One of the things I love and appreciate about our Catholic faith is that we know how to celebrate! Now, many of you non-Catholics may be confused. After all, aren’t Catholics the ones who have these penitential seasons of Lent and Advent? Aren’t we the ones who have that “Catholic guilt” that drives us to confession? Aren’t our Masses, in general, not all that charismatic and – if not properly understood for what they are – boring?
Well, it is true that we give things up for Lent. And Advent is also penitential. And we do go to confession. And, unfortunately, Mass can all too often lack enthusiasm. Without going into an in-depth theological and philosophical musing on all this, let’s just say that to those Catholics who fully understand why we do all the things we do rather than just “following the rules” all these things have a purpose, and bring us joy. They may not be fun, and they may involve self-sacrifice, but the end result enhances the spiritual life and is a net positive on the “joy” meter. As for Mass, I personally wish we would be more enthusiastic as a whole about attending and participating in Mass. But again, for those who understand the Mass, our enjoyment and appreciation of it are not from charismatic singing and pulpit-pounding preaching. The Mass can certainly be enhanced with good music, a joyful congregation, and a good preacher, but the true joy of the Mass is the Word of God in both Scripture and Eucarist. Those elements are always there, and it is that from which our joy comes.
But, believe it or not, the Catholic faith not only encourages prolonged celebration, it outright demands it! Advent, for example, is a period of preparation and anticipation. It is not dissimilar to the rest of the world, both religious and secular, who decorate and buy presents and wrap them and make plans – all in anticipation of Christmas. Much of the rest of the world celebrates Christmas on Christmas Day, and then put their trees out to the curbs and take down their lights and start thinking about other things the day or two after. For the Catholic, though, Christmas Day is simply the first day of Christmas! Many Catholics I know exchange gifts throughout the 12 days of Christmas, culminating on Epiphany. In fact, some make Epiphany the major gift exchange, since that is the actual celebration of the arrival of the wise men.
Even more pronounced is the celebration of Easter. After our Lenten sacrifices, we’re told to celebrate for the next 50 days! Unfortunately, too many of us do not carry through with the call to continue celebrating Christ’s resurrection, even though we faithfully heed the call to sacrifice during Lent. I think we sometimes do lose sight of the importance and need for celebration of our faith.
So, while everyone is saying “Happy New Year!” tell them to have a Happy New Year and a Merry Christmas! It is still not too late to wish them a Merry Christmas.
And, by the way, Merry Christmas!