In his latest “From the Chapel” blog post, OSV publisher Scott Richert writes, “Our family…
From the Chapel — April 22: Merry Christmas
“From the Chapel” is a series of short, daily reflections on life and faith in a time of uncertainty. As people across the world cope with the effects of the coronavirus — including the social isolation necessary to combat its spread — these reflections remind us of the hope that lies at the heart of the Gospel.
Some things have meaning in and of themselves. Others have meaning because we bring it to them.
On March 25, my morning run took me by the Sunken Gardens here in Huntington, Indiana. The Sunken Gardens are just what they sound like — a garden park that’s below ground level, built in an old quarry. They’re also the site of one of Huntington’s community Christmas displays. (The other major one is the animated Christmas tree downtown at Rotary Park, the site of the first Our Sunday Visitor building.)
As I ran across the bridge over the southern end of the Sunken Gardens, I noticed that the massive Christmas wreath was still in place on the northern side. The wreath once hung on one of Huntington’s department stores during the Advent and Christmas seasons.
By itself, the wreath signifies what it celebrates: “Merry Christmas” is emblazoned in lights across the front. For longtime residents of Huntington, it signifies a link to their, and the community’s, past, to a time when that department store, long since gone, inspired children’s Christmas dreams and supplied Santa with many of the items that those children found under their tree on Christmas morn.
For me, on March 25, 2020, that wreath signified Christ’s conception in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary — and his death on Good Friday.
You may have heard the old chestnut that we don’t know on what date Christ was actually born. But among both Jews and the early Christians, there was a tradition that claimed that prophets died on the date that they were conceived. Christ’s death, and his conception, were believed by many early Christians to have taken place on the same date: March 25. When Christians began to celebrate his birth — something that they had resisted in the early centuries of Christianity, because the celebration of birthdays was viewed as a pagan practice — December 25, nine months after March 25, was the clear date. (That early opposition to celebrating birthdays continues in the Church through the celebration of saints not on the day that they were born but on the day that they passed into eternal life.)
When the Council of Nicaea decided to calculate the date of Easter according to the original formula for calculating the date of the Jewish Passover in order to make it clear that Christ is the true Passover lamb, the idea that Christ was conceived and died on the same date slowly faded away, retained simply as a bit of trivia by people like me.
But there was something about seeing that Christmas wreath still on display on the Annunciation that struck me as appropriate, especially this year. As we consider what life will be like in the coming months and years, one of the great hopes I have is that Catholics will become more attuned once again to the liturgical cycle. Instead of Christmas and Easter being one-day celebrations, perhaps our longing for the sacraments, and the steps each of us is taking during this time to deepen our faith when we can’t attend public Mass, will lead us to want to celebrate the entire Easter season — all 50 days of it.
Scott P. Richert is publisher of OSV.