Friday, December 8, 2017

The Christmas Season, Part 1

     That’s what we call it around here: the Christmas season; i.e., the season centered on the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ and the events surrounding it. Not “the holiday season.” I know we’re all supposed to be multiculturally inclusive and so forth, but the Fortress of Crankitude is my dive, the residents jitterbug to my tune, and anyway I write what I bloody well please. Besides, whoever heard of Chanukkah carols sung around a Chanukkah tree? So here’s the first of a sporadic set of emissions about the Christmas season, from the crankiest Catholic on the Web by certified measurement.

     (Never fear that I “disrespect” the C.S.O.’s faith, whatever that means. Jesus was the Son of a Jewish mother, after all. The little electric menorah has been deployed in the picture window next to the crèche; the first candles will be lit on Tuesday. For dinner for the occasion I bought her two pounds of chopped liver, two giant spinach knishes, and a large red onion, and she’s agreed to make her intergalactically renowned potato latkes to round it out. That should be sufficient.)

     December 8 is, in a sense, the opening of the Christmas season. On this date, Catholics celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. The Church teaches that Mary of Nazareth, the Mother of God, is the one and only human being in recorded history conceived without the taint of “original sin.” This doctrine was proclaimed by Pope Pius IX in 1854. Given that her Son was one of the three Persons of God, it makes sense that the human vessel through which He was to be Incarnated should be special.

     Every word written about Mary, from the Protoevangelium to Anne Catherine Emmerich’s visions of her last days, testifies to an abundant, all-pervading grace. The Archangel Gabriel, God’s Annunciator, made it quite explicit:

     And in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God into a city of Galilee, called Nazareth, To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David: and the virgin's name was Mary.
     And the angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. Who having heard, was troubled at his saying and thought with herself what manner of salutation this should be.
     And the angel said to her: Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God. Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb and shalt bring forth a son: and thou shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great and shall be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father: and he shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever. And of his kingdom there shall be no end.
     And Mary said to the angel: How shall this be done, because I know not man?
     And the angel answering, said to her: The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee. And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. And behold thy cousin Elizabeth, she also hath conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her that is called barren. Because no word shall be impossible with God.
     And Mary said: Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it done to me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.

     [Luke 1:26-38]

     Considering how heavy a burden it proved to be, Mary’s acceptance of that role was a great gift to us, second only to God’s gift to us of His Son.

     “Original sin” is itself a concept mired in controversy. In recent years, it’s been interpreted as the “brokenness” of Man, being capable of sin by virtue of our free wills and our susceptibility to temptation. Though it’s almost certainly allegorical rather than circumstantial, the story of Adam, Eve, and the Fall dramatizes how human desire can sometimes override our obedience to God and our consciences.

     Mary was free from that weakness. Yet as a human woman she possessed the free will that, along with our intellects, distinguishes us from the lower orders. And so, when Gabriel appeared to her at the Annunciation, she was free to accept or decline the burden of being the Mother of God.

     What if Mary had said “Thanks, but no thanks?” As God does all things for each of His creatures, we would have been redeemed somehow. He did not create us to be forever apart from Him. Still, it’s obvious that history would have been quite different.

     But she accepted it, and so gave us the Redeemer from her own flesh.

     And Mary rising up in those days, went into the hill country with haste into a city of Juda. And she entered into the house of Zachary and saluted Elizabeth.
     And it came to pass that when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the infant leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost. And she cried out with a loud voice and said: Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed art thou that hast believed, because those things shall be accomplished that were spoken to thee by the Lord.
     And Mary said: My soul doth magnify the Lord. And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid: for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

     [Luke 1:39-48]

     And all generations have called her blessed: the Blessed Virgin, Holy Mother of God, Queen of Angels and Men, the highest of all saints, to whom we give special homage on this day.

     May God bless and keep you all.


Dymphna said...

I love Advent. It's the beginning of the Liturgical Year, a cycle that's been observed for a very long time. When I was a kid, I loved the feast of the Immaculate Conception: a day free from school, though we went to Mass...being in an orphanage, we went to Mass *every* day, so that didn't make it stand out particularly...there was just something about Mary. The epitome of Jewish mothers, as she demonstrates at Cana.

Yeah, I have a menorah, too. But I've misplaced my Advent wreath. Already a week late. Latkes are off the menu now - d.g., since they're a whole lotta trouble.

May you have a robust and memorable Advent, sir.

Ron Olson said...

God bless you Mr P for sharing your faith so well. I look forward everyday to your posts.

Linda Fox said...

I've noticed a determined effort on the part of schools to re-name the holiday (Holy Day) to Winter Break, rather than Christmas Break. The last time I was (gently) chastised for that wording, I replied:

I'll call it Winter Break the very first time the break does NOT include Christmas and New Year's.