Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Octave Day of Christmas, Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, The Mother of God

Catechism Links[1]
CCC 464-469: Jesus Christ, true God and true Man
CCC 495, 2677: Mary is the Mother of God
CCC 1, 52, 270, 294, 422, 654, 1709, 2009: Our adoption as sons
CCC 527, 577-582: Jesus submits to the Law, and perfects it
CCC 580, 1972: The New Law frees from restrictions of the Old Law
CCC 683, 689, 1695, 2766, 2777-2778: In the Holy Spirit we can call God “Abba”
CCC 430-435, 2666-2668, 2812: The name of Jesus

“Madonna of the Harpies” (detail)
by Andrea Del Sarto, 1517


Reading 1: Numbers 6:22-27

Commentary on Nm 6:22-27

This passage contains the “Priestly Blessing,” or the “Blessing of Aaron.” It was to be used by priests to bless the people of God. “…let his face shine upon you,” would indicate an act of divine pleasure. As Christians, the final strophe of the blessing: “The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace” is seen as being fulfilled at the birth of the Messiah, Jesus, Son of God and son of Mary.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8

R. (2a) May God bless us in his mercy.

Commentary on Ps 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8

Psalm 67 is a blessing and has elements of the ancient blessing of Aaron from Numbers 6:22ff. This blessing has more of a plaintive tone (a group lament), or petition asking for a bountiful harvest. It points to the universal salvation promised by God to all the peoples.

Reading II: Galatians 4:4-7

Commentary on Gal 4:4-7

God sent his Son, born of a woman.” This passage, taken as part of the Gospel proclaimed by St. Paul, provides the Galatians with the important fact that Mary gave birth to Jesus. He did not mystically appear to us. Jesus is (was) true man: meaning he went through the biological birth process. It also means that Mary, the Mother of God, went through the difficult physical process of giving birth.

St. Paul goes on to remind us that, through this action, we are all adopted by God and are entitled to call God our Father, “Abba,” a familial term of endearment (translated into American usage as “daddy”).

CCC: Gal 4:1-7 1972; Gal 4:4-5 422; Gal 4:4 484, 488, 527, 531, 580, 702; Gal 4:5-7 1265; Gal 4:6 683, 689, 693, 742, 1695, 2766
Gospel: Luke 2:16-21

Commentary on Lk 2:16-21

The message, given to the shepherds by choirs of angels, that they in turn brought to Mary, that she kept and reflected about in her heart was: “For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger." (Luke 2 11-12)

This encounter with the shepherds further reinforces Mary’s faith, the acceptance of her child’s role explained to her by the Archangel Gabriel when this wonderful and tragic journey began.

CCC: Lk 2:19 2599; Lk 2:21 527
Homily for the Octave Day of Christmas – The Solemnity of Mary

First, let me wish you all a happy and prosperous New Year. This is a time when we generally take stock of what we want to accomplish in the upcoming year and resolve to take positive action to accomplish those new goals. We may vow to lose weight, save money, or to work harder at school or at our jobs.  Our New Year’s resolutions are made so that the year ahead will see us happier and more fulfilled going forward.  Ironically, we also celebrate on this day the Solemnity of Mary, the high feast day of the Blessed Virgin, in whose son’s birth we rejoiced just eight days ago.  I say “ironically” because she, more than any other saint we venerate, more than any other person in the history of humankind, points to that which can give us all the happiness and fulfillment we can imagine – the peace of her Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ.

On this holy Octave day of Christmas, St. Luke’s story of the nativity continues with the announcement by the shepherds of the news they had heard from the heavenly hosts (Luke 2:8-14).  In the context of the times, this would have been a singularly amazing event: shepherds abandoning their flocks (they never left their flocks), coming to the little town of Bethlehem in awe and wonder seeking a manger and a newborn child.

The Magi had not yet arrived and Joseph and his bride were in humble surroundings with their newborn child.  Here come a group of shepherds praising God, astounded to find this new King as they had been told, wrapped in swaddling clothes in the stable.  It was true: God’s messengers had announced this momentous birth, not to kings and princes, but to lowly shepherds.  It was they who gave the Prince of Peace the first praise upon his entry into the world as man.

Within this incredible scene is the new mother, Mary, Blessed Virgin, Mother of God’s great gift.  What must she have thought, seeing these reclusive herdsmen mysteriously drawn there by angelic choirs?  We recall that God’s touch-points with her had been early in her pregnancy.  She was told what to expect (as was St. Joseph) but that had been some time ago.  Even the greeting of St. Elizabeth (“Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb”) had been several months earlier.  The little mother must have been somewhat puzzled by the events as they had unfolded.  To our best knowledge, she was never told that she would not have this child in the traditional setting, in her home with kinswomen around her.  When she came due and delivered this baby in a manger, of all places, she must have wondered if Gabriel’s message and St. Elizabeth’s greeting had been a dream. 

But here come shepherds, praising God and giving thanks for her Son, God’s Son, now nestled in her arms.  They spoke of heavenly hosts and glad tidings of great joy, and she knew, she knew it was all true.  This child she had carried and nurtured was destined to be the salvation of the world, and she had brought this new life into the world.  And this gift and responsibility she silently pondered, perhaps again saying in her heart: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.  My spirit rejoices in God my savior!

In that opening offering from the Magnificat, we see the attitude of one truly “full of grace.” In her humility she shows us the grace of her then unborn Son, already giving the gift of God’s peace.  What more can we hope for from our New Year’s resolutions than to find an interior peace that gives us the ability to overcome all obstacles, to endure any trial?

As we consider what we hope to accomplish in this New Year, let us make a pledge to emulate Mother Mary, and put it at the very top of that list.  If we, like the Blessed Virgin, focus all our efforts for the greater Glory of God through Christ Jesus, our Mother’s prayers will be with us and our success will be that much more assured.

On this, the solemn feast of Mary, we remember how she began her wondrous and tragic journey.  We see her sacrifice, faith, and grace as examples of what we strive to become in the service of the Son she gave us, the Son of God who takes away the sins of the world.  Today we pray fervently for her intercession, for she has become Queen of Heaven, and as such, has the special favor of her Son.  May we faithfully continue our journey to Jesus this year and conform ourselves to Him and his mother.


[1] Catechism links are taken from the Homiletic Directory, Published by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, 29 June 2014
[2] The picture is “Madonna of the Harpies” (detail) by Andrea Del Sarto, 1517

Saturday, December 30, 2017

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

Catechism Links[1]
CCC 531-534: The Holy Family
CCC 1655-1658, 2204-2206: The Christian family, a domestic Church
CCC 2214-2233: Duties of family members
CCC 529, 583, 695: The Presentation in the Temple
CCC 144-146, 165, 489, 2572, 2676: Abraham and Sarah as models of faith

“The Holy Family” by Bartolomeo Schedoni, 1610-12


Reading 1: Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14

Commentary on Sir 3:2-6, 12-14

"Throughout the book each doctrinal passage is followed by a section to do with practical applications, sapiential [wisdom] thoughts on moral conduct, eulogies of virtues and sapiential advice on where to seek things that are truly good, etc. This is the first such section. In it the reader will find an exhortation to prudence in all its various forms."[5]

This selection from Sirach is an exposition of the commandment to honor your father and mother. It goes into greater length about the positive benefits that come to the person who does so. It is also consistent with the early Hebrew belief that the honor received by the father of a household was transferred to the children (just as in the omitted verses 8-11, the sins are also transmitted to the children).

CCC: Sir 3:2-6 2218; Sir 3:12 2218

Commentary on Gn 15:1-6; 21:1-3

Abram was earlier promised the land he now occupies as a possession. In this section we find Abram complaining that he has no heir and therefore all he has will pass to his servant. In response God tells him that he will be given offspring; “Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so,” he added, “shall your descendants be.

"A critical juncture in the spiritual journey of Abram. He clings to the Lord's promise of many descendants (13:16) and a land inheritance (12:713:14-15), but he is forced to wrestle with the unsolved problem of childlessness (15:2). As later [below] in 22:1-14, God is giving him an opportunity to be tested and found faithful (1 Mac 2:52) (CCC 2374, 2570)."[6]

God’s physical response is found in the first three verses of Chapter 21 as Sarah, the wife of Abraham, is given Isaac, the heir of their union (in the intervening verses, Hagar, Sarah’s servant, bears him Ishmael). "The birth of Isaac and the banishment of Ishmael: these pivotal events ensure that Isaac alone will inherit the covenant promises made to Abraham (17:2121:12)."[7]

CCC: Gn 15:2-3 2570; Gn 15:2 2374; Gn 15:5-6 762; Gn 15:5 146, 288; Gn 15:6 146, 2571
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 128:1-2, 3, 4-5

R. (cf. 1) Blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways.

Commentary on Ps 128:1-2, 3, 4-5

Psalm 128 is a song of thanksgiving. It begins here with the typical blessings given to those following and having faith in the Lord. This selection uses the analogy of the family and the blessing it brings to the faithful, using the symbolism of vines and olives, imagery commonly used in sacred scripture.

It also supports the creation of woman and the marriage theme in Genesis 2:18-25. It is the logical extension of the two becoming one flesh and the children flowing from that union.


R. (7a , 8a) The Lord remembers his covenant for ever.

The song of praise we are given today exhorts us to praise the Lord constantly and to remember his covenant with Abraham and Isaac. We, of course, praise him for the new covenant in Jesus, for which the Son of God became the sealing sacrifice.

CCC: Ps 105:3 30
Reading II: Colossians 3:12-21

Commentary on Col 3:12-21

St. Paul exhorts the Colossians with a litany of positive attitudes that culminate in the cardinal axiom of the faith: “love one another.”  He goes on to implore them to let the peace of Christ control their every action and to praise God constantly through Jesus, God’s only Son.

The passage describes the rather controversial family hierarchy of the era portrayed by St. Paul. This entire section of the letter is a discourse on harmony within the family of Christ. It is important to note the instruction given in the first part of this reading. Paul describes the Christian rules for relationships: “Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another.”

When the subordinated relationships are described in the verses following, equality in membership in the family is established.

CCC: Col 3:14 815, 1827, 1844; Col 3:16-17 1156, 2633; Col 3:16 2641; Col 3:18-21 2204; Col 3:20 2217; Col 3:21 2286

Commentary on Col 3:12-17

This shorter option omits the hierarchical relationship descriptions. Its focus remains consistent, however, driving the Pauline ideals of harmony and unity within the Christian Family.

CCC: Col 3:14 815, 1827, 1844; Col 3:16-17 1156, 2633; Col 3:16 2641

Commentary on Heb 11:8, 11-12, 17-19

This reading from Hebrews provides an example of faith from God’s relationship with mankind. The author uses Abraham and his miraculous role as father of nations. None of his descendants ever saw the promise of the resurrection – but they died in faith and so have been invited to share that inheritance. The passage concludes with the example of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac, and his consequent understanding that God was able to raise those asleep in death.

CCC: Heb 11:8 145; Heb 11:17 145, 2572; Heb 11:19 2572
Gospel: Luke 2:22-40

Commentary on Lk 2:22-40

St. Luke begins the account of the Lord’s presentation recalling that Mary, the Virgin Mother of God, followed Mosaic Law by observing the Rite of Purification, which, by tradition, was required of any member of the community who had come in contact with the “Mystery,” life and death (the birth of a child or the burial of the dead).

At the Temple in Jerusalem, the Holy Family encounters two prophetic figures, Simeon and Anna. Both of these figures proclaim that the Messiah has come in the person of the Lord. We also hear from Simeon an image of the Lord’s passion, and how a sword of sorrow will pierce the Holy Mother’s heart.

Simeon, a man who “was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel,” was told by the Holy Spirit that he would not pass away until he had seen the Messiah. Upon seeing the Lord, he declares that this promise has been fulfilled, and then turns to Mary, making the prediction about the nature of Christ’s ministry and the nature of the sorrow she will endure.

CCC: Lk 2:22-39 529, 583; Lk 2:25 711; Lk 2:26-27 695; Lk 2:32 713; Lk 2:34 575, 587; Lk 2:35 149, 618; Lk 2:38 711

Commentary on Lk 2:22, 39-40

In the shorter version of the Gospel, the focus is more on the revelation of the Christ, as opposed to the impact of this revelation on Mary, the Mother of God. St. Luke’s account of Jesus being presented at the Temple provides a unique insight into the Holy Family. They are faithful observers of the Law of Moses. “Their purification: syntactically, their must refer to Mary and Joseph, even though the Mosaic law never mentions the purification of the husband. Recognizing the problem, some Western scribes have altered the text to read 'his purification,' understanding the presentation of Jesus in the temple as a form of purification; the Vulgate version has a Latin form that could be either 'his' or 'her.' According to the Mosaic law (Leviticus 12:2-8), the woman who gives birth to a boy is unable for forty days to touch anything sacred or to enter the temple area by reason of her legal impurity.”[8]  In addition to this description, we see that Jesus was returned to Nazareth to grow in stature. The passage ends with Canticle of Simeon, having seen the Christ, now being able to go to his final rest fulfilled.

CCC: Lk 2:22-39 529, 583; Lk 2:25 711; Lk 2:26-27 695; Lk 2:32 713

In the Gospel we see the continuity of God’s plan that began in Genesis with Abraham and his promised family, passing through the time of King David and the songs composed honoring Abraham’s faithfulness to his covenant with God.  With that covenant, St. Paul says to the Hebrews, God’s family spread to be finally adopted in Christ.

St. Luke’s story of the Holy Family shows the importance of stressing faith values in the family, as we find Mary and Joseph bringing the infant Christ to the Temple as prescribed by Mosaic Law.  Even in this act the savior is identified – the incarnate word made flesh is recognized by those under the influence of the Holy Spirit – in a sense, God recognizes his own essence in the child who is the Messiah.

What is significant for us to recognize is that even in the case of the unique Christ Child, the family creating an environment of holiness was important (the very first Domestic Church).  Jesus, an infant who was at once God came from Mary’s pristine womb into a family that guarded and nurtured the infant.  They seek God’s help and protection and are guided by faith.  The Holy Family is truly an example all families should follow.

Today, within the joy of this season when families are brought together by faith in God and faith in each other, we look at the crèche and see there Joseph, Mary, and Jesus.  We see the love of God and love of family and are moved once more to embrace the example of familial love they exemplify, pledging ourselves to do as they have done, establishing God’s presence in their families as a bond.  It is so hard to do.  With great love comes great power over those who love us and are loved by us.  It is so easy to take them for granted or see unintended hurt in what they say or do.

Let us pray this day (and each day) that the Holy Family may guide our families as we strive to keep Christ in our midst.


In other years on December 31st: Optional Memorial for Saint Sylvester I, Pope

[1] Catechism links are taken from the Homiletic Directory, Published by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, 29 June 2014
[2] The picture used today is “The Holy Family” by Bartolomeo Schedoni, 1610-12

[5] The Navarre Bible: “Wisdom Books”, Scepter Publishers, Princeton, NJ, © 2003, pp. 399
[6] Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, Genesis © 2010, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, CA. pp. 37
[7] ibid pp.43
[8] See NAB Footnote on Lk 2:22