The Eighth Day of Christmas...
Musings on the Feast of Circumcision
by: John Tyrrell
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Traditionally today, New Year's Day, was celebrated by Christians as The Feast of Circumcision. Generally, this feast day is being downplayed by modern churches and they are finding other reasons to celebrate the day.
The Catholic Church has apparently instructed those churches which have amongst their holy relics the actual foreskin of Jesus to not display it any more. Perhaps this is because there have been at least 31 documented foreskins held in various European churches and maybe, just maybe, this excess of ancient foreskins might cause the faithful to question the authenticity not only of the 31 foreskins, but perhaps all those other relics as well. And if the relics are have questionable authenticity, then what else that is a matter of faith can be questioned? As further encouragement NOT to discuss Jesus' foreskin, in 1900, the Vatican threatened to excommunicate anyone who chose to study and report on this fragment of skin.
But how could Christians believe that there could possibly even be one surviving foreskin, let alone thirty-one
According to the seventh century theologian, Anastasius Sinaita, the foreskin survived because Jesus needed it available to be rendered perfect and whole before ascending bodily into heaven. (He didn't explain how a baby foreskin would fit back onto an adult male.)
But if he took that foreskin into heaven with him, then how did 31 other foreskins find their way into European Catholic churches. Perhaps it was another multiplication miracle -- like the loaves and fishes -- but which did not make it into the gospels.
But wait -- there's more than just those 31.
Saint Catherine of Sienna, supposedly one of most brilliant theological minds of her day, wrote that Jesus had given her his foreskin to wear as a wedding band.
Then there's Saint Agnes Blannbekin, who lived about a century before Catherine, who reported finding Jesus' foreskin on her tongue:
And behold, soon she felt with the greatest sweetness on her tongue a little piece of skin like the skin of an egg, which she swallowed. After she had swallowed it, she again felt the little skin on her tongue with sweetness as before, and again she swallowed it. And this happened about a hundred times.
A hundred times! That's a lot of foreskins! What I want to know is how did this nun -- who joined her order at fifteen -- know what foreskin tasted like in order to identify it?
Perhaps it is these types of holy tall tales which have caused the Catholic Church to choose to downplay the Feast of Circumcision.
Since the Second Vatican Council, this day has been primarily celebrated as the Feast of the Solemnity of Mary - Mother of God. Solemnity of Mary? -- very fitting is suppose for the humourlessness of Mariology.
The Anglican communion and the Lutheran Church also traditionally celebrated the Feast of Circumcision. The Lutheran Church actually takes the position that:
In the circumcision of Jesus, all people are circumcised once and for all, because Jesus represents all humanity.
That's right! Not only did Jesus die for our sins, he got circumcised for us too. What a guy!
But like the Catholic Church, the Protestant churches are also increasingly downplaying the day. As they don't have an institutional veneration of Mary as a substitute, New Year's Day is more likely to be celebrated as the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. It's reasonably celebrating the same occasion as Jesus most likely would have been officially named on the day he was circumcised. But it just doesn't have the same pizzazz.
As a Christian Feast Day, recognizing Jesus' circumcision on the eighth day is recognizing the day which unequivocally identifies him as a Jew (Genesis 17:12 And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every male throughout your generations...) Yes, Jesus was a Jew. It's something many Christians would prefer to ignore. It is perhaps surprising that the day which celebrates his essential Jewishness ever made it into the Christian calendar; and perhaps not so surprising that Christian churches are backing away from celebrating it.
Or perhaps they are just backing away because - well, because the idea of celebrating the day just tends to activate a childish sense of humour. Certainly
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