Christmas Blessing
Message from Archbishop Naumann
The Twelve Days of Christmas BEGIN on Christmas Day!

Originally, the Twelve Days of Christmas (December 25 through January 5) constituted the liturgical season of Christmastide. Since the 1969 addition of the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord to the liturgical calendar, the Christmas season is longer than the original twelve days established in the later sixth century.

Of course, no matter how the season of Christmas is reckoned, celebrating the full season of Christmas, in particular the days from Christmas through Epiphany, is an excellent way to commemorate the birth of Jesus. And it can make the “fun” of celebrating Christmas last even longer!

All-too-often, when we begin celebrating Christmas beginning on Thanksgiving evening, we eventually get “tired” of “the Christmas season” and, by the time December 26 arrives, begin to experience a seasonal “let down” just when the party ought to be getting started. Down time is necessary for us, for we humans can easily grow tired of anything without rest, even of celebration.

So what if, instead of a seasonal “let down” each year just after December 25, we gave ourselves a little intentional “down time”—a time of preparation for the festive season yet to come? Of course, the Church already thought of this, and calls it Advent (and has since the sixth century, at the same time the Twelve Days of Christmas were established. Advent helps us to make ready for the Twelve Days of Christmas, so that they can truly be twelve days of intense and joyful celebration.

Of course, there are times when our secular society won’t understand all of this, and we certainly don’t want to offend when folks of good will wish us “Merry Christmas” or invite us to their holiday gatherings. It’s all a matter of balance, and negotiating this balance is the reason the good Lord gave us brains—each of us will know when there is too much “Christmastime” in Advent, and we can at times use even these times in preparation for even greater things yet to come!
So, how can we learn to keep the Twelve Days of Christmas as they ought to be?
Here are a few practical suggestions for 2020-21:

Friday, December 25, the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. “Today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord!” Holy Mass is the centerpiece of our observance of Christmas, even if online participation is required due to the present pandemic. Let the fun begin!

Saturday, December 26, the Feast of Saint Stephen, The First Martyr. “Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.” Consider St. Stephens commitment to faith in Jesus Christ, and take a moment to renew your own faith commitment. “Good King Wenceslaus” is a carol based on the tradition of this good and just King of tenth-century Bohemia who was known for his care for all people, especially the poor. Consider making a special act of mercy towards someone less fortunate in a particular way than yourself. And keep feasting!

Sunday, December 27, the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. “Blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways.” If not for Sunday, this day would be the Feast of the Apostle John. Again, Mass is the priority, even if virtual rather than in-person. Consider offering a special prayer for each of your immediate family members, especially where there may be pain or a broken relationship. Prayer for all families, and for the human family. Consider a brief visit, over the phone or in-person (with discretion due to the pandemic) with someone who has no family or has recently lost a beloved family member. Since we’re feasting, how about delivering food to the food bank—people are hungry even when it’s not Christmas Day!

Monday, December 28, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs. Our soul has been rescued like a bird from the fowler’s snare.” The innocents of Bethlehem were savagely murdered by King Herod out of jealousy towards the Christ Child, the newborn King. Even as we continue to celebrate the Lord’s birth, let us prayerfully remember today all martyrs, including those little children, all precious to the Lord, who suffer the martyrdoms of abortion, neglect, and abuse. Consider an act of mercy towards a child in need, and special prayers for an end to abortion and all forms of injustice again the helpless and vulnerable of the world.

Tuesday, December 29, the Fifth Day in the Octave of Christmas. “Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!” The gospel reading for today is about Jesus being presented in the temple by his parents. The new year draws close. How can we prayerfully prepare ourselves to take up realistic resolves in the new year of grace. Consider prayers before the Nativity scene to rededicate yourself to Christ’s love and grace. Today is also the optional memorial for Saint Thomas Becket, Bishop and Martyr, who was killed in his own cathedral at Canterbury in England by his enemies, who were acting under the impression they were serving their king. St. Thomas chose fidelity to God over complete subjection to his king, and paid the price in his blood. Consider your own dedication to God above all things today, and make a resolve to not let earthly loyalties stand before your loyalty to God.

Wednesday, December 30, the Sixth Day in the Octave of Christmas. “Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!” Both yesterday and today, the gospel readings is about Jesus’ presentation in the temple. Two interesting figures emerge in this gospel account. Yesterday, an old prophet named Simeon, and today, and old prophetess named Anna. Take a few moments to read the gospel story (Luke 2:22-40). Simeon and Anna must’ve been interesting characters to encounter, but their witness to the promises of God was undaunted. Consider your way of making witness to God’s truth and love—how willing are you to encounter even ridicule for being faithful to the ways of God?

Thursday, December 31, Optional Memorial of Saint Sylvester I, Pope. “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.” St. Sylvester I was pope when the emperor Constantine the Great first made Christianity a legal religion within the Roman Empire, thus ending centuries of persecution of followers of Jesus by the Romans. Although little is known of him, he is celebrated as a wise and just bishop who was given great honor and authority by the emperor. Each of us has a certain authority over something, namely, ourselves. Consider using your “authority” this day to bring about good in someone’s life, whether by word or deed. And keep the celebration going—in some parts of the world, New Year’s Eve celebrations are actually called “Sylversters” to encourage personal wisdom and piety in the making of new year resolutions. So, enjoy your evening Sylvester!

Friday, January 1, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God (and World Day of Peace). “May God bless us in his mercy.” The Council of Ephesus (431) decreed Mary, the Mother of Jesus, as she who “bore God” (Theotokos, the God-bearer) and thus was the Mother of God Incarnate. She is his Mother, his first and best disciple, and even the first to enjoy his saving grace, even from the moment of her conception. She fulfills the promises of God to Eve, to the patriarchs, to the House of Israel. Mass is again the priority, whether online or in-person, and the first reading gives the blessing which God told Moses to instruct Aaron to give to the Israelites: “The LORD bless you and keep you! The LORD let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace!” As a family (or, perhaps, within your “social bubble”), invoke this blessing upon each other, and let each one share, over some kind of special meal or dessert, one of their new year’s resolutions, asking the others to ask for Mary’s intercession for their strength in keeping their resolve. Also, commit yourself to peace throughout the year: peace within yourself, within your family, within your parish community, your city, our nation, the world.

Saturday, January 2, Memorial of Saints Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen, Bishops and Doctors of the Church. “All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.” Sts. Basil and Gregory were friends who would’ve preferred to remain living together in the monastery they founded. But God had other plans for them, and in time they both were influential not only in monasticism but also in defending the doctrine of the Most Holy Trinity, which is why they are called “doctors” of the Church. Their influence in Eastern Christianity is especially notable. As we draw towards the Feast of the Epiphany, let us each ask ourselves, “Do I really believe, with all my heart, in the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit?” One way to remind ourselves of the essence of our faith is through the Sign of the Cross, and act of prayer which demonstrates faith, expresses home, and sanctifies the body and the mind. Consider increasing the practice of making the Sign of the Cross during your daily activities: upon rising, before and after prayers, before meals, when beginning a journey, when tempted, upon one another as a blessing, and upon retiring at the end of the day.

Because of the way in which we observe the Ordinary Form liturgical calendar in the United States, Epiphany is actually celebrated tomorrow (Jan 3rd), since it is always transferred to the first available Sunday near January 6. So, in a sense, this evening could be properly celebrated as “Twelfth Night” or Epiphany Eve. One custom is to exchange presents with one another as on Christmas Day. Of course, there’s no better excuse for a festive meal than a sacred festival! Consider different ways of making this Christmastime celebration especially festive in your own home, including reading aloud the classic short story “The Gifts of the Magi” by O. Henry.

So, because of the calendar, we didn’t quite make all twelve days this year—nine it is! But what a celebration—a veritable novena of days to feast, pray, sing, ponder, read, and do good works. And if we take seriously the preparatory season of Advent in all of its own proper beauty, we’ll have all the energy we need, and nine days will have been plenty!

And the full Christmas season, liturgically, extends through the Epiphany of the Lord and concludes with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord on Sunday, January 10. Still lots of time to enjoy the Incarnation and early manifestations of Jesus Christ. Keep celebrating, and be sure to include February 2, the Feast of the Lord’s Presentation in the Temple, also known as Candlemas Day. Indeed, there’s lots to celebrate, and Lent will give us an extra special and much-needed dose of “down time” for sure, beginning on Ash Wednesday, February 17, when the great fast begins.

Prayer for the Blessing of Families
Roman Ritual, Book of Blessings, Chapter 1, 57-58
Adapted for the particular circumstances
(Given at end of message from Archbishop.)

Let us pray.
We bless your holy name, Lord our God, for sending your own incarnate Son to become part of an earthly family, so that, as he lived within daily family life, he would experience both its challenges and its joys.

We ask you now, dearest Father,
to bless, protect, and guard these families here before us,
so that in the strength of your grace they may enjoy prosperity,
possess the priceless gift of your peace, respond generously to the needs of others, and, as the domestic Church, the Church alive in the home, bear witness in this world to your glory.

May they celebrate this holy season at hand,
commemorating your Son’s entrance into the human family,
with the fullness of devotion and love, and bear its fruits in the coming year of grace.

We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Peace and blessings to you and your family 
this Christmas and throughout the new year.

Merry Christmas!