THE CHURCH YEAR
†The Immaculate Conception, December 8.
On this feast we honor the unique privilege by which the Blessed Virgin Mary was exempted from original sin. It is the first important feast of the ecclesiastical year. It is a holyday of obligation. It is also the patronal feast of the United States, which is especially consecrated to the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
†Christmas Day, December 25.
This, one of the most beautiful feasts of the year, is celebrated in remembrance of the Nativity of Our Lord. On this day priests are allowed to say three Masses in memory of the triple birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ: a midnight Mass to commemorate His eternal generation as God in the bosom of the Father; a Mass at dawn, to honor His temporal birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Bethlehem; and a Mass at daytime, in memory of His spiritual birth, as our Redeemer, in the hearts ot the faithful. It is only on Christmas and All Souls' Day that priests are allowed to say three Masses.
For Christmas a crib is built in churches, schools and many homes, to commemorate the crib at Bethlehem. Little children are specially encouraged to help build the crib. The crib was popularized by that great saint, Francis of Assisi.
The Holy Innocents, December 28.
The feast honors the children murdered by order of King Herod, as recorded in St. Matthew's Gospel.
†The Circumcision, January 1.
On this day we honor the first shedding of blood by our Divine Lord for the salvation of our souls. The feast was also instituted to implore the blessings of Almighty God on the new year. The rite of circumcision, a symbol of Baptism, was imposed by Moses on all male children, and was undergone the eighth day after their birth, to distinguish them from the Gentiles. For us Christians, Baptism took the place of circumcision. On the Feast of the Circumcision, the ceremony of the renewal of baptismal vows takes place.
Feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus (The first Sunday after the Circumcision if it falls on any day between January 2 and January 5. If not, the feast is celebrated on January 2).
This feast is to give special honor to the Holy Name of Our Lord. Every time we pronounce the Name of Jesus, we should bow our heads.
The Holy Name Society was founded by Gregory X in 1274 to combat the growing evil of cursing, swearing, and irreverence. It is a society for men.
The Epiphany, January, 6.
This feast celebrates the manifestation that Jesus Christ the Messias made to the nations of the world represented in the persons of the Magi. It also commemorates the Baptism of Our Lord by St. John the Baptist, and the first miracle at Cana, when Our Lord changed water into wine at the request of His Blessed Mother.
Feast of the Holy Family (Sunday within the Octave of the Epiphany).
This feast was instituted in order to hold up as the model of Christian families the holy Family of Nazareth, composed of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.
Septuagesima Sunday, and the two following Sundays, Sexagesima and Quinquagesima, mean respectively seventieth, sixtieth and fiftieth, because they fall near the 70th, 60th, and 50th days before Easter. Quadragesima Sunday, near the fortieth day, is the first Sunday of Lent.
In the United States, the period in which Catholics may fulfill their Easter duty of Confession and Communion begins with the first Sunday of Lent, and lasts till the Feast of the Most Blessed Trinity, on the Sunday after Pentecost.
Octave for the Unity of the Church, January 18 to 25
The Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary(B. V. M.),commonly called Candlemas Day (February 2).
By undergoing the ceremony of purification after childbirth, imposed on all Jewish women, Our Lady, who needed no purification, gave an example of obedience and humility to the whole world. This day the Church celebrates the blessing of candles, which symbolize Christ the Light of the World, entering the Temple to be presented here to God His Father.
The day following Candlemas is the feast of St. Blase, patron for ailments of the throat. Then it is the practice to have throats given a special blessing by being touched between two crossed candles.
Our Lady of Lourdes, February 11.
This feast celebrates the apparition of the Immaculate Conception in the town of Lourdes, France. (See Chapter 189 on Processions and Pilgrimages)
This day opens the Lenten season. Catholics go to church to receive the ashes which the priest marks on their foreheads with the words: "Remember, man, that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return." The ashes are from the palms blessed the previous year. They symbolize penance.