“Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you. See darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples; but upon you the Lord shines, and over you appears his glory. Nation shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance.”
– Isaias Ch. 60
Dear Friends of Carmel,
This short letter is to send Christmas season greetings again.
Christmas? Oh, yes, Christmas. Although the worldly, commercialized version of Christmas begins around Thanksgiving and comes to an abrupt end on December 26th, true Christians are still celebrating. In our largely neo-pagan society, festive Christmas decorations come down, music of Christmas ceases, and the world moves on, practically oblivious of what just happened. Not so with Our Holy Mother the Church. She calls it the “Christmas Cycle,” and repeatedly in the days following the Feast of the Nativity, she brings before our eyes and mind the great truth of Christmas – God Incarnate, God born into this world, God among us, God one of us, God as a Child. Emmanuel!
Throughout the “twelve days of Christmas” the constant refrain is, “A Child is born to us, a Son is given to us,” and the joyous song of the Angels, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to men of goodwill.” The Church recalls and relives all the “mysteries” of the childhood of Jesus, and we honor, dwell upon and celebrate these precious events – and all that Our Lord gave us by passing through them in His holy life.
The Feast of Epiphany follows the traditional “twelve days of Christmas” on January 6th. Still of the Christmas cycle, it celebrates the “Manifestation” of Christ to men. So our Christmas greetings include greetings for this sweet, beautiful feast, one so often glossed over and unobserved. However, the Epiphany is really our Christmas, the Christmas of the Gentiles. Did you know that in Christian Europe, Epiphany was the more prominent celebration of the birth of Our Lord, with gift giving and festivities?
On Christmas night, the angel announced the birth of the Savior to the shepherds, who represented the Jewish nation. It was some time later that the Magi of the pagan nations arrived on the Holy Family’s doorstep to render homage to the Newborn King. Having knowledge of the prophecies of the Jews, from their distant lands, they perceived and followed the summons to Bethlehem, led by a star. At the feet of the Child, they offered precious gifts that acknowledged His Kingship (the gold), His Divinity (the Frankincense), and His humanity that would suffer (the myrrh). At the Divine Office for this Feast, at the oft-repeated words, “and falling down they adored Him,” the entire choir falls on their knees to imitate the Magi’s faith and reverence in the Divine Presence. The Church also commemorates on Epiphany (and the days and weeks that follow) the two other manifestations of Our Lord early in His public life: His baptism in the Jordan River and His first miracle, the changing of the water into wine at Cana.
St. Teresa of Avila loved Christmas! Special customs of the Carmelite Order come directly from her, and they abound during this season: special prayers for grace before and after meals all the way through the octave of the Epiphany, unique processions, and the tradition of singing carols around the Manger as part of the evening hour of mental prayer.
Nevertheless, the Feast of the Epiphany is distinct as one of the two days in the year the Saint chose for the formal renewal of our Religious Vows. Following the recitation of the Divine Office for the Feast, we gather in the chapter room in the still-early morning. After a brief exhortation from Mother Prioress, each Sister kneels before Her Reverence to pronounce once again the promises she made to God on her first profession day, offering (as the Magi did) her most precious gifts – her life, her labors, and most importantly, the love of her whole heart. It is a simple but beautiful ceremony, which concludes with the solemnly chanted Te Deum and a day of celebration for all.
We, too, were given our “Star” – our holy vocation. Surely it is true for all souls of good will; all of you, who follow the graces that God sends into your life and that are meant most certainly to lead you to Him and to the Heaven He destines for you. The journey may be a long one. Trials and obstacles may abound; but the star will always be there for those who are keeping watch for it, and it will lead us on, it will lead us home!
Know of our prayers for you as we continue to celebrate this beautiful Feast! Hold onto the joy of Christmas for a while longer yet, and to the joy of Epiphany! For the Lord is with us!
In Our Infant King,
Your Carmelite Sisters
The Christmas season does not officially draw to a close until the Feast of the Purification, on February 2nd, the crowning feast of the Divine Childhood. On that 40th day after Christmas Day, when Our Lord was presented in the temple, we see the turning of the thoughts of the Church to the whole purpose for Our Lord’s coming: the ultimate sacrifice of His life for our salvation. In this mystery, we all participate during Septuagesima, Lent, Holy Week and Easter: the Paschal Cycle of the liturgical year. We spoke at greater length about the Feast of the Presentation in our newsletter last year.
February 2nd is also the day chosen by the Church for a special blessing of candles – a blessing particular to this feast. We have been offering candles on our website for some time now, and are always happy to have them blessed on request. But the blessing on the Feast of Purification is a very special blessing performed in the context of the Liturgy.
As we did last year, we invite you to have candles blessed at our Candlemas Mass on February 2nd, as long as we have the candles in stock and the time to prepare them for blessing. Please see our website for specifics! If you order candles and want them blessed on that day, be sure to include “CANDLEMAS BLESSING” in the order comments at checkout.
We have another new candle to introduce to you this year, an unscented version of the colonial style candle. We also cannot fail to mention and recommend (being so close to Epiphany) the Frankincense and Myrrh candles – one of our favorites, since these scents so perfectly compliment the sacramental symbolism of the candle! The wax of the candle represents Our Lord’s sacred humanity, produced by virginal bees, while the wick (His human soul) is alight with the flame of His Divinity. So too did Frankincense, an incense offered to the gods in those days, point to the Magi’s knowledge of His divinity, while the myrrh (used at burials), acknowledged his humanity. God and man and the Light of the World.
We have used these mini calendars in our Breviaries for years, but only this year has the Seraphim Company decided to publish them for widespread use. The calendar sheets are small, missal sized copies of each month of the full size Liturgical calendar, perfect for slipping inside the missal or breviary cover as a handy reference for the liturgical days and feasts.
Seraphim Company has also printed each year for our Monastery a Carmelite version of the Liturgical calendar that includes all of the Feast days and commemorations specific to the Carmelite Order. Supply is limited, but since we do have extra copies, we decided to offer them to you for prayer and personal devotion for those who may be interested. Please remember: only while the small supply lasts!
Rarely has there been a collection of music in honor of the season of Epiphany. Morning Star: Epiphany Down the Ages is such a one. Jesus is the “Morning Star” honored on this music CD. A good number of the passages from chant for the Mass for Epiphany are on this CD.