The Church office will be closed December 25th – January 5th.
December 25: The Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ
On this day we remember the most momentous and miraculous event in the history of the cosmos: God, who created the world and all that is in it, became a man. He did this to repair the damage caused by sin, and to give himself to us, that we might be yoked to him in an inseparable bond of communion forever. Already the Child Christ is on his way to Calvary, to give himself for us, to show us the Father from whom we were estranged, and to make true peace and eternal life a reality for mankind.
December 26: St. Stephen
Stephen, a deacon in the during the Apostolic age of the Church, is called “protomartyr” because he is the first Christian to imitate the Lord in laying down his life for the Gospel. Acts chapters 6 and 7 relate that Stephen was tried by the Sanhedrin and convicted (because of false testimony) for blasphemy against the Jewish religion. During the trial, Stephen bore witness to Jesus as the Messiah, and had a vision of Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father. Upon hearing this, the religious leaders took him outside the city and stoned him to death. As he was dying, Stephen’s last words were “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7.59f). Acts further records that Saul (who would later become Saint Paul) attended the stoning and “was consenting to [Stephen’s] death” (Acts 8.1). The place of Stephen’s burial was unknown until it was revealed in a vision to a priest named Lucian in the year 415. Stephen’s relics were exhumed and taken to Mount Zion, and from there, in 460, to a church outside the Damascus Gate of Jerusalem, where according to tradition the stoning had taken place. The martyrdom of Saint Stephen marks the beginning of the world’s violent opposition to living faith in Jesus Christ; but little did his murderers suspect that the blood they shed would be the first drops to water a harvest of souls that would soon cover the face of the earth.
December 27: St. John
John was the brother of James the Greater, and together were often mentioned together and called “the sons of Zebedee” in the New Testament. Jesus named them “Boanerges” “sons of thunder”. Originally they were fishermen, along with their father, on the Sea of Galilee from whence Jesus called them to become his followers. Thereafter, along with Peter, they were the disciples closest to the Lord. These three are often mentioned as a group in the Gospels, and were the sole witnesses of a number of events (e.g. the Transfiguration of the Lord, Matt. 17.1). After the Lord’s resurrection and ascension, John appears to have been preeminent, after Peter, among the Apostolic leadership of the nascent Church; and he is often mentioned in Acts as accompanying Peter in Jerusalem. Eventually John went to Asia Minor (modern Turkey), where he preached the Gospel, and established churches which he led from Ephesus. The fourth Gospel and the Epistles of John are the fruit of this leadership. John is the only of the twelve Apostles not to have suffered martyrdom. He lived to a very great age, and several of the Apostolic Fathers, whose writings survive, knew him and mention him in their writings (among them Polycarp of Smyrna, Ignatius of Antioch, and Justin Martyr). He died around the year 100 at Ephesus.
December 28: The Holy Innocents
In England called “Chidermas”, on this feast we remember the male children under the age of two whom the tyrannical king Herod slaughtered in Bethlehem upon hearing from the Wise Men that the Messiah, “King of the Jews” (and therefore, so he thought, a rival) had been born in that town. In contemporary chronicles of King Herod’s other bloody deeds, the massacre of the Holy Innocents is conspicuously unremarked-upon. This silence is explained by the fact that in the first century Bethlehem was a tiny town, and therefore that in the light of the atrocities committed by Herod on a grander scale (including the beheading of his own adult son), the massacre at Bethlehem seemed unremarkable. Modern scholars have suggested that the number of children killed was likely to have been fewer than 15. The Church venerates these innocents as the first people to die for Christ, and not only FOR him, but because Herod was seeking to kill the Messiah, in the place of Jesus. Since antiquity, the Roman church of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls has been said to possess relics of several of the Holy Innocents. In many churches in England, during the Middle Ages, a “boy bishop” was elected who officiated at the feast of the Holy Innocents (as well as St. Nicholas’ Day on Dec. 6). The boy “bishop” would wear a mitre and other pontifical regalia, would sit in the bishop’s throne, sing the collect at mass, preach, and give the blessing at the end of mass.
December 29: St. Thomas Becket
Born around the year 1118 at London, Thomas studied Theology at London and Paris and was a rising star on the political scene of the 12th century. Known for his piety and self-denial even during his secular career, Thomas took deacon’s orders in 1154, and was ordained priest on June 2, 1162; and was consecrated bishop the next day. The King, Henry II, desired St. Thomas to be Archbishop of Canterbury. Their relations were strained from the outset, and when Henry insisted that criminal clergy be tried in secular courts, St. Thomas refused – not because he wanted undue leniency for clergy, but by way of preserving the independence of the Church from the secular state. In 1170, four knights entered Canterbury Cathedral demanding that St. Thomas lift the sentence of excommunication he had issued against two bishops. What happened next was recorded later by Edward Grim, a visiting cleric, and an eyewitness whose own arm was cut off when he tried to defend St. Thomas: two monks “hastened to close the doors of the church in order to bar the enemies from slaughtering the bishop, but the wondrous athlete turned toward them and ordered that the doors be opened. “It is not proper,” he said, “that a house of prayer, a church of Christ, be made a fortress since although it is not shut up, it serves as a fortification for his people; we will triumph over the enemy through suffering rather than by fighting – and we come to suffer, not to resist.” Without delay the sacrilegious men entered the house of peace and reconciliation with swords drawn… [St. Thomas said,] “Here I am ready to suffer in the name of He who redeemed me with His blood; God forbid that I should flee on account of your swords or that I should depart from righteousness.” With these words – at the foot of a pillar – he turned to the right. On one side was the altar of the blessed mother of God, on the other the altar of the holy confessor Benedict – through whose example and prayers he had been crucified to the world and his lusts; he endured whatever the murderers did to him with such constancy of the soul that he seemed as if he were not of flesh. The murderers pursued him and asked, “Absolve and restore to communion those you have excommunicated and return to office those who have been suspended.” To these words [Thomas] replied, “No penance has been made, so I will not absolve them.” “Then you,” they said, “will now die and will suffer what you have earned.” “And I,” he said, “am prepared to die for my Lord, so that in my blood the church will attain liberty and peace; but in the name of Almighty God I forbid that you hurt my men, either cleric or layman, in any way.” The invincible Martyr…with his neck bent as if he were in prayer and with his joined hands elevated above – commended himself and the cause of the Church to God, St. Mary, and the blessed martyr St. Denis. He had barely finished speaking when the impious knight… suddenly set upon him and, shaving off the summit of his crown which the sacred chrism consecrated to God, he wounded the sacrificial lamb of God in the head…. then, with another blow received on the head, [Thomas yet] remained firm. But with the third the stricken martyr bent his knees and elbows, offering himself as a living sacrifice, saying in a low voice, “For the name of Jesus and the protection of the church I am ready to embrace death.” But the third knight inflicted a grave wound on the fallen one; with this blow he shattered the sword on the stone, and his crown, which was large, separated from his head so that the blood turned white from the brain yet no less did the brain turn red from the blood; it purpled the appearance of the church with the colors of the lily and the rose, the colors of the Virgin and Mother and the life and death of the confessor and martyr.” Thomas was immediately revered as a martyr, and was canonized by Pope Alexander III just three years after his murder. King Henry II expressed contrition for his part in the murder, and did public penance, submitting himself to be scourged at St. Thomas’ tomb at Canterbury. Countless miracles were reported by people praying at the tomb, and it became one of the most popular pilgrimage destinations in medieval Europe. During the Reformation, however, in September of 1538, the tomb was desecrated by order of the crown, and St. Thomas’s bones were destroyed. St. Thomas Becket is patron of Exeter College, Oxford; and of secular (i.e. non-monastic) clergy.
December 31: St. Sylvester
Sylvester was pope during the reign of the first Christian emperor, Constantine, and was pope during the first ecumenical Council of Nicea. Thus he presided over the Catholic Church during a time of transition from the era of Christianity’s persecution to its toleration and vast expansion in the Roman Empire. During St. Sylvester’s pontificate many of the great churches of Rome (which are still there) were built, including St. John Lateran, Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, and St. Peter’s Basilica.