From the Pastor: Some Liturgical Notes of Interest
Several people have asked several other people about why we still have Christmas decorations out in the church. The answer, of course, is that it is still Christmas! Christmas usually starts about August in the stores as they line the shelves with garland and pre-lit trees for sale. I assume it was the same this year, but, due to covid mask mandates, I simply refrained from doing any shopping except for food and for such necessary things as household items. No browsing, no wandering the aisles looking for whatever the marketing geniuses were pushing. Christmas music usually begins to play on the radio at Thanksgiving, though not much of it is actually Christmas music anymore, replaced with such “traditional carols” as “Jingle Bell Rock” and “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer.” Churches everywhere race to put out their manger scenes before the First Sunday in Advent, fill their bleak sanctuaries with ornamented Christmas trees and green felt banners, and generally pretend that Advent is Christmas for all practical purposes. Not so here. Advent is Advent. Christmas is Christmas. So in Advent, during which time everything is subdued in preparation for and anticipation of Christ’s birth, the flowers were taken away, replaced, in some spots, by greenery and a few poinsettias. The red on the poinsettias, by the way, are leaves, not flowers, so they don’t break the Advent rule of “no flowers on the altar.” We tried this year to set up actual Christmas decorations as close to Christmas as possible, taking into account the schedules of the volunteers and staff who undertook all of the work. We (they!) will take it all down when Christmas comes to an end, or thereabouts. (Actually, some of the real greenery has already been taken down because in our climate it had already become a droopy, sad-looking “brownery.”) So when does Christmas actually end? Some claim that once the Twelve Days of Christmas are over, so is Christmas. They will then take down the Christmas decorations once the Three Kings arrive on Epiphany (January 6 in the TLM calendar, various dates in the NOM). Others claim that the Baptism of Our Lord is the end of Christmas, so on January 13 it all gets removed in the TLM, various dates in the NOM. Some years we may follow those opinions. But this year we are opting to make Christmas last as long as possible. After all, we had Easter stolen from us last spring so we need to do something special to embrace at least this joyful season! With this in mind, all liturgical signs of Christmas end with the coming of Candlemas, the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, February 2.
I hope you know that the 8:00 am Mass will be quite a bit longer that day. We will begin outdoors, weather permitting, with a special blessing of candles. Bring your own. Bring a single one. Bring boxes of them. Bring 100% beeswax, or paraffin, or soy, or earwax candles if that is what you have available. There are multiple blessings given to the candles that day and you don’t want to miss it. After the blessing, you will be able to take part in the short procession back into the church, so be sure to bring at least one candle which you can carry in the procession. It would be ideal, as with most processions, if we could carry our lit candles and process from one church to another and have Mass at the second church, but that is not realistic here. So we move from outside to inside in what is normally the only daytime candlelight procession of the year. Unlike the Blessing of the Palms and procession where we assume it will be hot so we set up under the oak trees out front, we assume that on Candlemas we will want to be in the sun, so we set up in the field near the rectory chapel. (Our first year here we did the candle blessing in the rectory chapel --so small was the congregation and number of candles to be blessed-- since nobody had ever heard of nor experienced this blessing before!) Come early and you can drive close, drop off your containers of candles, and return your car to the parking lot before it all begins. Come late or “right on time” and you will be carrying the boxes from the parking lot and may even miss getting them blessed. I do need to stress that if you come after the blessing has begun (or finished!) you will not get candles blessed that day! You will be driving in rush-hour traffic so plan ahead.
Of course, even if you somehow miss candlemas, the next day, February 3, is the Feast of St. Blase (or Blaise). You know we bless throats on that day but did you realize that in the old Rite there is also a blessing of the candles which will be used for the throat blessing, plus a blessing for bread, wine, water, and fruit for the relief of throat ailments and “every infirmity of soul or body”? I still have a bottle of wine I blessed for myself last year in case I got a sore throat and fortunately, through the intercession of Our Lady of Good Health, I have not had to drink it! (I won’t tell you how many bottles I had to drink due to maladies of the soul, though!) The perishables, needless to say, are meant to be eaten much more quickly. Mark your calendars before you forget!
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka