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Christmas on a Sunday? Uh-oh...

In today's Wall Street Journal I have a brief piece about this year's "come to Jesus" moment for Christians faced with the prospect of Christmas on a (heaven forfend!) Sunday.Many Protestant churches won't be open or will have abbreviated services; growing up an evangelical, we wouldn't celebrate Christmas in church. That was a "Catholic thing."But when Christmas falls on a Sunday, as it does every few years, it puts pressure on some believers, at least, to either observe the day as a religious holiday or maybe concede that the faithful themselves aren't doing such a great job of keeping Christ in Christmas -- and maybe we shouldn't insist that stores do it for us by greeting customers with "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays."Here is my piece (note a couple debts to Commonweal authors).Some other, better additions to the topic:At First Things, Russell Saltzman makes a good, pointed and interesting argument:

Maybe we Christians ourselves should stop calling Christmas Christmas and revert to an older eleventh century phrase, Cristes MaesseChrists Mass. Best Buy can fend for itself.

In USA Today, Amy Sullivan presaged Saltzman's column, arguing that we should call it "Jesus Day" and let the secular world have Christmas. Since they already do.At EthicsDaily.com, Jim Evans gets to the heart of the matter:

How many among those who have clamored for retail outlets to carry the Christian message will be in church on Christmas Day?......It's time and past time to stop expecting department stores and shopping malls to proclaim our faith. The responsibility for that lies much closer to church and home than many may care to admit.

And for those of us in the Catholic Church who may be tempted to feel a bit superior to our Low Church brethren because we are Christmas churchgoers as a matter of course, Our Sunday Visitor has a feature on the decrease in Christmas Day attendance and the proliferation and popularity of Christmas Eve masses. (And of course there is "Midnight Mass" as a term of art.)I must plead guilty -- or mea maxima culpa, breast-beating and all, as I suppose we say now. Since my daughter was born, it's been Fr. Nonomen's "Jingle Bell Mass" on Christmas Eve for us. I would in an ideal world opt for Midnight Mass. But we could and perhaps should do Christmas morning, certainly. Yet we don't.In any case, I agree with those who suggest that it's hard to see how we can reclaim Christmas as a religious holiday when we don't observe it as such.

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"They should be respected for what they did and not regarded as mere forerunners to others."Gerelyn, No one is saying that they were "mere" foreunners. The results gotten by those "forerunners" prompted others to make sure the Council promoted those reforms. Naturally with allowing the vernacular the fruits of the renewal became more dramatic after the Council.

Jean --Have you read Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf? It got uniformly splendid reviews. But some of it is too gruesome for me. Heaney makes the point that it is about warriors who were transitioning from being beserkers to being Christians gentlemen with tender feelings. The contrast is overwhelming. (Haney uses only Anglo-Saxon words in the translation, or tries to.)As I see the Middle Ages they're a period of great extremes -- terrible brutality including all of the various invasions and later horrors such as the Albigensian Crusade, but also splendid appreciation of the beauty of the Faith as seen most especially in Chartres. This required efforts to understand these opposites, which resulted in the medieval schools and all their finely-honed rationality which sought to balance those extremes. (Henry VIII has a lot to answer for for destroying those monasteries. Renaissance indeed! Renaissance of berserkers.)

Luke --Do you know Benjamin Britten's "Ceremony of Carols" and Ralph Vaughn Williams "Fantasia of Christmas Carols" or some such title. Both beautiful and lively. Why are English Carols particularly fine?

Ken --Duns Scotus, the greatest of the medieval Franciscan philosopher-theologians, said that the reason Christ was incarnated was because "He wanted to be with us". Wonderful simplicity, and particularly Franciscan, I think :-)

Gerelyn --Of course Harvard has specialized courses which appreciate the medievals. Harvard has specialized courses appreciating all sorts of things. I was talking about core curricula (where schools still have them, sigh). I would be delighted to hear that times have changed in that regard.

Oh, I see. Parochial school memories are the test of truth. Good luck with that!

For myself I think it important to remember that Vatican II was only possible because of the work done in the two or three decades before it met. It and its texts and reforms did not drop down directly from heaven or by unmediated gift of the Holy Spirit. There was a great deal of vitality in various theological and pastoral movements during those decades. The three encyclicals of Pius XII--on the Mystical Body, on the Bible, and on the liturgy--should not be forgotten because of the unfortunate one on the so-called "new theology." (I remember Myles Bourke being furious because Pius XII was being denigrated in favor of his successor John XXIII.) There were some aspects of Church life that were stronger and more vibrant before the Council than after; e.g., what was called "the lay apostolate," the involvement of lay people in bringing the Gospel to bear upon society and culture (Catholic Action, etc.). William A. Purdy, long-time Roman correspondent for the London Tablet, wrote a book that tried to insert some historical perspective. It was entitled The Church on the Move: Pius XII, John XXIII, and Christian Renewal. Here is an obituary for Purdy: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/obituaries--mgr-bill-purdy-1388...

No one is saying that they were mere foreunners. What you said was, "The greatest thing V2 did was to restore the Easter Vigil to make it what it is". I disagree. The Easter Vigil was restored before the Council. If the Council had never taken place, the restored Holy Week liturgy would still have existed.

Of course Harvard has specialized courses which appreciate the medievals. Harvard has specialized courses appreciating all sorts of things. I was talking about core curricula (where schools still have them, sigh). I would be delighted to hear that times have changed in that regard.Since you included your generalization about "American colleges" in a post in which you misrepresented an article in Harvard's alumni magazine, it seemed that you were including the oldest and most renowned American college in your judgment. Perhaps you will name some colleges/universities whose curricula fail to present the "Dark Ages" properly.

Oh, I see. Parochial school memories are the test of truth. Good luck with that!--------Odd to denigrate children's memories. They are the forerunners of adult memories.

Gerelyn --It seems that David Smith and Rita didn't notice my misrepresenting the article. So I don't concede. I'm not an expert on general or core curricula at American college, which is was what I was talking about -- general American college education and not all American higher education. I only know what sort of history books were popular when I was young, and since then the products of American colleges through the years have confirmed my experience. Do is look at the continued popularity of Will Durant's histories. You might see that if his works were accepted as solid history, it must have been because his reader's were so ill prepared they couldn't tell they weren't. Then there were the popular works of Bertrand Russell. Just look at the meanings of the word "medieval". (Ordinary meanings reflect what people think.) Here's from Merriam-Webster:"Definition of MEDIEVAL1: of, relating to, or characteristic of the Middle Ages2: having a quality (as cruelty) associated with the Middle Ages3: extremely outmoded or antiquated medievally adverbYou don't think these definitions reflect some serious ignorance and prejudice?

"England moved from a pagan, illiterate conglomeration of Germanic tribes to a confederation of literate, Christian people."Huh? As late as 1700, only 30% of English men were at least even minimally literate, and this was several hundred years after Gutenberg's invention that vastly increased the supply of books. By 1800, the rates reversed places, and literacy was closer to 70%. Similar rates and rates of improvement were found in France. The "dark" ages were "dark" (I always thought) because of the amount of learning and technology that was lost -- everything from literary works (most lost irretrievably) to communal hygeine. The aqueducts built by the Romans were never duplicated by Europeans until the 17th-18th centuries -- while those built by the Romans continued to be used even into the 20th century in some places (Segovia). The "decline and fall" of Rome resulted in the loss of close to half the population of Europe, over the ensuing two hundred year period, with attendant loss of artistic and cultural and technological patrimony, at least in the West. Of course people continued to try to improve things -- they were still human, after all, but to suggest that there wasn't a loss -- a true darkening, if you will, of a lot of human achievement, seems more like fantasy than revisionism.

Barbara --I was also taught that the "Dark Ages" were when a great deal of Roman knowledge was lost. They were preceded by the collapse of Roman government in Europe. But it wasn't just the fall of Rome that treated "Europe" badly. There was a terrible plague in the 6th century, as I remember. Killed off a big portion of the population. Outside of Italy local fiefdoms of the indigenous people sprung up, and they were over-run by waves of barbarians from the North, who then were assimilated and formed new little kingdoms, with, finally, Charlemagne unifying a major part of Europe. But he left it fractured when he divided it into parts for his sons. He himself couldn't read and write -- his "mark" was a huge, simple cross. But he founded lots of schools because he valued learning. At the time the illiterate Europeans included many of the aristocrats (the local military powers). Maybe that's what is meant when it is said that literacy increased in Europe in the Middle Ages -- the aristocrats learned to read and write (including some of the women!). But being illiterate to start with, I doubt they had many books in the earliest middle ages. Still, as far back as the 6th century there were some cathedral schools some of which ultimately became the universities. The early universities were identifiable as such by the 11th century.. (After the demise of the Roman Empire the old Eastern (Byzantine) Empire and the Christians of the Eastern Church had their own problems, including Islam.)Before Charlemagne, there were the Irish monks who, far from the wars, could cherish their books and copied many of the Roman classics (though the monks too were sometimes subject to marauding Northerners). They were the ones who brought learning to Charlemagne's court, as I learned it. There have been lots of studies of medieval science since the early part of the 20th century. It's roots were in the East -- the medievals were highly influenced by some of the very great Muslim scientists. (I've forgotten the man's name, but one of the doctors wrote a text book that was still being used in Europe in the 1600s!) Unfortunately, the pioneer 20th century European historian of science was a very conservative Catholic physicist (conservative both in his religion and his physics), and it was a while before he was taken very seriously. Now the specialists see clearly now that even experimental science had its roots in the high middle ages. Roger Bacon (13th century) even theorized about scientific method. Aquinas' teacher, Albert the Great, did some proto-empirical investigations. And, of course, their philosophy of science (not always Aristotelian) is still worth a gander. Complexity, complexity.

Ann, experimental science has its roots in Greece not medieval Europe. The fact that Europeans carried forward scientific and literary traditions is indisputable, of course, but such work did not really transform the culture in a way that science did later. The person whose name you forgot is most likely Avicenna or Ibn Sina.

The scholars speak of "rebirths" before the big one: the Carolingian renaissance to which Ann refers above and the "Renaissance of the Twelfth Century," to cite the title of Haskins' famous book, etc. It is the failure of scholars of a certain age to see any light in the centuries they sweep away as "dark" that I think Ann is noting. Histories of philosophy, for example, would often leap from Plotinus to Descartes. But that there was a falling off in many areas, as Barbara notes, I don't think can be denied either.

There is no doubt that many Renaissance scholars had a twofold purpose -- the primary, obvious purpose, was to recover and build on Roman and Greek precedents in science and philosophy -- and the second was to discredit contemporary conditions that they loathed, some of which related to religious hegemony and some of which did not. We don't have to belabor the point, Rome was certainly very harsh for much of its population, but the living conditions of Europeans, in terms of public facilities, were clearly worse than they had been when those cities were Roman. The only truly public facility for hundreds of years were churches and cathedrals. There was very little organized road building or other civil engineering (aqueducts), there were no more public libraries, and certainly no public latrines or bath houses, a staple of both Roman and Arab societies (the Arabs copied the Romans, but generally on a much smaller scale). You can see the ruins of most of these, even the roads, in nearly ever major European city that was under Roman rule once upon a time.

Barbara --I must confess that when I think of the science of the Enlightenment I'm thinking of the sort that is research for its own sake which uses a powerful empirical method of discovery, not the practical sort of science that includes engineering and medicine.. Yes, the ancients had the latter, and so did other peoples such as the Egyptians and Indians to some extent. And many cultures were expert at observing the stars. The notion that "science" in Aristotle's core sense of knowledge that was valued for itself began, at least in the West, with the Greeks, but even Aristotle didn't try to invent an empirical method of scientific exploration for the sake of understanding nature. I don't know if even the Muslim scientists had any sort of scientific method. (The Muslim doctor I was thinking of was Al-Zahrawi, a surgeon whose methods proved practical for 500 years.) So, yes, the Romans had great engineers and architects, and great laws as well. But they really didn't have much in the way of the theoretical knowledge that was characteristic of the Greeks and, later, the medievals and Renaissance, though you might argue that the Renaissance was more a literary renaissance (especially of the Roman writers), than a scientific one.Maybe I should have argued that for the European peasant life had no public amenities, but the monkish culture was highly developed in some ways, and in the monastery culture are found the beginnings of scientific method, which eventually distinguished the great Enlightenment science. The great irony is that the medieval Church was not anti-science as it came to be later. The fascinating case in point is that of Galileo. The Jesuits and at least one of the popes admired his work, and, St. Robert Bellarmine, who led the Inquisition's prosecution of Galileo, was inclined at first to support Galilelo's position. But Galileo was a cantankerous man w ho did not have enough evidence to establish his theory against that of Copernicus. He made the INquisition people angry, and we know how that ended.I suppose my main point is that there have been three major periods in European history when rationalism (trusting reason above other kinds of thinking) was strongest -- during the time of the ancient Greeks, the middle ages, and the Enlightenment. I think the point is of great importance for the status of religion in our culture because the theologians more than any of the other Christian thinkers have been scorned by contemporary scientists. Of course, some Christian theologians *are* anti-rationalists, and, in my opinion, they deserve the scorn. So, while there need not be any great division between science and religion, too often there is. And this is one reason why the mainstream churches are losing members. But that's another complicated story.

It is the failure of scholars of a certain age to see any light in the centuries they sweep away as dark that I think Ann is noting.

I suppose any time judges other times by its own touchstones. To a modern of the twenty-first century, anything leading to and furthering progress in the empirical sciences is bound to be raised onto a pedestal. Modern man is besotted with science and technology and is certain that accumulated knowledge confers moral as well as intellectual superiority. That has the unfortunate effect of rendering people of any past time inferior, in just about all aspects.

"To a modern of the twenty-first century, anything leading to and furthering progress in the empirical sciences is bound to be raised onto a pedestal."David --Finally -- as of this week science is being looked at officially as a mixed blessing. It seems that scientists have actually made some H5N1 viruses from scratch. H5N1 virus is the dread virus whic, if it learned how to spread easily could produce a plague as fatal as the black death of medieval days. The scientists were about to publish how to make it so that other scientists could make some and do the necessary research to (hopefully) develop the sort of vaccine that is still needed.But now they're having second thoughts. What if the information ends up in the wrong hands? This is producing ethical problems for some scientists. (Most scientists see free investigation, acquisition, and sharing of knowledge as intrinsic to science and defining limits becomes highly problematic.) See the Los Angeles Times yesterday athttp://www.latimes.com/health/la-sci-bird-flu-20111227,0,7406435.story

David G - there was an article in our local newspaper a few years ago, in which the pastors of several local churches - particularly those of an Evangelical cast - explained that their churches were going to be closed on Christmas. The reason given was, 'Christmas is a family holiday, and going to church would detract from that.' These pastors saw themselves as making a pro-family statement by not holding services.Perhaps I am reading too much into this, and I'd welcome your thoughts from a formerly-Evangelical point of view, but it seems to highlight a difference between Catholics and Evangelicals. To Catholics, there is, or should be, no tension between being a member of a family and a member of a worshiping community. (I'll qualify this below). In our view, the family itself is a church in miniature - the church of the home - and when we gather for worship, it is the coming together of families at least as much as individuals. A major reason that our churches are packed on Christmas (even more than Easter) is that *family members* who typically would take a pass on mass, go to church with their families on that day.My speculation is that, for the Evangelical, the relationship with Christ is such a *personal* sthing that family is not seen as intrinsic to it. That looks pretty simplistic as I write it, and I'm sure it's not as stark as I speculate. I'd welcome your thoughts.Regarding families and worship: families are not as monoreligious as they once were. Catholics marry non-Catholics pretty frequently. Where to go to church is a delicate, or painful, issue for a lot of families. Perhaps on Christmas, those issues come to the surface even more. Are those Evangelical pastors showing some sensitivity?

A Protestant is one who protests -- Catholicism. The Puritans and others despised Christmas because it was one of the prominent marks of merry olde Catholic England.The surviving anti-Christmas bias in some Protestant churches is really part of the surviving anti-Catholic tradition upon which they were founded and in which they are steeped.I think many Catholics are unaware of how important anti-Catholicism still is to some Protestant groups and to Mormons, Seventh-Day Adventists, some branches of the church of Christ. Reading their message boards, sermons, tracts, etc. can be a little shocking for those who imagine our friendly or neutral feelings about them are reciprocated.

JIm P. --It seems to me that if you believe that Christmas is a family thing -- and you believe that Jesus is our brother -- you'd be sure to attend services with the whole Christian family. I guess the Protestant view of church-on-Sunday is more a matter of preaching, since most do not celebrate the Eucharist in any way.

Gerelyn, A Protestant is one who protests abuses in religious practices such as the sale of indulgences, which was also prohibited by the Council of Trent. I do not know what it was about the Christmas holiday that so turned off the Puritans or what it was about the Pretridentine Mass that so turned off John Calvin, but these people thought that some reform was necessary. I grew up in a Presbyterian Church and I do not recall any anti Christmas bias. I have read, however, that the Presbyterians in North America did not start to observe Christmas until the late nineteenth century. We had a Christmas Eve service and did not feel the need to come back on Christmas morning. This year I attended a Christmas Eve Mass and did not feel the need to come back on Christmas morning. Unfortunately there are still feelings of hostility between some Catholics and Protestants. I had to put some distance between myself and a friend some years ago because she was always telling me that all the problems of sex abuse in the RCC were caused by Satan attacking the Church from both within and without and that Satan did not attack Protestant Churches at all because he already had them in the palm of his hand. At least she was right about Satan being male. BTW, while growing up Presbyterian, I never heard the Pope called the Antichrist. As a matter of fact, I never heard the term antichrist until I was in college. I never heard anyone talk about the Rapture either. Yes, Ann, the Reformers emphasized preaching the Word of God revealed in Scripture, and I saw the old form of the Communion Service morph into something which now looks like a Mass but is not a Mass and includes the elevation of the Host. This is the result of the Ecumenical Movement of the 1960s when serious Christians of good will did try to emphasize what they held in common and retrieve some things that were good, but had been discarded.

Verity --Thanks for the information about your Protestant practices. I've known for a long time that Episcopalians and some Lutherans regularly have a Eucharistic service of one sort or another, and have also heard that some other Protestant churches also had some sort of "remembrance" service. Could you please tell us more about that?I'm very glad to hear that the new ecumenism has borne such great liturgical fruit. Things have really improved in some quarters. Now if only our priests were taught to preach as well as the Protestants :-)

Thanks, Verity, for expressing your opinion. Many interesting notions have been posted in this thread.E.g., "I guess the Protestant view of church-on-Sunday is more a matter of preaching, since most do not celebrate the Eucharist in any way." (I hope Ann will provide a list of Protestant churches who "do not celebrate the Eucharist in any way.")As to your claims about Protestants in general and about Presbyterians and Puritans in particular? There is a wealth of scholarship available that might help. My suggestion would be to look at course catalogs of divinity schools and select books from their reading lists. An even simpler approach would be Google. Maybe start with "what is a protestant". Or try "presbyterian anti-catholic". (I've always enjoyed reading about Henry Ward Beecher, the renowned Presbyterian minister and adulterer who, like his sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe, despised Catholics.) http://tinyurl.com/bqyzx8oOr try "presbyterian anti-catholic ian paisley".As to Puritans and their hatred of Catholics and Catholic celebrations? A wealth of information available. Just one of thousands of possibilities:http://www.amazon.com/Puritans-Play-Leisure-Recreation-Colonial/dp/03121...'s the link to Puritans at Play: Leisure and Recreation in Colonial New England Bruce C. Daniels. Search terms like Catholic, Christmas, etc.

I think that before anyone can definitively declare her/himself to be a Roman Catholic, that person should be required to spend about 3 years investigating at least other mainstream Christian streams (including Orthodoxy) before such a declaration. I find that many cradle Catholics are woefully ignorant about the basics of so much of what many of their neighbors, friends and family members have chosen to be their religious denomination.I specifically exclude searching fundigelicalism because it can be so toxic. I know - I did.

Gerelyn --Check out Wikipedia under "Eucharist". There are many meanings of "Eucharist".

Wikipedia does not say there are "many meanings of 'Eucharist'". Quite the contrary.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EucharistIt does point out the different terms various denominations use, of course. Your claim was:I guess the Protestant view of church-on-Sunday is more a matter of preaching, since most do not celebrate the Eucharist in any way.Misinformation or disinformation?

Most Protestant churches that I have attended -- this would include Lutheran (including Evangelical Lutheran), Episcopalian, Southern Baptist, Presbyterian -- celebrate the Eucharist/Host/Last Supper -- they don't always use the same terminology and they obviously don't all adhere to the doctrine of transubstantiation. They also don't necessarily do it on a weekly much less daily basis (most don't do daily service, actually). It is by and large not the focal point of their worship -- study of scripture is, to one degree or another, whether through preaching or hymns.I had always understood "anti-Christmas" sentiment to arise out of a special subset of Protestant denominations that objected, in particular, to debauchery of all kinds, and never more so than when it was conjoined with what was ostensibly a Christian celebration. Many of these Protestants were among those most likely to emigrate to America -- Pilgrims, Puritans, Presbyterians, and so on, particularly during and after the English Civil War and Restoration periods. They might have also particularly associated the celebration of Christmas with the substantial efforts of post-Cromwell rulers to make England revert to Catholicism, a most unwelcome development for the likes of Andrew Marvell and John Milton. In short, I think that the sentiment that is being spoken of here arises out of a fairly specific historic phenomenon. My impression now is that most Protestant churches have Christmas Eve services but do not demand special services on Christmas Day, though they did not cancel any services on Christmas Day either.Note that not all protestants use the term to refer to themselves. Many just call themselves Christian, or identify themselves denominationally.

An interesting book, imho, is Blessed One: Protestant Perspectives on Mary.It includes a chapter on Mexican Protestant women and how they celebrate Christmas (page 89) and what they think/feel about Our Lady of Guadalupe (90 ff.). The ten commandments of marianismo are interesting.http://www.amazon.com/dp/0664224385/ref=rdr_ext_tmb

"Misinformation or disinformation?"Gerelyn --A semantic problem. Re-read the Wikipedia and you'll see that what many Protestants call "Eucharist" is not what the RRC means by it.

RRC -- ? Restored Roman Church? One can only hope and pray that THAT doesn't happen.

Ann,I am in my late sixties and have had ample opportunity to visit a variety of denominations. I have attended numerous Masses: Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox. However, I did have Methodist grandparents and I was an active Presbyterian. I have a Jewish relative by marriage and frequently attend synagogue services with him because he does not like to go alone. I am always respectful of religious ideas and practices even though I do not always agree with them. If I do not agree with some group, that does not make me anti that group. When I was growing up in the United Presbyterian Church, Communion services were held four times a year. With the advent of the Ecumenical Movement in the mid 1960s, the frequency was changed to once a month, usually the first Sunday of every month. Now, John Calvin is one of the founders of the Reformed version of Christianity, and he thought that Communion should be served every Sunday, and some Presbyterian churches actually do that, but it is decided by the local congregation and not by a policy from the Presbytery. Presbyteries are composed of all the clergy of a specific region and a representative number of ruling elders voting together a few times a year. Presbyteries serve the function of a bishop in this system, the point of which is that no one person should be able to gain a excessive amount of power in the church organization. It takes a long time and a lot of debate to change any rules of governance. Presbyterians do not believe in Transubstantiation, but they do believe in the Real Spiritual Presence of Christ at the Communion Table. When I was young, the warning of St. Paul that we should not take Communion unworthily was read at the beginning of each Communion Service. That disappeared sometime in the 1970s because it was scaring people away from church on those Sundays. I have seen the practice of once a month Communion in both the Baptist and the Methodist churches. A friend's Evangelical Lutheran Church serves Communion every Sunday now, but it did not do so in the 1960s. I do not know when they changed. Lutherans do not believe in the perduring presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The Mennonites serve the Lord's Supper two to four times a year; the Amish once a year. The Amish also fast the Friday before Communion Sunday and do not come to market that day or on Good Friday or Ascension Day. Both High Church Anglicans and Eastern Orthodox believe in Transubstantiation, but I have heard that the Anglicans have a slightly different understanding of It than the Roman Catholic Church teaches. I did not understand that difference when I heard it explained. Perhaps someone else on this blog can enlighten us. Gerelyn,Thank you for the links. I will devote some time to reading them this weekend. It is my memory that Presbyterians and Puritans are not the same group. The Presbyterians formed in Scotland while the Puritans in England wanted to purify the Anglican Church of its non Scriptural practices. As a matter of fact one group of my own ancestors fled the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell and landed in the colony of Virginia. The descendants of the Puritans worship in Congregationalist Churches, the structure of which I have never studied. As for Rev. Ian Paisley, he is definitely a bigot. In Northern Ireland it is hard to tell what is religion and what is politics. Every religion has bigots. Remember Fr. Charles Coughlin? Do you have any exact sources for what Henry Ward Beecher disliked about Catholicism? The Beechers were good abolitionists; that is to their credit. The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. did a lot for the Civil Rights Movement, and he was not just an adulterer, but a sexual libertine. Here in Virginia a few years ago a man sued the Archdiocese because one of the parish priests had run off with his wife....so I guess you find clerical sexual misconduct everywhere. I think that the Puritan objection to Christmas was about the drinking and carousing that took place during the holiday parties. This was really targeted at Anglican celebrations. They also objected to sports on Sundays. BTW a few years ago my Catholic friends and I decided to stop going to St. Patrick's Day celebrations at the local pub because we got tired of the crowd of drunks who were cursing and singing raunchy songs. Were we being puritanical?

FWIW - I don't see attending Christmas mass on Christmas Eve as "cheating" any more than attending Sunday Mass on Saturday evening is "cheating". These feasts are viewed as so prominent by the church that, liturgically, their celebration begins the evening before.Granted, a lot of parishes around here really push the envelope as to what constitutes "evening" on Christmas Eve. Our archdiocese has made an effort in recent years to rein that in somewhat; thus, one may no longer attend Christmas Mass at 1 pm on Christmas Eve. (But later in the afternoon? Definitely.)Even though it sucks all the fun out of it to think of it this way, Christmas is, church-legally, a Holy Day of Obligation. There has been a tension for some time in the church in trying to maintain obligatory worship - which is, ultimately, rooted in pastoral care and concern - as a real, living thing while accommodating the changing reality of modern life. So we've started having Sunday mass on Saturday evenings, we've moved a big chunk of holy days of obligation to Sundays (or don't even officially observe them anymore), and we have communal reconciliation once or twice a year. The centuries-long, traditional ideal of a small rural community who gathers at the town church for worship when the church bells ring isn't where most of us are anymore. Our employers and families seem less apt to understand than ever before that we need to clear space on our schedules to go to church.

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David Gibson is a national reporter for Religion News Service and author of The Coming Catholic Church (HarperOne) and The Rule of Benedict (HarperOne). He blogs at dotCommonweal.