Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English
Veni Creátor Spíritus -
Come, Holy Ghost, Creator blest
“And after eight days were
accomplished, that the child should be circumcised, his name was called
JESUS, which was called by the angel, before he was conceived in the womb.”
Even among Catholics, there is the
tendency to refer to this day as New Years’ Day, rather than to refer to its
ecclesiastical titles. For example, if you ask someone to name the holy
days of obligation, usually the first two days they mention are “Christmas
and New Year’s” before they get to the Assumption or to Ascension Thursday.
This is rather understandable, because the Church celebrates a number of
things on January 1st, and over the years the title of the feast has varied
When I was a boy the feast was
generally called the “Circumcision of our Lord,” but probably around the
1950s that gave way to calling it the “Octave of Christmas.” Around 1970 we
began to speak of the “Solemnity of the Mother of God.” In reality, it is
all three of these things, plus a commemoration of the Holy Name of Jesus.
According to the great Benedictine
liturgical writer, Dom Prosper Guéranger, the Roman Church used to offer two
distinct Masses on this day.
One commemorated the Octave of the feast, while the other acknowledged that
Mary is the true Mother of God. Among Byzantine Catholics and Orthodox, the
Divine Motherhood is celebrated as what the Greeks call a “synaxis,”
or the joining of a second mystery to a great feast on the following day.
Clearly, the Divine Maternity cannot be separated from the Christmas
celebration, for without Mary’s cooperation with the will of God there would
have been no Christmas.
To be clear about what we are
saying, there is no claim here that Mary predates God, for Mary is but one
of God’s many creatures, although perhaps the greatest of them. But, in
created time, Mary gave birth to the God‑man, the eternal Second Person of
the Blessed Trinity, who united human nature to His divine nature in her
womb, and that she gave birth to Him, who is true God and true man, on
Christmas day. This truth was called into question in the fifth century by
the impious Nestorius of Constantinople, but was pronounced authentic by the
Council of Ephesus in AD 431.
The other Mass formerly celebrated
at Rome was the Mass of the Octave of Christmas. The great feasts of the
Church’s year are all celebrated on the feast and for the following seven
days, making eight days in all. The celebration for eight days seems to
have its roots in the Old Testament celebration of the feast of tabernacles,
and of the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem,
“The eighth day also shall be most solemn and most holy, and you shall
offer holocausts to the Lord.” It may also relate to the Christian
conception of the Resurrection taking place on the “eighth day,” the Sunday
following the Saturday Sabbath of the Jews.
As we read in today’s Gospel, the
Holy Family followed the Mosaic Law and circumcised the baby Jesus on the
eighth day of His life.
The passage of eight days guaranteed that the child had seen the Sabbath,
and had developed the appropriate clotting factors. As the Gospels unfold
throughout the year, we will see that Mary and Joseph, and later Jesus,
observed all the rituals of the Old Law that were in force until the
Resurrection. We are asked to follow their good example, and observe all of
the precepts of the Catholic Church. The ritual of circumcision was a sign
of the covenant made between God and His chosen people. Imperfectly, it
corresponds to the Sacrament of Baptism which our Lord established to
incorporate men and women into His Church.
Finally, we read in the Gospel that
today the Child was given the name Jesus—or rather that He was “called
Jesus” for that name had already been given Him by God the Father through
the Angel Gabriel; first to Mary: “Behold thou shalt conceive in thy
womb, and shalt bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus”;
and then to Joseph: “And she shall bring forth a son: and thou shalt
call his name JESUS. For he shall save his people from their sins.”
“Jesus” means “savior.” He is often called “the Christ,” which means
“the anointed One.” The Holy Name was revealed to both Mary and Joseph,
perhaps as a means of authenticating the revelation in the minds of both.
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux pointed
out that at the circumcision it was “an appropriate time for calling Him
“Savior,” since [at] that time He began to actualize our salvation, shedding
His immaculate blood for us.... He was circumcised for the same reason that
He was born and suffered. He did all of these things ... for His chosen
Saint Bernard also alludes to the
Divine Motherhood of the Blessed Virgin, and the two natures of her Son: “Being
a true son of Abraham, He is circumcised; being the true Son of God, He is
So today, we continue the sacred
story of the Incarnation and Christmas. We celebrate Mary as true Mother of
God, and Jesus as true Savior of the world. Already, on this eighth day of
His life, he begins to shed His Precious Blood for our redemption. As Pope
saint Leo the Great told us just one week ago, for saint, sinner, or pagan“
it would be unlawful to be sad today” ... today we draw closer to victory,
God grants us pardon, and God calls us to life!