In my previous post, I discussed the commemoration of the martyr St. Anastasia at the Mass at dawn on Christmas Day. I focused on St. Anastasia’s name, which recalls the Resurrection of Our Lord. In this post, I will discuss the location of the station church for the Christmas Mass at dawn, namely the Basilica of Sant’Anastasia al Palatino. This basilica is located on the Palatine Hill in Rome. I will argue that this location is especially fitting for a celebration of Christ’s Birth in the Grotto of Bethlehem.
Circumstances of Our Lord’s Birth
To begin with, let’s consider some circumstances of Our Lord’s Birth. Our Lord was born in a cave or grotto in the countryside outside of Bethlehem. Despite the humble trappings of His Birth, Our Lord was the King of Israel and the Son of God. He was miraculously conceived of the Virgin Mary, and was born without damage to Her virginity. Our Lady laid the Infant in a manger; the cave was used as a sheepfold, and shepherds came to pay Him homage. Fearing that Our Lord would seize his throne, Herod the Great sought to kill Him, and did in fact massacre the other male infants of Bethlehem. As a result, the Holy Family fled into exile.
Romulus, Remus, and the Palatine
Many of the circumstances of Our Lord’s Birth find a parallel, or a pointed contrast, in the legend of the birth of Romulus and Remus, the twin founders of Rome.* Continue reading
May is Our Lady’s month. I fondly recall May Crowning in my home parish—
“O Mary! we crown thee with blossoms today,
Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May!”
The month of May is named for the pagan goddess Maia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maia_(mythology))*, who was the mother of the Greek god Hermes (the Roman Mercury). Among other things, Hermes was the god of shepherds. When the Gentiles of the Roman Empire first converted to Christianity and began creating their own artwork, they used statues of Hermes Kriophoros (the “Ram-Bearer”) as a model for statues of Christ the Good Shepherd (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kriophoros).
I don’t mean to lead us down some syncretistic rabbit hole. However, there were some strains in Gentile religion that pointed to the coming of Christ. If the pagans celebrated May as the month of the mother of Hermes the Ram-Bearer, how much more should we celebrate it as the month of the mother of the Good Shepherd.
*Warning: there’s at least one immodest image on this Wikipedia page
I propose that there is a mystical connection between Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception and Christ’s cleansing of the Temple as told in the Gospel of St. John. Unlike in the Synoptic Gospels, in St. John’s Gospel the cleansing of the Temple occurs at the beginning of Our Lord’s public ministry, not long after the Wedding at Cana.* Here’s the aftermath of Our Lord knocking over the tables (2:18-22; emphasis added):
“18 The Jews, therefore, answered, and said to Him: What sign dost thou shew unto us, seeing thou dost these things? 19 Jesus answered, and said to them: Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. 20 The Jews then said: Six and forty years was this temple in building; and wilt thou raise it up in three days? 21 But He spoke of the temple of His body. 22 When therefore He was risen again from the dead, His disciples remembered, that He had said this, and they believed the scripture, and the word that Jesus had said.”
I propose that there’s a hidden meaning to the number 46 years that explains its presence in the text. Like the Temple of Herod, Our Lord’s Body was, at this point, 46 years in the making. For that was the number of years from the Immaculate Conception to the beginning of Our Lord’s public ministry. Continue reading