Wednesday, December 30, 2009

They should have kept Epiphany instead...

Just a reminder to everyone that Friday, January 1st, is a Holy Day of obligation.

Of course, it is usually on this of all Holy Days that such "reminders" make their appearance. Because this is, in some ways, the least logical of them all.

Catholics who go to Church on Sundays...generally do attend Assumption, All Saints, and Immaculate Conception...but this definitely the forgotten one.

It's always been a Holy Day, but originally it was just as "The Octave of Christmas". When the third council of Baltimore was choosing which Holy Days to make obligatory in the United States, they picked New Year's Day, but under the title "Circumcision of Our Lord."

It is only since Vatican II that it has been obligatory because it is the "Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God"...a concept always attached to the day, but was only the tertiary emphasis previously (though the existence of this "maternity" aspect to January 1...always made the "idea feast" instituted by Pius XI on October 11 for the "Maternity of Mary" a little redundant seeming to me.) Mary's main feasts were always Annunciation and Assumption, Ladymas and Marymas. Immaculate Conception later also became important, obviously.

But portraying this as the feast of Mary AS a in some ways just as counter-intuitive as having a "Feast of Jesus Christ", as the Blessed Virgin is more than a Saint, she is an eschatological figure who is really commemorated by events in her life in her own sort of Temporal cycle (Conception, Nativity, Presentation, Assumption, etc), not the Sanctoral.

Anyway, my point is, this has always struck me as an odd choice for a Holy Day, with a very muddled history.

Would that the US bishops have kept Epiphany, and dropped this one! Then maybe early January wouldn't be "the forgotten Holy Day". But no. Instead, we see a feast anciently considered more important than Christmas itself, on January 6th, moved to the nearest Sunday, and the "Twelve Days of Christmas" turned into anywhere from 8-14 days depending on when the Sunday falls.

Maybe they figured that New Year's Day was good to keep because it was a civic holiday anyway, and few people would be working. Whereas by January 6th, many Christmas breaks are over and people are back to work. That may have made sense in the 19th century when labor was treated extremely poorly, but nowadays many Catholics just seem annoyed by this feast exactly because they are up late on New Year's Eve and wish they could just use the civic day-off to sleep late and rest before starting the year.

And selecting it just because it is a civic holiday is a rather pathetic surrender to American capitalism, don't you think? The whole point of Holy Days is to sanctify days that aren't already a Sunday, to make Catholics get to Mass on a weekday to commemorate important feasts. Epiphany was always much more important than January 1st, one of the most major feasts of the liturgical year, commemorating not just the visit of the Magi, but also the Baptism of Our Lord, and the Wedding at Cana, which are then specifically commemorated and elaborated upon on their own days within the expanded Epiphany season. Epiphany was the day of a great Holy Water blessing, and the day that the date of Easter and all the movable feasts connected to it was announced.

So, in my humble opinion, the USCCB should drop the rather obscure January 1st obligation, and instead bring back Epiphany on January 6th as a Holy Day in the United States.

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