Epiphany and the End of the Christmas Season. Today we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord, commemorating the visit and adoration of the magi to Christ in Bethlehem. It has historically been celebrated on January 6th since at least the 3rd century, but is celebrated in the U.S. on the Sunday falling between January 2nd and January 8th (inclusive). In the Orthodox Church and many of the Eastern Rite Catholic Churches it also, effectively, celebrates the birth of Our Lord, i.e., Christmas. The visit of the magi is rich in symbolic meanings for Christians, first of which is as the revealing (“epiphany”) of the Christ to the gentile world, as even foreign wise men travel great distances to adore their new heaven-sent King. Thus it is fitting that this year it marks the end of the Season of Christmas, as we remember the Savior came not just for us to celebrate His birth but for us to reveal Him to the nations.
Generosity of Our Parishioners. I am constantly overwhelmed by the generosity of all of you. First of all, relating to the Giving Tree, because of your kindness we were able to help 25 families (42 adults and 86 children) celebrate Christmas: 13 families from Our Lady of the Blue Ridge, and 12 local families. In addition the parish provided funds (from your “family assistance” donations) for Christmas gifts and other necessities for at least 15 other families with 21 adults and 34 children, bringing our grand total to 40 families with 183 people.
Also, I join parishioner Zac Iseman in thanking all those who assisted him in his Eagle Scout Project, by donating non-food items for the Lorton Community Action Center on December 17 and 18. “I had to make 3 full car load trips….All 3 trips combined came to 800 pounds from St. Raymond parishioners….”
Finally, I have to thank you for coming through on the Christmas collections. As I noted a few weeks ago, with Christmas falling on Sunday this year many pastors were afraid we’d effectively “lose” either the Christmas or Sunday collection. In the end I had no reason to worry: the combined collections for Christmas and Sunday were down only 10% from last year. This is truly amazing-I was worried we’d see a drop of between 50% and 30%. I should have known better, with my incredibly generous parishioners. God bless you all.
One More Christmas “Thank You.” Last week I had a long list of “thank you’s” for Christmas support in the parish, and I noted that I would forget someone. But one “thank you” I shouldn’t have forgotten was 6 year old Kateri Mantooth who was very brave and helpful to me at Midnight Mass as she carried the statue of the Baby Jesus in procession for the Blessing of the Christmas Crèche. So, thanks, Kateri!
Old Hand Missals. With the introduction of the new translation of the Roman Missal, many parishioners have asked me what they should do with their old “daily missals”? Even if such a missal was not blessed by a priest, since it was used as an integral part of your worship at Mass, and contains the Word of God and the prayers of Mass, it should not normally be simply thrown in the trash. If you don’t want to keep your old missal in your library as a keepsake for posterity I would suggest that you either burn it, disposing of the ashes in some respectful place, or bury it in a similar place. If you like, you can bring it by the rectory for me, and I will dispose of it. By the way, similar care should be taken of any blessed objects, which I will also gladly accept for reverent disposal.
Holy Name of Jesus. Finally, a word about a feast we celebrated this last Tuesday, January 3: the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. Knowing a person’s name is usually very important in establishing a relationship with them-if we don’t know a person’s name it often indicates we’re not very close to them, or don’t care much about them, or that they don’t care much about us (pastors of large suburban parishes excepted, of course). This is very important in Scripture, especially when it comes to the Name of God. When God appears in the burning bush to Moses (Exodus 3:13-14), the revelation of the Divine Name, “Yahweh” or “I am (who am)” is a huge step forward in God’s relationship with His people Israel. The same is true for the revelation of the Name of the Savior, a name chose by God for Himself, and revealed to both Mary and Joseph through the angel Gabriel: “Jesus” (“Yeshua” in Hebrew), which means “Yahweh saves.”
But note the stark difference in the way Israel treated the Name “Yahweh” and the way Catholics treat the Name “Jesus.” Israel considered that Name so Holy that they would never even say it: in Scripture once the Holy Name is revealed in Exodus any other reference to it is replaced by the word(s) “(the) Lord,” (“Adonai” in Hebrew). Just as they would not make any paintings or statues depicting God, because that would be seen to be reducing God to a mere human-like image, so they would not make use of His Name,
lest they even think of Him as merely human-like. But all that changed in the incarnation when God became man, so that from the earliest days of the Church His image is recreated all about us and His Name is shouted from the rooftops and invoked powerfully in prayer (see John 14:13-14; 15:16; 16:23; and Mark 16:17). Even so, it is also never to be taken in vain and always to be reverenced; as St. Paul tells us: “at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Philippians 2:9-11).
Although many people don’t seem to know it, the Church incorporates this Pauline admonition in the gestures of Holy Mass by requiring priest and laity alike to bow their heads whenever the Name “Jesus” is said at Mass (recognizing the impracticality of constant repetitive genuflection). Note this not a simply a suggestion, but has been a requirement of liturgical law for centuries, even since Vatican II. Just as we are required to kneel during the Eucharist Prayer we are also required to bow our heads at every mention of the Name “Jesus.” (See General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 275. a); Note: there are other head bows required at Mass, but I’ll leave that for another column).
Perhaps during this time of adapting to the new words of so many of the prayers at Mass, we can also take the opportunity to more carefully observe this ancient law, as beautifully meaningful act of love for Jesus and His most Holy Name.
Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles