Monday, December 26, 2011

the octave drenched in blood

The most important feasts of the Church Year are celebrated for a full octave of days, each day of which is treated as though it were a sort of replay of the first.  Or to put it another way, each day of the octave is a celebrating of the same feast.  Much as a wedding feast in the ancient middle east could last several days, so also the Church on certain occasions celebrates the life of her Lord and Redeemer, and the marital life she shares with Him, as a full eight day feast, the number of the fulfillment of the new creation, the resurrection life which we have in our Baptism (which assumes and is never separated from the Paschal mystery of the death of our Lord, into which we are baptized). 

Yet the feast of the Nativity of Christ is unusual in that it does not take an unmitigated tone of joy, but is significantly filled with death, mortality, even violent martyrdom.  It is called the bloody octave, for in its course we celebrate the victory of many holy martyrs, as we begin to see even today on the second day of Christmas.  There is Stephen, whose holy diaconal witness to Christ, even at the cost of his life, is described by the Evangelist in downright Christic terms.  Then we have the feast of the beloved disciple, who may or may not have died in bloody martyrdom, but whose whole life and episcopal ministry was a martyrdom for his beloved Lord.  Then we have Childermas, on which we remember the heavenly reward of the children who suffered at the hands of a self-absorbed despot.  After that, we get to celebrate the twelfth century witness of the holy bishop of Canterbury, Thomas √† Becket, a man whose life, at once human and holy, and whose violent murder at the hands of men who despised both the Work of God (the Liturgy-in this case, Vespers) and the workers of God (in this case, the bishop) cannot help but move the Christian even eight centuries later.  Two days after that we get the feast of St. Sylvester, who did not die a martyr in the classic sense, but much of whose life saw great persecutions of the Church in the days before its toleration with the Edict of Milan.  And the Octave culminates in the observance of the first blood spilled for our redemption (for Mary shed none herself at the birth of her Son) namely, that of our Lord Himself at His circumcision.

It is a hard road that Jesus came to earth to travel, a hard and lonely way.  For ultimately it is the way of the Cross.  And His life, death. and resurrection (these things are really a singular Paschal mystery) is lived out in the lives of His members, even today.  Our way, too, is the way of the cross, and ours is His victory.  We are walking examples of the reality that Christ makes all things new, whether or not we feel it.  For our lives are now patterned after Him, the New Man Who daily comes forth and rises in our life and confession and witness, no matter what end we might meet.  The life of Christ is also the story of the life of His mystical Body, and each member thereof.  Let this ocvate serve in part to help you meditate upon this truth in Christ.

No comments: