The Church continues to celebrate!

By Jeff Hedglen

12/24/2014

A calendar reliquary showing relics of saints with feasts in the first three months of the year is seen at St. Anthony's Chapel on Troy Hill in Pittsburgh June 22, 2011.
A calendar reliquary showing relics of saints with feasts in the first three months of the year is seen at St. Anthony's Chapel on Troy Hill in Pittsburgh June 22, 2011. The chapel houses more than 5,000 holy relics, the largest collection of its kind on public display. Built in the early 1880s, it contain the relics amassed by Father Suitbert G. Mollinger, a Belgian-born priest who served as the first pastor of Most Holy Name of Jesus Church on Troy Hill. The chapel also contains life-size Stations of the Cross, valuable 19th-century wooden pieces carved by ecclesiastical artists at Mayer and Co. in Munich, Germany. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

The Christmas dinner dishes are piled up in the sink; the wrapping paper is an amoeba-shaped blob in the corner, and the family members are, either playing with their new gifts, trying on their new clothes, or taking a nap. I suppose this means Christmas is over and it is just 3 p.m. Christmas day!

This might be the way the holiday plays out in the secular world, but in the Catholic Church, the celebrating is just getting started. In fact, starting with Christmas and going through Feb. 2, there are a total of 14 Solemnities and Feasts celebrated. This is the highest concentration of special days on the liturgical calendar all year.

But before I go any farther let me clarify some terms. Until recently I was pretty ignorant about the difference between a Solemnity, a Feast, and a Memorial. I knew they were special days, but had no idea what differentiated them.

Solemnities hold the highest rank among Church celebrations, and there are 24 of these days on the annual liturgical calendar. A Solemnity is a day that recalls and glorifies an important event in the life of Jesus, and the most significant mysteries of the Catholic faith, days like: Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Pentecost, etc. Other solemnities honor the Blessed Mother: the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption, the Annunciation, and Mary, Mother of God. Some saints are acknowledged with a solemnity: St. Joseph, the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, Sts. Peter and Paul, and All Saints Day.

Celebrations identified on the Church calendar as a Feast typically honor a special saint or one of the apostles as well as other important events in Christian history like: the Baptism of the Lord, the Conversion of St. Paul, the Transfiguration, etc. Most feasts are fixed dates on the calendar.

A Memorial is a feast day of relatively low importance. However, all priests must recall the saint commemorated, in the Masses they celebrate on the Memorial and in the Liturgy of the Hours.

Some Memorials are optional, these are the lowest class of feast day. The priest is permitted to celebrate the feast day or not as he chooses. The saints or events celebrated in these feast days are considered to be of less universal importance to the Church.

Here are some of the special celebrations coming up, their dates and what kind of day each is:

  • January 1: Mary Mother of God — Solemnity
  • January 4: Epiphany — Solemnity
  • January 5: St. John Neumann — Memorial
  • January 11: Baptism of the Lord — Feast
  • January 26: Saints Timothy and Titus, Bishops — Memorial
  • January 31: Saint John Bosco, Priest — Memorial
  • February 2: The Presentation of the Lord — Feast

The Church has these various levels of special days, not only to honor these amazing events in the life of the Church and these holy people, but also to invite all of the faithful to enter into the life of the Church in a deeper way. It is not unlike when we celebrate the birthday or anniversary of people we love. Sure, we can just send a card or send a Facebook message, but we all know that it is a deeper celebration and a more profound acknowledgment of this person when we go in person and celebrate with them.

It is the same when the Church gathers for a Solemnity or a Feast or a Memorial. It is not an accident that the Church is often called the Family of God, for we are a family, and as a family we like to gather for special occasions.

Father James Wilcox, the Vocations director for the Diocese of Fort Worth recently told me that on special Feast days he often grabs a couple of friends and heads to Dairy Queen for a Blizzard to celebrate. So this Christmas season, gather with your parish community and celebrate the great saints and special moments that are being remembered at this time of year, and then head out for a treat of some kind to continue the celebration!

The Christmas dinner dishes are piled up in the sink; the wrapping paper is an amoeba-shaped blob in the corner, and the family members are, either playing with their new gifts, trying on their new clothes, or taking a nap. I suppose this means Christmas is over and it is just 3 p.m. Christmas day!

Published