Dear St. Mary's Family,
Merry Christmas! Despite the fact that Christmas trees tend to come down today, the Nativity of Jesus is so important that the Church bids us to celebrate it for twelve days ending with The Epiphany. The counting and numbering of the days immediately following the Nativity are confusing, so I thought I'd take a moment to try to unpack them. Links are provided should you wish to learn more!
The three feasts that follow the Nativity - December 26 (St. Stephen) , 27 (St. John) , and 28 (Holy Innocents) - are often referred to as a single entity: Comites Christi ("Companions of Christ"). From time immemorial in the Western Church, these feasts were so important that they always occurred on their proper day, even if it happened to fall on the Sunday after Christmas. In 1979, The Episcopal Church published a new prayer book with a new calendar that introduced a new principle: because Sundays are feasts of the Lord, they supersede all other feasts.
This is why we celebrated the First Sunday after Christmas yesterday, not St. Stephen's Day. In the Roman Church, poor Stephen was forgotten entirely, but in our Church, we move the Comites Christi feasts forward by one day (see p. 161 of the BCP). Thus, this year, here's how things shake out (along with Mass times, links, and some fun facts):
To read a comprehensive historical analysis about the liturgical time between Christmas and The Epiphany, click here.
I encourage you to leave your decorations up for the Twelve Days, and perhaps even some of them until Candlemas (February 2) as we do in the church. And I encourage you to make it a point to come to Mass on as many of these holy days as you can!
See you soon in church!
Fr. Charles Everson's love for music and liturgy led him to a suburban parish as a simple chorister, and as of late, to St. Mary's as a priest. He feels called to share the love of Jesus Christ with a broken world in desperate need of hope and reconciliation.