Embedded within the Christmas season is an “octave”–a period of eight days–celebrated from Christmas day to January 1st . Three primary octaves reside on the Church calendar: Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost, like a season within a season. The Christmas Octave feast days mark important clarifications on the doctrine of Christ’s divinity and humanity.
December 25, The Nativity of Our Lord, Christmas (Holy Day of Obligation)
On December 25th, Catholics around the world will celebrate The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ which is the Birth of Jesus. This is based primarily on the two accounts in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew. The Canonical Gospels of Luke and Matthew describe Jesus being born in Bethlehem, in Judea, to a Virgin Mother named Mary.
The Nativity of Jesus demonstrates the basic doctrines of the Incarnation of Jesus as God made Man, in fulfillment of the Divine Will of God, undoing the damage caused by the fall of the first man, Adam. This is the crux of why we celebrate Christmas: because it allowed us to receive God’s grace through His Son on a human level. There is nothing we can do to earn salvation. Yet, God offers His Son as the ultimate sacrifice for our sake.
December 26, St. Stephen the First Martyr
St. Stephen is the patron saint of deacons. He lived life as one of the seven deacons appointed by the Apostles to perform charitable acts to the poor and work great wonders and signs among the people. However, certain members of the Synagogue came forward and debated with Stephen. However, they could not withstand the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke (Acts 6:8-10). The crowds dragged him out of the city where they stoned him to death.
In the same way, each and every Christian is called to bear witness to Jesus Christ, which does not necessarily mean shedding blood. Being a witness means we are to be living testimonies of our faith.
December 27, St. John the Evangelist
On December 27, we celebrate St. John the Evangelist. He is the same John who was the only Apostle at Calvary, who laid his head on Our Lord’s chest and through his Gospel shows us how to live in the manner of Christ.
St. John was a fisherman who was called while mending his nets to follow Jesus. With James his brother and Simon Peter, he was one of the witnesses of the Transfiguration. At the foot of the cross, Jesus entrusts His Mother to his care. John was exiled to the island of Patmos under Emperor Domitian, but lived to an old age.
He wrote the fourth Gospel, three Epistles and the Apocalypse (Revelation). His passages on the Word, who by His Incarnation became the light of the world and life of our souls, are among the most well-known of the New Testament.
December 28, The Holy Innocents
The liturgy on December 28 calls us to reflect on the Holy Innocents who were the children under age 2 who were slaughtered by the tyrant Herod. Herod feared one of them might be the newborn rival king, Jesus (Mt 2:16-18). In our era, abortion continues to murder millions of innocents. Click to read more about the landmark case Dobbs vs. Jackson and how the fight to end abortion continues today.
December 29, St. Thomas Becket
A London-born clerk to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas studied canon law abroad and was ordained a deacon. His support of Henry II’s claim to England’s throne led to his appointment as royal chancellor. However, he and the king clashed over many issues, notably the jurisdiction of ecclesiastical courts.
This led to Thomas fleeing to France for six years; soon after his return, Henry’s wish to be rid of this troublesome prelate led to Thomas’ murder by four knights. St. Thomas Becket is a patron saint of Roman Catholic Diocesan Clergy.
December 30, The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
This feast is significant because it reveals God’s love for family life. The Father allowed His Divine Son to live this life and, as a result, elevated family life to a place within the Trinity. The holiness of the Holy Family reveals to us that every family is invited to share in God’s Divine life and to encounter ordinary daily life with grace and virtue.
The general breakdown of the family, however, at the end of the past century and at the beginning of our own, prompted the popes, especially Leo XIII, to promote the observance of this feast. They did this with the hope that it might instill into Christian families something of the faithful love and the devoted attachment of the family of Nazareth.
Pope St. Sylvester I
Pope St. Sylvester I became Pope immediately after Constantine ended the persecution of Christians. He oversaw the first era of peace on earth. Pope Sylvester supported the Council of Nicea in 325 where the Church proclaimed Jesus as both human and divine, consubstantial with the Father. He approved the Nicene Creed, still recited at every Sunday Mass.
Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God (Holy Day of Obligation)
On this final and actual Octave day, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. This is a holy day of obligation on which we honor the role of Mary in the salvation history of mankind. The Gospel reading this day (Lk 2:16-21) announces that the child carried by Mary was circumcised. He was given the name Jesus on the eighth day after his birth.
Pope Paul VI, in his apostolic exhortation Marialis Cultus, called the Solemnity of Mary “a fitting occasion for renewing adoration of the newborn Prince of Peace, for listening once more to the glad tidings of the angels (Luke 2:14), and for imploring from God, through the Queen of Peace, the supreme gift of peace.”
Each of these feast days within the Octave continues the joys of Christmas Day and helps us in our attempt to understand the mystery of the Incarnation.
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