in the church of St. Stephen in Rome. It wasn't until 1882 that the original church in Jerusalem was rebuilt near the Dominican Biblical School, where it was consecrated at the turn of the century. His feast has been celebrated in the universal Church since the 5th Century.

Monday, December 27, 1999

      First Reading: 1 John 1: 1-4
      Psalms: Psalm 97: 1-2, 5-6, 11-12
      Gospel Reading: John 20: 2-8


        Known as the "beloved Apostle," Saint John, along with his brother Saint James were personally called by Jesus to become fishers of men. This had been his avocation before Our Lord touched his life on the shores of Galilee where he had been born, the son of Zebedee and Salome as chapter 4 of Matthew and 1 of Mark relate. John was the youngest of all the Apostles and dubbed "Sons of Thunder" by Our Lord mainly because of their volatile temperaments which, in John's case, was greatly calmed once he began to follow the Messiah. It is no secret, as Sacred Scripture attests to, that John was a personal favorite of Jesus. The Apostle was handpicked by Our Lord to accompany Him to the place of the Transfiguration, the healing of Peter's mother-in-law, the rasing of Jairus' daughter from the dead, and the agony in the garden. John rewarded his Master by being the only Apostle to follow Jesus to the foot of the Cross. He in turn was rewarded by Our Lord when He entrusted His most prized possession into the beloved Apostle's care - His very Own Blessed Mother Mary as the Apostle relates in his own gospel account, chapter 19: 25-27. John was the first to reach the empty tomb on Easter morning. After Pentecost, John accompanied Peter to Samaria to spread the Word to the people there and was present at the Council of Jerusalem in 49. After that he traveled to Asia Minor. Some believe Our Lady accompanied him there and lived in Ephesus, where she died and was assumed bodily into Heaven. Saint Paul affirms in Galatians 2: 9 that John, along with Peter and James, were "these pillars" of the Church. Church historian Tertullian holds that John traveled to Rome where he miraculously evaded martyrdom under the vile Roman emperor Domitian, emerging fresh and cool after being submerged in a boiling cauldron of oil. The Romans subsequently exiled him to the Isle of Patmos where the Apostle received the visions he recorded in the Apocalypse/Revelation - the last book of the Bible. In 96, upon Domitian's death, John returned to Ephesus where he wrote his gospel along with his three epistles. He has always been depicted with an eagle to signify the soaring majesticness of his writings which were indeed so brilliant theologically that some came to call him "John the Divine." John was totally human, however, as we know and he died in Ephesus around 104. Some historians refute this, claiming John returned to Patmos where he died just before the turn of the century. Regardless of accounts, it is fact that John lived a long life and contributed much to furthering the faith and completing Public Revelation.

Tuesday, December 28, 1999

      First Reading: 1 John 1: 5-10; 2: 1-2
      Psalms: Psalm 124: 2-5, 7-8
      Gospel Reading: Matthew 2: 13-18


        This feast commemorates the slaughter of the holy innocent male babies who were killed in King Herod's lust to find and destroy the Child Jesus as related in Matthew 2: 13-18. Ever since the 5th Century this feast has been observed as stated by Saint Peter Chrysologus. It became a solemn feast in 1568, declared so by Pope Saint Pius V. Though legend has it that thousands were slaughtered, the actual figure was closer to only 20 infants; yet even one is too many. Though Saint Stephen is considered the first martyr of the Church, in truth these innocents were really the first martyrs for unwillingly or not, they were the first victims to die for Christ. They are the original martyrs who St. John writes about in Apocalypse/Revelation 7: 14 and 17 when one of the elders says, "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation, and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb...and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." The holy innocents today are the innocent babies of the 20th Century who have been aborted by their own mothers. Like the first holy innocents who were a figment of a threat to Herod, these modern day innocents also are slaughtered because they are a threat to the worldly ways of those who seek the culture of death over the Culture of Life.

Wednesday, December 29, 1999

    Wednesday December 29: Fifth Day in the Octave of Christmas and
    Feast of Saint Thomas Becket, Bishop and Martyr

    White vestments
      First Reading: 1 John 2: 3-11
      Psalms: Psalm 96: 1-3, 5-6
      Gospel Reading: Luke 2: 22-35

Optional Feast of Saint Thomas Becket, Bishop and Martyr

        Born in London, England around 1118, Saint Thomas Becket became a priest and bishop, studying law in Rome, Bologna and France and serving as chancelor under England's King Henry II. However his relationship with the king deteriorated when Thomas showed more allegiance to Rome than England regarding Church property and authority. Thomas' rival Bishop Foliot, bishop of London fueled the fires by plotting against him. This forced Becket to flee to France where he took up refuge there until returning six years later at the request of Pope Alexander III who needed the support of both the French king and Henry against the antipope Paschal III who had aligned with the emperor Frederick Barbarossa. Thomas returned, hoping to reconcile with the king and to bring to justice those who had been plotting against him and the Church, but his mission was cut short when Foliot schemed with Henry to silence Thomas in the cathedral. Friends of Thomas' knew something was afoot and wanted to barricade Thomas inside the cathedral for his own safety, but Thomas exclaimed, "I am ready to die for the name of Jesus in defense of the Church." When they entered at sunset on December 29, 1170 four of Henry's knights with Foliot lurking in the shadows, shouted out "Where be the traitor? Where be Thomas Becket?" Thomas boldly presented himself proclaiming, "Here I am. No traitor I be, but rather a priest of God ready to shed my blood for Him." With that the dastardly deed was done on the sanctuary steps of the cathedral leading to the altar of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Benedict. His death caused Alexander III to excommunicate Henry II and Foliot. But the king repented two years later and, thus Thomas' death reconciled the king of England with Holy Mother Church as well as reconciliation with France and established the church at Canterbury as Rome's. A year after Henry's public apology Alexander canonized Thomas as a great martyr of the Church.

Thursday, December 30, 1999

      First Reading: 1 John 2: 12-17
      Psalms: Psalm 96: 7-10
      Gospel Reading: Luke 2: 36-40

Friday, December 31, 1999

    Friday December 31: Seventh Day in the Octave of Christmas and the optional
    Feast of Pope Saint Sylvester I

    White vestments
      First Reading: 1 John 2: 18-21
      Psalms: Psalm 96: 1-2, 11-13
      Gospel Reading: John 1: 1-18

Feast of Pope Saint Sylvester I

       On January 31, the 33rd successor to Peter was elected. He was Pope Saint Sylvester I who would enjoy a reign of 21 years as Pope. He became the first to wear the tiara and instituted Sunday as a holyday in memory of the Resurrection. Sylvester also created the "Iron Crown" with a nail from the Holy Cross which had been presented to him by Saint Helena. Through her influence and his own experience, her son Constantine, who would eventually convert just before his death, erected many churches throughout the Roman Empire including a basilica over the tomb of St. Peter which was the beginning of St. Peter's as well as a church over the tomb of St. Paul and oversaw the completion of St. John Lateran plus building an imperial palace for the Pope nearby. He also built churches in Nicomedia, Antioch and Tyre plus a church dedicated to the Holy Spirit known as St. Sophia in Constantinople and in Jerusalem -the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on Calvary , the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Church of the Ascension on Mt. Olivet. It was Constantine who decided Rome was not the center but rather farther east in the ancient Grecian port of Byzantium which he renamed Constantinople, moving the cultural and civilized center of the Empire east to this city. With the government farther away from the seat of Catholicism the Church was free to spread spirituality more readily without interference from the State as was the case in the East and which led to the ultimate split of the Orthodox Church from the Roman Catholic Church. The latter split was a definite con because of the tragic results and because the State in the East eventually interfered too closely with the Church and continues to do so today in places such as Russia where the Orthodox Church is the State religion. In 325 the First Ecumenical Council was convened in Nice or Nicaea south of Constantinople. Though Sylvester was not present because he felt that it would not be expedient for him to be at a council organized by politicians (Constantine), his bishops kept him informed. It had been held for the prime purpose of condemning Arianism, which had arisen in 318 by Arius a priest in Libya who was preaching falsely that the Son of God was not "consubstantial" with the Father. Though his bishop condemned him, excommunicating Arius and his followers, his heresy spread like a forest fire throughout the Empire which greatly troubled Constantine. Thus, with permission of Pope Sylvester, Constantine summoned all 318 of the Church's bishops to a meeting in Nicaea. There the Council Fathers pronounced the true and principle doctrines, composing the Nicene Creed as a profession of faith for all to follow. Though Arius was banished, he returned to the Church repentant just before his death. Yet his heresy continued in many forms for many centuries as a source of problems to Holy Mother Church. Legend has it that Constantine contracted leprosy while persecuting the Church and was miraculously healed by Sylvester after pagan rites failed; hence, his generous "Donation of Constantine" to the Church and campaign to make Christianity the state religion. However, it really is only legend with no basis for fact. It is a fact however that Sylvester declined temporal power over Rome and chose to direct Rome eclessiastically. It is also fact that he passed decrees regulating Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays as days of fasting for Catholics, a practice reintroduced by Our Lady at Medjugorje. Sylvester passed on to his Heavenly reward on December 31, 335 and the Church began celebrating his feastday less than 20 years later in 354 under Pope Liberius.

See January Liturgy

December 24, 1999 - January 2, 2000       volume 10, no. 245


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