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A Time to Bless, a Time to Anoint  
Andrew Casad  
   

Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God/Octave of the Nativity of the Lord
Though the echoes of the Christmas Gloria are still ringing in our heads, we are already looking ahead to the next two months of liturgical celebrations in our parishes. The octave of Christmas, which occurs on the solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, ushers in a new calendar year and, although January 1 is not a holy day of obligation this year (falling as it does on a Saturday), Masses during the day should still celebrate the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God (Lectionary, 18; Sacramentary, 54). Be aware that while couples might want to celebrate their wedding on New Year's Day, which is permitted (though a funeral Mass is not), the readings and prayers celebrated within the Mass must be those proper to the day and not those normally available for the celebration of a Nuptial Mass. Like many parishes, our community of Saint Thomas More will be celebrating our only Mass on Saturday, January 1, as the vigil of the following day, the Epiphany of the Lord.

Epiphany of the Lord
Though traditionally celebrated on the twelfth day of Christmas (January 6), Epiphany is now observed on the second Sunday after Christmas, which this year falls on January 2. Each year we hear the Gospel account of the visitation of the magi. The account of the baptism of the Lord is proclaimed the subsequent weekend; bringing these two stories together with the narrative of the wedding feast at Cana (heard on the Sunday after the Baptism of the Lord in Year C) forms an extended Epiphany (Adam, The Liturgical Year: Its History and Its Meaning after the Reform of the Liturgy, 148) as each pericope includes the appearance of God in the person of Jesus and thus reveals the fullness of the Incarnation that first took flesh at the Nativity of the Lord (or, more properly, at the Annunciation). Recent scholarship has shown that, in the Alexandrian tradition, Epiphany marked the beginning of a continuous reading of the Gospel according to Mark (Talley, The Origins of the Liturgical Year, 121ƒƒ.), which meant the new year began with the account of Jesus' baptism that inaugurated his public ministry and continued through to the Passion, the summit of Mark's account. Thus, the period of Epiphany to Easter marked out, as it still does, a kind of "short course" or "primary catechism" within the Church year. The Epiphany of the Lord also plays host to numerous traditions that you may wish to introduce to (or continue at) your parish. Although now optional, the Proclamation of the Date of Easter on Epiphany (Sacramentary Supplement, 25 / Sacramentary Supplement 2004, 47) that once primarily served the practical function of informing the faithful of the date of that elusive first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring / vernal equinox retains great value precisely because it emphasizes the connection between the Incarnation and the Resurrection. In many cultures, the giving of gifts takes place on the Epiphany with the obvious connection to the gifts brought the Christ child by the magi rather than on Christmas Day, itself a displacing of the northern European tradition of giving gifts on December 6, the memorial of Saint Nicholas. Our parish has derived great benefit from the blessing of homes on Epiphany, a custom that is reputed to be of Eastern European origin (Elliot, Ceremonies of the Liturgical Year according to the Modern Roman Rite, 42). At the end of each of the Masses on Epiphany the priest-celebrant blesses pieces of chalk, using the Blessings of Articles of Devotion (Book of Blessings, 1455) after introducing this to the assembly:

The Word became flesh
    and made his dwelling place among us.
It is Christ who enlightens
    our hearts and homes with his love.
It is Christ, the incarnate Son of God,
    who is our source of hope, joy, and comfort.
This morning we will bless chalk to be used for writing on the door of your home the names of the magi: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. Their example of following the rising star to Christ invites us to let the light of Christ shine within our homes. Each family is invited to take home a piece of this blessed chalk and to follow the insert in the bulletin for blessing your homes.

As referenced in the introduction above, the following is inserted into our Sunday bulletin for families to use as a way to bring the liturgy home:

Epiphany Blessing
On the feast of Epiphany, we celebrate that God made himself known not only to the chosen people of Israel but also to the entire world. Chalking the door of your house at Epiphany is a popular custom that involves the whole family in welcoming the Christ child into our world. Blessing the entrance to your home for a new year prepares your home and hearts so that others will find Christ there as did the Magi who followed the star to Bethlehem. In this brief ritual your family will write the numerals for the current year over the door and, in the middle of the numerals, the initials CMB. Some say that the CMB comes from the Latin blessing of a home, Christus mansionem benedicat, "May Christ bless this home." Others suggest that the initials are those of the three wise men, whom (thanks to the Venerable Bede's legend) we call Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. I would suggest that both are beautiful reminders of God's gift of himself to us!

Below is the ritual for blessing your home on Epiphany, for which you will need a Bible and the chalk blessed at Mass:

All make the Sign of the Cross. The leader begins:
Leader:   Let us praise God, who fills our hearts and homes with peace.
Blessed be the name of the Lord:
All:   Now and forever.
Leader:   After the Lord Jesus was born in Bethlehem,
    Magi from the east followed a star to Bethlehem
    where they found the newborn child and
    worshipped him.
Mary and Joseph cared for Jesus
    and watched over him as he grew.
As a man, Jesus preached about God's love for all.
He favored the poor, healed the sick,
    and welcomed the children.
He suffered and died for us
    and God raised him from the dead.
He is here with us.
Let us make our home a place of welcome and peace
    where all can see the goodness of Christ.
Let us make our home a dwelling place of love.
Let us pray:
Gracious God, as a shining star once guided the Magi
    to the birthplace of the infant Jesus,
    help we who dwell here to be your light
    in the world.
We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord.
All:   Amen.

The Gospel (and additional readings) for Epiphany may now be read by family members: Matthew 2:1–12 (and Isaiah 60:1–6, Psalm 72, or Ephesians 3:2–6).

At the entrance of the home and with hands joined, the leader prays:
Leader:   Lord God of heaven and earth, you revealed your only-begotten Son to every nation by the guidance of a star. Bless this house and all who live here. Fill us with the light of Christ, that our concern for others may reflect your love. We ask this through Christ our Lord.
All:   Amen.
Family members then chalk the door with the inscription:
20 + C + M + B + 11

After which the leader invites everyone to recite the Lord's Prayer:
Our Father, who art in heaven . . . .

All make the Sign of the Cross as the leader concludes:
Leader:   May Christ Jesus dwell with us,
keep us from all harm,
and make one in mind and heart,
now and forever.
All:   Amen.
The blessing may conclude with everyone singing "We Three Kings," "O Come, All Ye Faithful," or another appropriate song.

(Blessing, by Andrew Casad, adapted from Book of Blessings and Catholic Book of Household Blessings and Prayers.)

Questions for Reflection
1. In what ways can your family be like the star of Bethlehem to shine on or point to Christ and show others the way to our Lord?

2. In what ways can your family be like the magi and sacrifice your gifts by giving them to Christ and his Church?

Feast of the Baptism of the Lord
At the head of the next week stands the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which brings an end to the Christmas season. As mentioned above, the Baptism of the Lord continues the epiphany or manifestation of the divinity of Christ. While most households will have already thrown out their Christmas trees more than two weeks ago, our parishes, as the households of God, should retain any decor for Christmastide until this day. Historically, the Baptism of the Lord and the Epiphany seem to have been dates on which those preparing for Baptism may have been baptized. While adult Baptisms are now done at the Easter Vigil in accord with the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, the Baptism of the Lord would certainly be an appropriate time to celebrate the Baptism of infants in the presence of the entire assembly.

Returning to Ordinary Time
While the transition from Christmas to Ordinary Time brings a period of rest to pastoral liturgists, there are some wonderful liturgical celebrations to note during the month of January. The day after Epiphany, January 3, honors the Cappadocian Fathers: Basil the Great, his brother Gregory of Nyssa, and their good friend and fellow bishop, Gregory of Nazianzus. The subsequent three days invite us to remember three North American saints: Elizabeth Ann Seton (January 4), John Neumann (January 5), and André Bessette (January 6), who is remembered especially fondly by Notre Dame alumni through the Holy Cross priests, who include Blessed Brother André in the Eucharistic Prayer. While we should note and join with the nation in honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on Monday, January 17, this is the obligatory memorial of Saint Anthony, who was most well known through the writings of Saint Athanasius as the father of monasticism. On January 21, we remember Saint Agnes; January 24 and January 31 look to the centrality of both prayer and works on the memorials of Saint Frances de Sales and Saint John Bosco, respectively. Of special importance to all who study and hand on the Catholic faith is January 28, the memorial of a Dominican and doctor of the Church, Saint Thomas Aquinas. Unless any of these men or women is the patron of your parish or religious order, there is little that needs to be done special for the celebration of Mass, save using the propers when celebrating the Mass that day.

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
In contrast, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity that begins on Tuesday, January 18, and continues until the feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul on Tuesday, January 25, may require some special preparation. This is a good time to do ecumenical liturgies such as the Liturgy of the Hours at which all Christians can participate and even preside. My pastor and others from our parish have shared in events held at Duke Divinity School which included opportunities for study and reflection on our common Christian faith as well as prayer services provided in the annual brochure published jointly by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches. At our parish we began the week with the Mass "For Unity of Christians" (Lectionary, 811, Sacramentary, 889), invited members of our neighboring Methodist community and a nearby Lutheran church to come together for study days using David Aune's Rereading Paul Together (Baker, 2006) throughout the week, and concluded together with Evening Prayer on the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, at which I suggest having members of the different ecclesial communities host, preside, and preach. The following day is the obligatory memorial of Paul's companions, Saint Timothy and Saint Titus, which makes for a nice continuation of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Even if your parish is unable to host or participate in ecumenical worship throughout the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, it would be appropriate for the Masses on Sunday, January 23, to include petitions for Christian unity (see RCIA, 496, as a model) among the Prayer of the Faithful and to familiarize yourself and your parish by (re) reading Unitatis Redintegratio (the Second Vatican Council's Decree on Ecumenism), the "Joint Declaration on the the Doctrine of Justification," and other documents of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

Particular Celebrations in January
In the midst of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity there is a good opportunity for "ecumenism in the trenches" on Saturday, January 22, as, together with many other Christians, Catholics in the United States are invited to participate in the March for Life. All parishes should also honor this as a day of penance for violations to the dignity of the human person committed through acts of abortion and as a day of prayer for the full restoration of the legal right to life by celebrating a Mass for Peace and Justice (Lectionary, 887– 891, Sacramentary, 901ƒƒ.). This is an especially appropriate occasion for including such prayer for the dignity of the human person in the Prayer of the Faithful at the Sunday Mass and (re)introducing your parish to the ongoing work of the pro-life actives of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and others. Additional special observances in the United States during the month of January include National Migration Week (see http://www.usccb.org/mrs/nmw/) and Catholic Schools Week (January 30 to February 5). Parishes should be sure to take these opportunities to include these special needs in our Sunday liturgies during those respective weeks.

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord
One of my favorite feasts in the liturgical calendar is on February 2, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord (Lectionary, 524, Sacramentary, 608). The Presentation of the Lord recapitulates many of the themes of Christmas and marks the last vignette in the infancy of Jesus recorded in any of the Gospel accounts. It has been known variously as the Feast of the Meeting, because of Jesus' meeting with the prophet and prophetess Simeon and Anna, the Purification of Mary, according to the Jewish custom of a mother presenting herself at the Temple forty days after the birth of a son (Leviticus, chapter 12), and Candlemas, because of the blessing of candles that takes place at this Mass. The feast of the Presentation remains a central event in the life of the Lord, as this is when he was enrolled among the assembly through his circumcision according to the covenant of Abraham. The Gospel pericope proclaimed on this day gives us the Nunc Dimittis ("Now dismiss [your servant]"), the Gospel canticle sung each day at Night Prayer. The feast of the Presentation is, therefore, a good opportunity to introduce the assembly to the celebration of Night Prayer and encourage them to do so in their own prayer life. Both because of its brevity and also because Night Prayer currently consists in only a one-week cycle (as compared to the four-week Psalter of the other offices) it is comparatively easy to share with the faithful and recent aids, such as that published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, facilitate doing so.

To prepare for the blessing of the candles at the Mass (given in the Sacramentary), we set small congregation candles in baskets on a table placed at the door to the church and invite the faithful to remain in the narthex for the procession. After the blessing of the candles, the candles should be lit using a taper or candlelighter lit from the Paschal candle, following which the faithful and the ministers enter the church to dispel the darkness and be a light of revelation. Historically, all the candles to be used in the church in a given year were blessed at this time, so I usually haul a few boxes up from the basement as a representative sample. Whether you do so or not, it is a good idea to also bless several pairs of candles to be used the following day for the blessing of throats on the feast of Saint Blase (Book of Blessings, 1622–1635). This past year I was introduced to a wonderful custom observed by some of the parish faithful who brought to the Mass dolls representing the Christ Child that they asked to be blessed so that they could be brought back to their homes before being put away (see Brankin, 56–59).

Highlights of the February Sanctoral
Despite my wistfulness at the memorial of Saint Blase trumping that of Saint Ansgar, with whom he shares the same date (February 3), the devotion with which the faithful participate in the memorial of Saint Blase is a great opportunity to use the liturgy as the source for catechesis about the healing ministry Christ entrusted to his Church. February 5 and 10 are memorials of early women in the history of the Church, Saints Agatha and Scholastica, respectively. February 11 is the memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes and, consequently, World Day of the Sick. This would be a great opportunity for your parish to celebrate the Anointing of the Sick during Mass. I have found that this is often the first time that many of the faithful have witnessed the celebration of this sacrament and, once again, the opportunity for mystagogical reflection on the rite in which the faithful have either participated, or been a part of the assembly, should be seized upon. Though February 14 is certainly more well known as Valentine's Day, the Church honors Saints Cyril and Methodius, considered apostles to the Slavs and the patrons of the Byzantine Rite Catholic parish within the boundaries of my home diocese. February 22 is the feast of the Chair of Peter that, upon first glance, may have the faithful perplexed about a day dedicated to a piece of furniture. This is an opportunity to highlight the signification of the feast and the importance the Petrine office in the plan of salvation. On February 23, we celebrate the memorial of Saint Polycarp, whose passion narrative reveals a true and self-sacrificing love that can provide a helpful balance to the secular focus on romantic love that pervades February.

Looking toward Lent
This interval of Ordinary Time time sandwiched between the previous Christmas season and the coming Lenten purple—which, of course, gives rise to the traditional three colors of carnival that begins after Epiphany and runs until Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) on the eve of Ash Wednesday—is also time to make proximate preparations for Lent and Easter. At Masses on Sunday, February 20, it would be good to make an announcement that the palms blessed and used by the faithful on Palm Sunday of the previous year(s) will be collected the next two Sundays, February 27 and March 6, so that they can be burned and sifted for use on Ash Wednesday (March 9). Now is also the time to sit down with your Liturgy Committee and (re)read the 1988 Circular Letter Concerning the Preparation and Celebration of the Easter Feasts, Paschale Solemnitatis (available in LTP's Liturgy Documents, Volume II).

Resources for the Liturgical Year
While we know a revised Roman Missal (the restored name of what we now know as the Sacramentary) will be implemented November 27, 2011, we need to keep our noses in the present Sacramentary (and its supplements) for the time being. Look at your Ordo and Lectionary as you meet with parish staff to be sure that the liturgical calendar forms the basis of your community's calendar. The Office of Readings in the four-volume edition of Christian Prayer (the Liturgy of the Hours) is a great resource for preaching or catechezing with the liturgical year. There are, of course, many celebrations that are particular to your community that do not appear on the universal calendar, not the least of which is your patronal solemnity. There also are occasions for celebration, such as engagements to marriage, parishioners departing for service trips or missionary work, commissioning new liturgical ministers, and so forth. Do not forget to avail yourself of blessings on these occasions; familiarize yourself with the contents of the Book of Blessings, if you haven't done so already, and make sure to include as many of these blessings as appropriate on your parish's calendar on a rotating basis at various Masses on a given weekend so that the faithful can experience the full richness of our liturgical patrimony. Catholic Household Book of Blessings and Prayers, recently revised by the USCCB and available in both paperback and hardback, is also helpful for connecting parishioners to the parish life in their home, the liturgy of the domestic church. In this issue I mentioned Paschale Solemnitatis as an important document on the liturgy to read; I will reference others in coming issues and suggest that if you do not already have a copy of both volumes of LTP's Liturgy Documents that you pick those up at your earliest convenience. While you may not be the rector of the cathedral or the Bishop's master of ceremonies, it is still helpful for you to have a copy of the Ceremonial of Bishops, as the detailed rubics can help in planning your liturgies. Additional sources I relied on for this (and future) articles include Adolf Adam's Liturgical Year: Its History and Its Meaning after the Reform of the Liturgy (Pueblo, 1990), Peter J. Elliot's Ceremonies of the Liturgical Year according to the Modern Roman Rite (Ignatius, 2002), and Thomas J. Talley's The Origins of the Liturgical Year (Pueblo, 1986), and various works about the history of the liturgy.

Andrew Casad
has been the Director of Liturgy and Catechumenate at Saint Thomas More Catholic Church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina since 2006. He holds a master of theological studies in liturgical studies from the University of Notre Dame (2003) and a master of arts in cultural anthropology from the University of California San Diego (2005). He is an online course facilitator for Notre Dame's Satellite Theological Education Program, has been published in Catechumenate in addition to Pastoral Liturgy®, and is a regular contributor to the PrayTell blog.
 
         
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