JANUARY 1, 2019
8:00 AM ORDINARY FORM (ENGLISH) MASS
12:00 NOON EXTRAORDINARY FORM (LATIN) MASS
Several years ago, my sainted mother asked me around this time of the year:
What happened to the Feast of the Circumcision?Now, I’m sure there’s no other word that can cause a grown man to cringe physically – except maybe “Romantic Comedy” – just kidding … but indeed, what happened to this feast?
Looking online at a liturgical resource, we have the Feast of the Circumcision going back into the 13th and 14th centuries; and it is recorded in the Missal before the Tridentine reforms in 1568, and continues to exist until 1955 when it is called quite simply “The Octave Day of Christmas.”
Which is strange, since it is quite biblical, and this is read at Mass today:
When eight days were completed for his circumcision, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.Fifteen years later, in 1970, to make things even more confusing, the feast was renamed for a Roman feast day celebrated in the time of the Fathers of the Church called the “Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God.”
Historically, for the Chosen People, circumcision was the very physical sign of their covenant with God. The entirety of Chapter 17 of Genesis is devoted to this covenant. In the 1962 liturgy it is not read at all in any Mass, and in the 1970 liturgy (no pun intended) it seems we get a cut-and-paste version of Chapter 17 in our Lectionary readings (if at all) on the Friday of the 12th Week of Ordinary Time every other year; and on the Thursday of the 5th Week of Lent every year.
So what’s it all about?
Oddly, or interestingly, the 500 plus year old prayers associated with this day are unchanged. So, whatever we call it, it’s basically the same Mass.
Circumcision has multiple purposes in the ancient world.
One consideration is hygiene. Even in today’s modern era, it seems to provide protection against some diseases.
Another was as a sign of membership in a tribe. This is still seen in parts of the Middle East and Africa.
It could also be a sign of defeat or submission. Ancient warfare often had all men of fighting age slaughtered after a surrender. This was considered a less brutal way of marking a defeated tribe or nation.
So what does this have to do with Jesus?
First, this “marked” Jesus as a descendent of Abraham and the prophecy in Genesis 17 that Abraham (at the age of 99) would father a son Israel who would bring about an enormous family of descendants, one of whom – the anointed one, the Messiah, would save Israel and be a blessing to all nations.
So, Jesus, through the Circumcision becomes of the tribe of Abraham.
Also, Abraham, at the age of 99, took this mark as a sign of submission to God. And it was passed on for thousands of years to all of his descendants. It reminds us of the earliest covenant with Abraham and the anticipation of Israel for thousands of years.
Finally, it is a foreshadowing of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice on the Cross. Because in fulfilling this Jewish ritual, His most Precious Blood was spilled for the first time. For indeed, there is but a short distance between the wood of the Creche and the wood of the Cross.
And so, Mom, what happened to the Feast of the Circumcision? It’s still here. But the names have been changed – perhaps out of a mid-century prissiness, perhaps out of a hyper-historicity – I’m just not sure.
But the Feast of the Circumcision reminds of us Jesus’s connection to Abraham, as well as His total submission to the Will of His Father, and commemorates the first shedding of His Blood as a foreshadowing of His Passion.
As we approach this altar to receive the Sacred Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, let us – in looking at the Creche see a foreshadowing of the Cross. And on this the eighth day – the day of Jesus’s Circumcision – may we circumcise our hearts, as St. Paul says, surrendering them to the power of God Almighty … and as a sign of our kinship to God in Christ.