What are we doing here? The top of a new calendar year, and the Octave of the Nativity, invite some self-reflection for this column. This column is work: both work to write and work to read. Let’s start with that.
The word “liturgy,” broken down into its Greek components (leitourgia), is about “work” (ergon) and “the people” (leiton). In ancient Greek, it had to do with public service that people, especially the wealthy, would do for the “state” (an ancient polis is not the same as the modern concept of “state”) to benefit the people (and gain recognition for themselves, of course). When Christians began working out systematically and practically the implications of their Faith, they had to scramble for vocabulary to express what they believed and what they did. They borrowed words from Greek and Latin that were close to what they were thinking and “baptized” them, as it were, through usage and explication. Examples of this borrowing are Greek mysterion and the adaptation of Latin sacramentum, a military oath, to express what was inherent in mysterion/-um. It’s complicated.
That said, these days, various progressivists like to say that liturgy means “work of the people,” and it does, to justify all sorts of goofy notions, such as the obligation to drag swarms of lay people up to the altar to do, in effect, what the priest is supposed to be doing. It’s the “work of the people,” right? Yes, and no.
More accurately, considering the ancient roots of the word, liturgy is more “work for the people,” service provided for the benefit of the people. I will, therefore, continue to challenge you liturgically with work for your benefit, using the word “for” equivocally, for “for” can indicate the work done “for you” as well as the work given “for you” to do. These columns are “work for you,” simultaneously in both senses, for the sake of prospering your full, conscious, and active participation in Holy Mass, your ability both to receive more fruitfully what God is offering and then to return to Him a fuller outward expression at the right moment and manner.
At this time of year, especially this year, if we want to prepare well for our participation at Holy Mass, we have a lot of work to do. This year we had Christmas Day and, the next day, the Sunday in the Octave, back to back. Hence, the Octave of Christmas (traditional Feast of the Circumcision) and the feast of the Holy Name on Sunday are also back to back. That’s a lot of back to back to pack into one column. A lot of work.
All the mysteries we celebrate deserve deep attention and reflection. We fittingly give that loving attention over the arc of our baptized lives, looking at the many facets of each jewel we are given. In a column, however, choices must be made.
This week I choose to tie together the short Gospel for the Octave and the short Gospel for Sunday’s Feast of the Holy Name in the Traditional Latin Mass because, as it turns out, they are the same.
“But Father! But Father!”, some modernist iconoclastic underminers of Tradition might squeal. “This is why the Novus Ordo is so much better than what you do. We have more variety of Scripture in our Mass and you have to say the same readings over and over. Repetition! Soooo dull. But you don’t care because YOU HATE VATICAN II!”
Indeed? Then I suppose you don’t say the Rosary. Firstly, I respond saying that repetita iuvant. Repeated things help. The repetition of readings, carefully selected by the Church a long time ago and tested by time, centuries of it, allows those readings to sink into our marrow and enrich our very blood. Next, if you think you can exhaust the riches of a reading so that it becomes dull, you don’t understand anything. Also, it is not that we “have to” say the readings again and again; we get to say them again and again. What a privilege and opportunity.
Continuation ✠ of the Holy Gospel according to Luke (2:21):
At that time, at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
How does this Gospel fit for both the Octave and Holy Name? Remember that the Octave, 1 January, was and is still traditionally the Feast of the Circumcision. Eight days (octave) into the light of this world, ancient Jewish male children were, according to the Law, circumcised and formally given their names. Hence, the Christmas Octave, Holy Name of Jesus and Circumcision are inseparable. Having these two days back to back is a wonderful calendrical Christmas present, an intense weekend when, hopefully, we have a little more time for God and His goodness to celebrate and ponder the gift of our salvation. Our salvation was and is heralded by the very Name given to the Word made flesh.
In the history of salvation, God reveals that names are important. He named Adam and Eve. The Archangel Gabriel told Mary God’s name for the New Adam, her Son, Jesus and He told Joseph (via the angel in a dream) that His name was tied to His mission: “You shall call his name Jesus for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). That’s more than the mission of a Messiah. That’s the mission of God. The Lord’s very Name heralds his saving mission. God also directed through miraculous intervention the naming of the forerunner of Christ, His herald John the Baptist. He struck John’s father Zechariah speechless and opened his voice again only at John’s circumcision and naming, the octave after his birth.
Four times in Scripture God changes names. Abram and Sarai become Abraham and Sarah. That’s when God made a covenant with Abraham. Jacob, about to meet his brother Esau whom he had deceived to gain Issac’s inheritance (cf. Gen 25), wrestles an angel and holds him. Jacob has had a kind of showdown with God (in the angel – it is often hard to tell, when angels show up, who is talking, the angel or God, cf. burning bush Exodus 3). Jacob receives God’s blessing as a patriarch and is now Israel, father of the Twelve Tribes in a new mode. Simon, son of John, receives the name Peter from God, Christ Himself, in view of his mission to be His Vicar and the “rock” of the unity of the Church Christ would found.
Names are important. The more important the person and name, the greater reverence due. Our veneration and joy for the Holy Name of God is reflected in Sunday’s Introit taken from Philippians 2:10-11: “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
To contextualize the mission of the Lord, while His loving care for us extends into all the challenges we face in life, He did not come into this world primarily to save us from natural disasters, or material poverty, or even from physical illness. He came into this world to save us from sin, to deliver us from the supreme evil, the mortal – soul-killing – evil of sin, which makes us the prey of Satan and deserving of Hell.
Even within the Church this has been to an extent forgotten. That is manifest in the crazy initiatives at the summit of the Church’s governance: getting into bed with people like Jeffrey Sachs, abandoning Chinese Catholics, urging vast swathes of the Church under de facto interdict because of the puissant Face Diaper Mind Control sacrament of the religion of globalism. It is as if many people have completely lost sight of the fact that this world is not the ultimate goal. The goal is Heaven. Longfellow wrote in A Psalm of Life:
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.
As we flow from the Octave into Sunday, consider what the Lord Himself says of His own Name. In John 16:23 Jesus reveals His unity with the Father and the power of His Name saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask anything of the Father, he will give it to you in my name.” In Mark 9:38-39 we read the exchange between the beloved disciple and the Lord:
John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him, because he was not following us.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not forbid him; for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me.’
The Gospel of John says that, “these [signs] are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name” (20:31). “Life” in His Name!
Of course, we have already quoted from Sunday’s Introit chant what St. Paul wrote to the Philippians: At the Name of Jesus the whole of the cosmos should bend the knee.
If the Name of Jesus, which only invokes the Lord, is deserving of a genuflection, how much more deserving of bending the knee is the substantial Presence of Christ in the Eucharist?
Why do we bend the knee? Genuflect? Because we offer our honor, love and obedience. We not only love the Name of Jesus but we also fear that Name with reverential awe, which is Its due. The use of the Holy Name of Jesus as a cuss word or vain exclamation is a shocking sin and scandal. It is scandal because doing that can lead others to do it too, such as children imitating others… like their… parents, perhaps?
As St. Bernardine of Siena preached, “O glorious Name! Gracious Name! Loving and virtuous Name! Through Thee, sins are forgiven, enemies vanquished, the sick healed, and the suffering comforted in their adversity.”
And, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain (Exodus 20:7).
We must not use the Name of God flippantly.
When the Lord received His Holy Name formally, indicating His saving mission, that is the moment when He first shed His Blood, in His Circumcision. He was not bound by the Law, but, consistent with His many levels of self-emptying, He was nevertheless obedient to the Law.
The shedding of His Blood for that first time, prompts us also to reflect on the only person there at the Circumcision who would be with Him at the last shedding of His Blood, Mary, the Mother of God.
Mary is not merely the mother of Christ’s humanity, she is the mother of a Person. You cannot be mother of a nature. Therefore, Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is the Mother of God, because Jesus is both God and Man in one divine Person. No honor we little mortals can conceive of or offer is too great to honor Mary, who, as Mother of God is therefore, Mother of the Church, and therefore our Mother. Our Holy Mother, the Queen of Heaven as the Mother of the King, intercedes for us and mediates Christ’s freely given favor and graces.
We were made, friends, for holiness and for Heaven. That’s our intended goal, heralded in the first cries of the one whom we call Yeshua, Jesus, Savior.
How can we honor the one in whose Name we are saved? By doing something concrete, not just thinking pious thoughts for a few minutes while reading something and going on as usual.
In the Imitation of Christ 1.11 we read that were we to get rid of one sinful habit each year, we would soon be holy. Let us all ask the special help of Mary, the Mother of God, to identify which fault of ours is our principle fault, and then have the courage to bear the suffering that will come when we begin our work to cut out that fault. Mary our Mother will place her protective mantle upon us and guide us to the healing might of our Lord. Let this new year truly be a “Year of Our Lord,” replete with both purifying crosses and of joyous victories.
Convert from Lutheranism, ordained to the priesthood in 1991 by St. John Paul II in Rome for the Suburbicarian Diocese of Velletri-Segni. Classics at University of Minnesota. Licence and Doctoral studies in Patristic Theology at the Augustinianum in Rome. Formerly a collaborator of the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei,” moderator of the Catholic Online Forum, columnist for The Wanderer and the UK’s Catholic Herald, Fox News contributor. Speaker. Blogist. fatherzonline.com @fatherz