30 December 2009

Feria Days

30 DECEMBER 2009. A day on which no saint is celebrated is called a feria (Latin for "free day") on the General Roman Calendar. Today, the sixth day in the Octave of Christmas, is such a feria.

Given that we have a free day, let's briefly look at the meaning of the Christmas Octave.

Octave, from the Latin word octava, meaning eight, ascribes eight days of celebration for the Nativity of Our Lord--Christ among us.While most of the world celebrates Christmas only on the morning of the 25th, the Church's celebration continues for eight days, with each day celebrated, in a sense, as a Sunday. That is why the Office of Readings includes the Te Deum for each day in the Octave, otherwise reserved only for solemnities, feasts, and Sundays.

The practice of celebrating special liturgical holidays over a period of eight days is actually as old as the Old Testament. In the ancient Jewish world many of the feasts were celebrated for a period of eight days--the Feast of Tabernacles and the Dedication of the Temple being two examples. Later, the Emperor Constantine continued the tradition by celebrating the dedication of basilicas in the Christian world for the same period of eight days.

Later still, the Church celebrated several feasts with the dignity of an octave until the closing of the Second Vatican Council in 1965. Today, only two celebrations are celebrated with octaves, Christmas and Easter.

The purpose of the octave is to dwell on the mysteries of the particular celebration. Tradition tells that ancient Jews needed the octaves to dwell on the depth of their liturgical celebrations amidst the draw and influence of the surrounding pagan religions. How much more, today, do we need the octaves to dwell on the mystery of Christmas (and Easter in its time) amidst the draw and influence of consumer society that surrounds us today.

Christ is with us! By the Grace of God, the Father has sent His only Son for our redemption. Not because of our merit, but because of the generosity of the Father's love, Christ has humbled Himself to become a man and live among us--true God and true man.

IMAGE: Christmas Eve at the Vatican, 2009. With thanks to Orbis Catholicus Secundus.

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