Question: In a sermon about Christmas shopping you mentioned the Jewish observance of Chanukah. What does it represent, and do Catholics celebrate the event it recalls?
Answer: The eight day observance of Chanukah memorializes the re-dedication of the Jewish Temple at Jerusalem. In the days following the demise of Alexander the Great, his kingdom was divided by his generals, who fought with one another over the territories from Egypt to India, including the City of Jerusalem. The valiant resistance of the Jews is described at the end of the Old Testament in the two Books of Machabees. The Temple at Jerusalem was especially sacred, for it was the one place in the world where sacrifices might be offered to God, who dwelled there in the Holy of Holies in the divine presence known as the Shekinah. Under foreign domination the sacrifices had stopped and the sanctuary was defiled by the worship of “the abomination of desolation,” a statue of Jupiter. 1 Machabees iv and 2 Machabees i describe the liberation of the Temple, its re-dedication, and the restoration of the sacred fire which was to burn there continuously. Tradition has it that a one day supply of oil miraculously burned in the sanctuary lamps for eight days. The festival is mentioned in passing in the New Testament in John x: 22. The holiday is not celebrated by Catholics, for the Temple is no longer the dwelling place of God. Yet, one might see a parallel in the dedication of Catholic churches wherein Jesus Christ dwells in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. Chanukah begins on the twenty-fifth day of the lunar month Casleu, often falling near Christmas, with eight days of joyous celebration in Jewish homes.