Christmas Octave honors Mary and ancient Feast of Circumcision

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 1: Christians around the world mark the Gregorian New Year’s Day with festivals celebrating the early life of Jesus: the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God; the Feast of the Circumcision; and the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus.

What’s “an Octave”? In traditional Christian language, this is the Octave of Christmas, a special remembrance to mark the passing of eight days from a major feast. Eastern Christians use the term “Afterfeast.” Over the centuries, the Vatican has downsized and simplified the calendar of Octaves in an attempt to focus the faithful on the most significant celebrations in the Christian year. Once there were more than a dozen Octaves celebrated each year. Today, the main Catholic Octaves follow Christmas and Easter.

The Circumcision: In accordance with their Jewish tradition, Mary and Joseph had Jesus circumcised eight days after his birth. It was on this day that he received his name Jesus. This is also a time when Mary’s role is recognized as “mother of God.” Orthodox Christians bestow the title Theotokos, or God-bearer.

The branches of Christianity now mark this day in various ways from almost no observance in American Protestant churches to elaborate liturgies in more traditional denominations. These customs have evolved over many centuries. A feast honoring Mary as the Mother of God initially began in the East, and Romans were observing a celebration of the Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary by the 7th century. But, 600 years later, the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ had replaced the Marian feast. In 1974, Pope Paul VI swapped the Jan. 1 Feast of the Circumcision for the Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Today, Catholics mark the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God on Jan. 1; Anglicans and Lutherans keep the Circumcision of Christ; members of the Church of England refer to this as “The Naming and Circumcision of Jesus Christ.” Eastern Orthodox Christians combine rites with hymns of St. Basil the Great.

2014 ‘MARY’ MOVIE and MORE

The first poster has officially been released for the 2014 movie, Mary, Mother of Christ, due in theaters in December. Starring a 16-year-old Israeli actress as Mary, the film boasts megachurch pastor Joel Osteen as an executive director and Australian filmmaker Alister Grierson as director. (The Christian Post has an article.) Two more biblical blockbusters are lined up for 2014 release, including “Noah”—starring Russel Crowe, Jennifer Connelly and Emma Watson—and a Moses film, entitled, “Exodus.”

A recent CNN article delved into the reality of Mary’s motherhood—much of which goes unmentioned in the Gospels. While many will fondly embrace Mary’s relationship with Jesus as without conflict, that may not be so: The Gospels describe a few notable miscommunications and tensions, not so different from relations in most families. In the end, though, Jesus asked His disciples to care for His mother after His death—a considerable act of compassion.