Wednesday, January 6, 2010


I don’t much go along with the (nowadays traditional) re-interpretation of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” as a secretive catechism for Catholic children—the interpretations are too forced and don’t flow in the way you would expect for something actually to be a device to aid the memory. But it’s fun to play with this kind of numerological symbolism, so here are my “12 Days” meanings (and no doubt you can come up with your own)—

1—One true God
2—Two Natures (human and divine) in the Person of Christ
3—Three Persons of the Holy Trinity (or, perhaps, the Three Young Men in the fiery furnace of the Book of Daniel—this image was frequently used in catacombs to represent the resurrection)
4—Four Evangelists and their Gospels
5—Five Loaves (with 2 fish) multiplied by Jesus to feed the multitudes
6—Six-Winged seraphs appearing to Isaiah, singing “Holy, Holy, Holy”
7—Seven Churches to which letters were written in the Book of Revelation
8—Eighth Day: Resurrection
9—Nine Orders of Angels (Cherubim, Seraphim, Thrones, Dominations, Powers, Principalities, Virtues, Angels, Archangels)
10—Ten Commandments
11—Eleven Apostles (minus Judas, of course)
12—Twelve Fruits of the Holy Spirit (as found originally in Galatians and expanded somewhat in the Church’s catechisms)

This is clearly fanciful, and some of my symbolisms are also pretty forced. More seriously, though, we could examine the gifts of the liturgical calendar in the time between Christmas and Epiphany (rightly celebrated on 6 January)—whom does the Church celebrate at this time?

Stephen, the “proto-martyr deacon”;

John the Evangelist, who taught us to say “My Lord and my God”;

Holy Innocents, reminding us of the innocents today (in and outside the womb) who are slaughtered for convenience’s sake;

Thomas Becket, standing for the independence of the Church against the State and errie pre-cursor of Abp. Oscar Romero;

Sylvester, Bishop of Rome when Constantine legalized the Faith;

Mary, the God-bearer, Him who is Prince of Peace;

Basil and Gregory Nazianzen, defending the Trinity;

Mother Elizabeth Ann Seton, 1st American-born canonized saint (and a convert);

John Neumann, Bohemian immigrant and bishop of Philadelphia who worked to establish Catholic schools for children.

These are gifts in plenty, with or without any special symbolism of the “12 Days.” Happy Epiphany!
Just a footnote: the image is a mosaic from the Basilica of Sant' Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna (which some of you have visited).

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