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Celebrating the Christian year – and we need a bit more compassion

January 4, 2015

On Christmas Day Canon John explained to us how the Church deliberately decided to pick the 25th December as Christmas, in order to challenge the pagan feast of Sol Invictus, the Roman cult of worshipping the ‘Invincible Sun’. The Church’s tactic was very successful. For centuries we have celebrated a Christian feast at this time of year.

The Church has festivals through the year because God wants us to be happy. We were not created to be miserable sourpusses. A good party, a knees-up, a reunion, being together – all good things. But we need to be clear about what has happened in our country. We now live in a post-Christian society. Our Christian calendar has been hijacked.

Advent as been replaced by a mid-winter festival of consumerism and excess revelry that culminates with the hijacked Christmas at the end of December. It’s followed by another pagan festival at New Year. And so it goes on – Saint Valentine’s day has no religious significance any more; eating Pancakes has eclipsed the meaning of Shrove Tuesday; Good Friday is now Bank Holiday Friday, yet another feast day of consumer madness; Easter is now the Rite of Spring, more about the pagan god, Mother Earth. Most people, sadly, have no idea what Christian festivals are really about.

The Wise Men traditionally are said to have followed a heavenly body, a star, to find Jesus. They were thought to be ‘wise’ because they understood the movement of the stars.

Now it so happens that the Church also studies the skies in order to identify something very important. The date for Easter Sunday changes every year because it is falls immediately after the full moon of the Jewish Feast of Passover – so it can happen any time between 22nd March and 25th April. And many of the important Christian feasts through the year depend on that all-important date of Easter Sunday.

So 2,000 years ago the Church work relied on Christian astronomers in Alexandria, to set the date for Easter.

And without modern methods, how did the Church broadcast the official dates? It was announced at the Epiphany. After proclaiming the gospel, the Deacon would solemnly declare to the Faithful the date for the following Easter, reminding us almost immediately after we have celebrated the birth of Jesus that it is not the things of this world – buying and selling, eating and drinking – that bind us together as Christians; the false god called ‘economic growth’ is not what lies at the centre of our lives.

No, it’s Easter. Announcing Easter by proclamation at Epiphany reminded our Christian predecessors that, important as Christmas is, at the very heart of our Faith is the greatest Christian celebration of them all – celebrating the Feast of the Resurrection at Easter. After having honoured the King of the universe on the Epiphany, we must remember to celebrate him as the conqueror of death by looking forward to Easter.

So that’s what I’m going to do…. using the traditional words.

Here come the major dates for 2015. Have you got you diaries ready?……

THE PROCLAMATION OF EASTER

The Lord be with you.

Dear brothers and sisters, the glory of the Lord has shone upon us, and shall ever be manifest among us, until the day of his return. Through the rhythms of times and seasons let us celebrate the mysteries of salvation Let us recall the year’s culmination, the Easter Triduum of the Lord: his last supper, his crucifixion, his burial and his rising will be celebrated between the evening of the Second day of April and the evening of the Fourth day of April,

Easter Sunday being on the Fifth day of April.

Each Easter, as on each Sunday, the Holy Church makes present the great and saving deed by which Christ has for ever conquered sin and death.

From Easter are reckoned all the days we keep holy. Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, will occur on the Eighteenth day of February. The Ascension of the Lord will be commemorated on Sunday, the Seventeenth day of May. Pentecost, joyful conclusion of the season of Easter, will be celebrated on the Twenty-Fourth day of May. And, this year the First Sunday of Advent will be on the Twenty-Ninth day of November.

Likewise the pilgrim Church proclaims the Passover of Christ in the feasts of the holy Mother of God, in the feasts of the Apostles and Saints, and in the commemoration of the faithful departed.

To Jesus Christ, who was, who is, and who is to come, Lord of time and history, be endless praise, for ever and ever. Amen.

The Feast of the Epiphany commemorates our Lord being revealed to the whole world, not just to the Jews. This had been prophesied 600 years earlier in the Book of Isaiah:

camels in throngs will cover you,

and dromedaries of Midian and Ephah;

everyone in Sheba will come,

bringing gold and incense

and singing the praise of the Lord.

This text was actually written by the Jews who were returning from exile in Babylon to Jerusalem. These were hard times for the Jewish people: Jerusalem needed to be re-built; very traditional Jews who had remained in Jerusalem throughout the exile argued with those Jews who had been through some very challenging times in pagan Babylon and who yearned for Judaism to be a little less judgmental and a little more compassionate, a little more welcoming to those who had become excluded through difficult circumstances.

The text from Isaiah mentions the people of ‘Midian and Ephah’ – they were pagans from Arabia; and ‘everyone in Sheba’ – they were long-lost relatives of the Jewish people, separated, far away in Arabia. So this verse from Isaiah prophesies the coming together again of people who were either excluded from Judaism because they were not born into the Faith; or excluded because of their family circumstances.

This situation sounds familiar. Perhaps there is a message for us to discern here. As Christians we ourselves are exiled in what has become an unsympathetic, pagan society; times are hard for us too; we are arguing among ourselves; and we need to rebuild the Church.

So I have one further very important date for your diaries: 4th to 25th October 2015. This is when the Pope and his bishops will be meeting for the Synod on the Family.

Between now and October the whole worldwide Church, one and a quarter billion human beings, each and every one of us Catholics, should be bound together in prayer, reflecting and praying that the Holy Spirit will inspire us, the Body of Christ, in communion with all our bishops, inspire us to discern a way to embrace those brothers and sisters who are presently excluded from celebrating our Christian faith together.

And surely that is precisely what Epiphany is really about: revealing God in all His glory to those who were previously excluded.

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