Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!
Sunday within the Octave of Christmas—31 December AD 2006


Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Te Deum

    Most Bibles have a map or two of the Holy Land, usually among their last pages.  If you look at the scale of the map, the traditional territory of the Holy Land, “from Dan to Beer-sheva”[2] measures roughly one hundred and fifty miles—from just to the south of Lebanon, down to the upper end of the Egyptian Gaza.  It is, perhaps, fifty miles or so across, from a little bit east of the Jordan river to the Mediterranean Sea.  Jerusalem is a bit south of the center of this map.

    By divine precept it was necessary that all Jewish “males appear before the Lord their God, in the place of His choosing [three times a year], for the feast of the unleavened bread [Passover],  the feast of weeks [Pentecost], and the feast of tabernacles.[3]  That would be at the beginning of Spring, early Summer, and at the end of the harvest in late September or early October—and, after Its construction, “the place of His choosing” would be at the Temple in Jerusalem, a journey of about seventy-five miles for those coming from the outlying areas.

    To put that distance in perspective, one would have to walk here (Deerfield Beach) from Hutchinson Island or from the Everglades National Park to match the distance Jesus and His countrymen traveled from Nazareth to Jerusalem.  That is farther than any of our people come, even with cars and Interstate highways.

    A healthy adult is usually capable of about ten miles of travel each day over reasonable terrain, where the hills are not mountains and there are no great rivers to cross.  Generally, pack animals like donkeys carry equipment and provisions, and do not hinder nor accelerate the pace.  That means that to “appear before the Lord” the Jews from the area where Jesus lived spent roughly six weeks of the year in travel to and from the Temple.  The festivals lasted a few days each, making about eight weeks, all told.

    During the rest of the year, they met two or three times a day at a local synagogue for prayers and scripture readings, and perhaps a commentary on those readings.  At the synagogue, there was not the sacrificial worship of the Temple (which was prohibited in any other place); rather, it was like the part of the Mass before the Creed, which we call the Mass of the Catechumens.

    Of course there were people who lived in much closer proximity to the Temple, and were therefore able to frequent It more often.  We met two such people, Simeon and Anna in the Gospel reading this morning.[4] 

    Simeon was an old man, “just and devout ... and the Holy Ghost was upon him.”[5]  Simeon had obtained a promise from God that “he would not die before he had seen the Christ of the Lord.”  Simeon, therefore, came each and every day to the Temple as families presented their first-born sons and offered sacrifices to redeem them back from God (for all of the firstborn of all creatures belonged to God under the Law of Moses).[6]  He knew that eventually, he would encounter “the Christ—the Anointed One” who had been sent to redeem Israel.  Saint Luke preserves his hauntingly beautiful canticle, uttered as he took the baby Jesus into his arms:

Now Lord, Thou mayest dismiss Thy servant,
in peace, according to Thy word!
For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation,
which Thou hast set before all the nations;
a light of revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of Thy people Israel.

    Simeon could then go and die, fulfilled in his desire to see the Christ child;  rewarded for his fidelity in coming before the Lord each day.

    Anna was a remarkable woman.  For most of the eighty-four years since her widowhood, “she never left the temple, with fasting and prayers, worshipping night and day.”  She was a prophetess, and began to proclaim the coming of the Redeemer to Jerusalem.

    Most modern people will ask immediately:  “Why did Simeon and Anna, and all of the able bodied adult males from Dan to Beer-sheva spend so much time in the Temple?  What was there that drew them to spend day after day?  or to make several two week trips a year to spend yet a few more days at the Temple?

    The answer obviously goes beyond obedience.  Apart from the priests who offered the sacrifices there, no one was required to attend the Temple beyond the three occasions I mentioned earlier.  And, for those who had to travel great distances, there was a fair amount of “wiggle room” in the observance of the Law.  Old or young age or infirmity would surely excuse, as would the need to leave someone behind to care for the sick and for the livestock.  Those outside of the Holy Land—the Jews living in Egypt or the Greek Isles, for example—might make the journey only a few times in their lives.

    The answer goes beyond the need to preserve the Jewish identity.  Those who came to the synagogue certainly preserved that.  At the local synagogue they read and prayed daily in their traditional Hebrew;  they kept the Law and the Sabbaths in their homes with their families.

    The answer to why so many did come so often to the Temple was nothing less than the true local presence of God (the Shekinah) in the Holy of Holies.  God, of course, is everywhere—but He chose to dwell in the Temple at Jerusalem in a tangible manner, much as He had as He guided the people out of Egypt;  a pillar of fire by night, a pillar of cloud by day.[7]  The God who made heaven and earth reigned from the Temple at Jerusalem.

    The God of Israel was firmly implanted in the racial memory of the Jewish people as the One who led them out of bondage in Egypt, protecting and provisioning them in the desert, and as the One who brought them out of captivity in Babylon.  He had strengthened them again against their persecutors in the time of the Machabees, who restored the worship of the Temple.

    The God of Israel had given them His Law, something that He had done for no other people.[8]  Observing His Law brought peace and prosperity, while those who followed the false gods of the nations were brought to utter ruin, even going so far as to offer their own children in sacrifice.  The God of Israel was willing, even, to forgive sins by receiving the burnt offerings of the Temple, or even the sacrifice of a contrite and willing heart.  The people of Israel journeyed to the Temple in a spirit of happiness and thanksgiving.

    Far more fortunate are we Catholics!  In spite of the best efforts of the Modernists to take the Mass away from us, It is still our most holy possession.  Jesus Christ is in our tabernacle, where He daily awaits our visit, a visit far more convenient than the trip from Nazareth to Jerusalem, no matter how far away we live.  Each and every day we are able to offer a perfect sacrifice to God;  not the offering of dumb animals, but the offering of God the Son Himself.  Observing His Law still brings us peace and prosperity, but to this we add the sanctification afforded by His Sacraments.

    We are very seriously obliged by Church Law to attend the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on each Sunday and on a handful of Holy Days.  A few of you have asked me to explain this obligation in a bit more detail.

    As in the Old Testament, serious reasons excuse us from this obligation:  grave difficulties with transportation;  sickness or the care of the sick;  an occupation which must sometimes take place on Sunday;  a woman or child in fear of a non-Catholic husband or parent or employer;  a condition which makes appearing in public acutely embarrassing;  the very recent death of a family member.  One must attend the entire Mass—at a minimum, the parts containing the Offertory, Consecration and Communion—and even those who miss one of the less significant parts of the Mass voluntarily commit venial sin.[9]

    Some theologians admit the legitimacy of an occasional vacation which can be taken only in a location where there is no Mass.[10]  One ought not attend the Mass of heretics or schismatics, even though such a Mass may be valid.[11]  My personal opinion, although it is not required by law, is that a good faith effort ought to be made to make up for such Masses missed, by attending other Masses on days not of obligation.  For a just cause, he parish pastor or delegated confessor can grant occasional dispensations for an individual or family, where Mass attendance (or fasting and abstinence) present a serious difficulty.[12]

    All things considered, our obligation is considerably lighter than the six or eight weeks a year of the Old Testament plus the time spent daily in the synagogue.  But rather than thinking of obligation, one ought to view holy Mass as an opportunity.  Just like Simeon of old, we have the opportunity to come to Mass each morning, and behold the Christ of the Lord.


[1]  University of Florida, Holy Land Map collection

[2]   Cf. Judges xx: 1;   2 Kings xxiv: 2.

[3]   Deuteronomy xvi: 16-17.

[4]   Luke ii: 33-40.

[5]   See Luke ii: 25-32 for the rest of the description of Simeon and his interaction with the Holy Family.

[6]   Cf. Exodus xxxiv: 19-20.

[7]   Cf. Exodus xiv: 19-24;   Numbers ix: 21-22.

[8]   Cf. Psalm cxlvii.

[9]   Cf. Heribert Jone, Moral Theology (Rockford: TAN), #195;  H. Davis, Moral & Pastoral Theology (NY: Sheed and Ward) Vol II, pp. 61-62.

[10]   Cf. Heribert Jone, Moral Theology (Rockford: TAN), #198.

[11]   Cf. Canon 1258 §1  The intention to worship would constitute active participation rather than passive.

[12]   Cf. Canon 1245 §1.


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