The Christmas-Epiphany Season

The characteristic of this Holy Christmas-Epiphany Season is the joy which the whole Church feels at the Birth of the Incarnate Word and the admiration of that glorious Virgin, who was made the Mother of God. There is scarcely a prayer, or a rite, in the Liturgy of this glad Season, which does not imply these two grand mysteries: an infant-God, and a Virgin-Mother. In the Western Church there is a continual commemoration of the fruitful virginity of the Mother of God, including a special prayer in her honor in every Holy Mass. In the Eastern Church, in addition to the frequent commemorations of the Divine Maternity of Mary (Theotokos) in their Offices of this Season, they have a special veneration for the twelve days between Christmas Day and the Epiphany, which in their Liturgy, are called the Dodecameron. During this time they observe no days of Abstinence, and the Catholic Emperors, out of respect for the great Mystery, decreed that no servile work be permitted, and that the courts of law must be closed from December 24th until after January 6th.

We apply the name of Christmas to the forty days which begin with the Nativity of Our Lord, December 25th, and end with the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, February 2nd. It is a period which forms a distinct portion of the Liturgical Year; as distinct, by its own special spirit, from every other, as are Advent, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost. One same Mystery is celebrated and kept in view throughout the entire forty days.

The Season of the Epiphany, which extends beyond the forty days, continues the observance of the same Mystery and its celebration. Thus, the Festival of the Birth of Christ (and the Divine Maternity) are continuously celebrated by all faithful Catholics until the transition to the Season of Lent.

Neither the Feasts of the Saints, which so abound during this time, nor the advent of Septuagesima, with its mournful purple, which often begins before the Christmas-Epiphany Season is over, are able to distract our Holy Mother the Church from the immense joy with which She received the good tidings from the Angels on that glorious Night, for which the world had been longing 4,000 years. The Catholic Faithful will remember that the Liturgy commemorates this long expectation by the four weeks of Advent.

The custom of celebrating the Solemnity of Our Savior’s Nativity by a commemoration of forty days’ duration is founded on the Holy Gospel itself; for it tells us that the Blessed Virgin Mary, after spending forty days in the contemplation of the Divine Fruit of her glorious Maternity, went to the Temple, there to fulfill, in most perfect humility, the ceremonies which the Law demanded of the daughters of Israel, when they became mothers. The Feast of Mary’s Purification is, therefore, part of that of Jesus’ Birth; and the custom of keeping this holy and glorious period as one continued festival goes back to the earliest days of the Church.

The characteristic of this Holy Christmas-Epiphany Season is the joy which the whole Church feels at the Birth of the Incarnate Word and the admiration of that glorious Virgin, who was made the Mother of God. There is scarcely a prayer, or a rite, in the Liturgy of this glad Season, which does not imply these two grand mysteries: an infant-God, and a Virgin-Mother. In the Western Church there is a continual commemoration of the fruitful virginity of the Mother of God, including a special prayer in her honor in every Holy Mass. In the Eastern Church, in addition to the frequent commemorations of the Divine Maternity of Mary (Theotokos) in their Offices of this Season, they have a special veneration for the twelve days between Christmas Day and the Epiphany, which in their Liturgy, are called the Dodecameron. During this time they observe no days of Abstinence, and the Catholic Emperors, out of respect for the great Mystery, decreed that no servile work be permitted, and that the courts of law must be closed from December 24th until after January 6th.

From a brief historical review of this Holy Season, we can well understand why the period of Christmas-Epiphany has ever been a Season most dear to all true Christians, who fervently and joyfully celebrate it for the entire forty days.

Christmas recalls the wonderful Mystery of the Incarnation, which renders God visible, in order that we may listen to Him, imitate Him, and unite ourselves to Him. It renders an infinite God passible, for He finds in His Humanity the means wherewith to suffer, to expiate, to merit, and to heap graces upon us. It is through the flesh that man turns away from God; it is in becoming Flesh that God delivers man. The Word of God assumes our human nature to redeem us, and to make us holy by giving us a share in His Divinity.

Holy Mother Church wills that the celebration of the mystery of Our Lord’s Incarnation should bring us the grace that we may live a new life, more exempt from sin and imperfection, more free from attachment to ourselves and creatures. She would have us to understand above all that Christ, in exchange for the humanity which He takes from us, wishes to make us partakers of His Divinity by sanctifying grace, that He may take more complete possession of us. This will be the grace of His new Divine Birth in us, which is the meaning and spirit of Christmas.

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Indulgenced Prayer to the Infant Jesus

Our most lovable Lord Jesus Christ, Who, becoming an Infant for us, didst vouchsafe to be born in a stable to free us from the darkness of sin, to draw us more closely to Thee, and to inflame us with Thy holy love, we adore Thee as our Creator and Redeemer, we acknowledge and choose Thee for our King and Lord, and we offer to Thee the tribute of all the affections of our poor hearts. Dear Jesus, Our Lord and God, deign to accept this offering, and, in order that it may be worthy of Thy gracious acceptance, forgive us our sins, enlighten us, inflame us with that holy fire which Thou didst come to bring into the world to enkindle in our hearts. May our souls thus become a perpetual sacrifice in Thy honor; grant that we may always seek thy greater glory here on earth, in order that we may one day come to enjoy the beauty of Thy infinite perfections in Heaven. Amen.

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