Today is Good Friday, an important event in the Christian liturgical calendar. Some argue the word Good is a corruption and used to mean God Friday. Others argue it always meant that the day is meant to be pious or holy. For Christians, Good Friday is the day Jesus was crucified on the cross. Observant Christians will mark the day by silent meditation, prayer, and church attendance. Many will fast during the day, particularly during the hours of 12 noon to 3 p.m. Hot Cross Buns are a traditional food many cultures use on this day (and through the Easter season). Most Catholics and Christians will avoid eating meat on this day and usually the main meal will be fish. Good Friday (and sometimes Easter Monday)are public holidays in many countries. Good Friday always occurs on the Friday before Easter Sunday.
Today is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week on the Christian Calendar. This feast takes place the Sunday before Easter and commemorates Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. The symbolism of Jesus arriving on a donkey is symbolic of coming in peace rather than on a steed as a soldier might do. While palms can be used for religious services held on this day, it is not always possible to have them. So in many places substitutes are used from other trees such as the olive, yew or other native trees. This lead to Palm Sunday sometimes referred to locally as Yew Sunday or Branch Sunday.
The feast is celebrated both in Western and Eastern churches though not at the same time due to different calendars (the West uses the Gregorian while Eastern Orthodox uses the Julian).
St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland and known for bringing Christianity to Ireland. He was born in 390 A.D in Britain and raised by a Christian family. However he was not much interested in God and at the time was illiterate. When he was 16, he was kidnapped and taken to Ireland where he was forced to work as a shepherd on a hillside. All alone except for his sheep and captors. he began to cry out to God for rescue him. He had a dream in which God revealed himself and that he would be going home.
Risking his life, he boarded a ship for Britain where he returned to his family. He was welcomed back but realized that he had been transformed by God. He entered a monastery to pursue his calling as a Catholic priest. As a result of his education, he came to understand Holy Scripture and impressed his peers and superiors with his character. He would be made a bishop in due course. Nearly three decades after this slavery in Ireland, he felt a call from God that he had to return to Ireland and spread the word of Jesus to a people who had become lost. This was no easy journey for him since travel was difficult but he faced hostility from those who opposed him trying to convert people away from paganism. Patrick was ready though to face the trials that might take his life (he was attacked and beaten by thugs and Irish royalty disdained him) and persevered in proclaiming the Gospel and training converts.
His courageous leadership and his crisscrossing the countryside paid off as thousands and more would be converted. Churches were being established and he was training those to shepherd the church after he was gone. He would die on March 17, 461 A.D. He has been venerated as a saint and patron saint of Ireland since then by the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran churches. In Ireland it is a solemnity and thus a holy day of obligation. It is also a cultural day as well to celebrate Ireland. Traditionally many in Ireland will wear shamrocks, wear green, attend Mass, watch parades, have a special breakfast and dinner, and of course celebrate by having a beer in their favorite pub (or outside due to the crowds). It has been a public holiday in Ireland since 1903. Since the feast does fall within Lent and is a solemnity in Ireland, it is permissible to eat foods normally excluded during this time (or any food you have selected to give up). Outside of Ireland though, it is not and local bishops will offer guidance. If it should fall on a Friday, generally the Lenten rule of no meat is lifted for that day.
Valentine’s Day is used by many to show their affection or love for someone they care about. It has spawned an industry for greeting card makers, candies, and of course flowers. However there is a real religious component as many Christian denominations celebrate it as feast day, commemoration, or optional for the local diocese (such as the Catholic Church). Valentine was the name of many Christian martyrs in the early Church resulting in them all being remembered for their acts of sacrifice for the faith. Some denominations, such as Eastern Orthodox Church, celebrate a particular St. Valentine on two different days.
The association with romantic love could be linked to an ancient Roman festival has been made but there is no evidence of any link. Most seem to believe the link began with Chaucer’s Parlemont of Foules where he indicates birds choose their mates on St. Valentine’s Day although 14 Feb might not be the day Chaucer was referring to. Other poems made the association of love and St. Valentine’s Day in the medieval period and English Renaissance. For those who needed love verses but lacked the ability to compose them, publishers starting offering them. Then putting them on paper and sending them became possible. Paper valentines became very popular in 19th century England resulting in their industrial production. They became popular in the United States as well. With such cards being popular, you needed other things to accompany a card. Roses and chocolates became popular, likely due to skillful marketing to associate them with the day. And so Valentine’s Day became a very major day for greeting card companies, chocolate makers, and sellers of flowers (roses being the most popular flower for the day).
Of course we ought to remember that it is based upon Valentine, who became a saint after he was martyred in Rome in 269 and buried on Flaminian Way. He is the patron saint of Love, Young People, Happy Marriages.
Epiphany or Three Kings Day is January 6 and as the Twelfth Night officially ends the Christmas season. It is often celebrated on the nearest Sunday between January 2 and January 8.
It is a day to celebrate the baptism of Jesus and the arrival of The Magi (Three Kings or Wise Men). In the Middle Ages Christmas was celebrated from Christmas Eve to January 6. And Epiphany Day was a major celebration well into the mid 19th century when its importance diminished. The Catholic Church no longer requires January 6 to be celebrated as a solemnity on that exact day and celebrates it on the Sunday that follows it. Some Protestant churches celebrate the Epiphany season from January 6 till Ash Wednesday. Orthodox Christians celebrate it on January 19 as they follow the Julian calendar.
In many Spanish speaking countries, Dia de los Reyes (Three Kings’ Day)is celebrated with special foods and gatherings. Many European countries have their own unique observances as well. Children often gets treats or presents on this day. In Italy, La Befana flies through the night on January 5 on a broomstick to deliver gifts to good kids and give coal to the bad ones.
So who were the Three Kings? There is a lot of debate on this. Some doubt they existed and some consider it a pious fantasy. Much of what is called the Three Kings today are embellishments that have been added over time. The Gospel of Matthew, the earliest source of the story, is quite simple and only refers to them as Magi from the east. Nor does it say there were only three but three gifts were given. And it is possible they were actually Nabataeans, a trading people that lived in northern Arabia to the Southern Levant whose capital is known as Petra today. Dwight Longnecker in his book Mystery of the Magi examines this evidence. Worth reading if you want to learn more about who these Magi might really have been.
The Feast of the Holy Innocents or Innocent’s Day is to remember the slaughter of male children 2 years and younger in Bethlehem and in its vicinity by Herod the Great. The story as related in the Gospel of Matthew (2:16-18). Herod was angered when the Wise Men did not return to him after locating the Messiah. No one can say with certainty how many were killed. Some have doubted it happened at all but it would be consistent with Herod the Great’s personality. He had no problems executing even members of his family if he thought they were betraying him. And since Bethlehem was a small area, the slaughter may not have been widely noticed.
Nearly all the Christian churches observe the feast day though not on the same day. The Catholic Church and most western churches observe it on December 28 but Eastern Orthodox celebrates on December 29. The slain children are treated as martyrs of the church. It is not certain when it was first observed. While the exact date of the deaths is unknown, it is kept in the octave of Christmas as followed after the birth of Jesus. However it is believed it took place 2 years after Jesus birth. Matthew says the Wise Men saw child with his mother indicating he was no longer a baby. And Herod had learned from the Wise Men the approximate date of the birth.
The Feast of the Holy Family was instituted as liturgical celebration of the Roman Catholic Church to venerate the Holy Family–Jesus, Saint Joseph and Blessed Mary–as a model for all Christian families. The feast was first introduced in 1893 by Pope Leo XIII and set on the Sunday after the Epiphany. However in 1969 it was moved to the first Sunday after Christmas to make it part of the Christmas season.
If you remember the Christmas carol Good King Wenceslas , you heard the name. Stephen was a deacon in the early Christian church who was accused of blasphemy and put on trial by Jewish authorities in Jerusalem. After a trial in which he denounced them, Stephen was stoned to death. One of the witnesses to the event was Saul of Tarsus, who later converted and is known today as the apostle Paul. Stephen is considered the first martyr for the faith, the reason his feast day immediately follows the celebration of Jesus birth. All the major Christian congregations–Anglican, Catholic, Lutheran, Oriental Orthodox, and Eastern Orthodox–all venerate him as a Saint and celebrate the feast day (Western churches on 26 December, 27 Dec Orthodox, and 8 Jan Oriental Orthodox). In some countries (mainly Western Europe) it is a public holiday.
In the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand it is celebrated as Boxing Day, a secular holiday that falls on the same day as Feast of Stephen. Traditionally it is the day in which servants and tradespeople receive the “Christmas box” from their employers. While that tradition may still hold true, it is either a second Christmas day for some or an extra shopping day (though in some countries it apparently is a day when a lot of returns to retailers takes place). It is also a major sports day as well.
Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent and it is the last one of course before Christmas. Advent is a season of preparation for the birth of Jesus and not Christmas itself. While the secular world conflates the two (Advent and Christmas), the distinction is kept within the Christian church. Advent is a time of preparation for the birth so spiritual readings and vestments will reflect it. Unlike Lent which has strict observances that include fasts, Advent has no such strict requirement.
Yet it is a time for reflection as one awaits the approach of Christmas Day. In more olden times, there were fasts (it is still practiced in Eastern and Russian Orthodox where meat and dairy is prohibited for a specific period leading up to Christmas Day) but it is no longer a requirement in most Western churches. However there is a trend emerging that encourages the faithful to perhaps give up something during Advent or perform a service that benefits others (like volunteering to help feed homeless people). Music during this period also is designed to do this as well.
Happy Sunday everyone!