This & That

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Martin Kochanski from Universalis Publishing Limited wrote in his February 2023 Newsletter the following article:

How long is Christmas?

When you go into a church on the first day of February and see a crib still there long after we have all got rid of our trees, the question presents itself in concrete form.

Christmas is Christmas Day – of course.

Christmas is the Twelve Days of Christmas, from the birth of Jesus and his appearing to the shepherds up to the Epiphany, the coming of the Wise Men and the first appearance of the incarnate God to the Gentiles.

Christmas is more than that. The celebration of the Incarnation is not complete until Jesus is sent out on his mission on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord.

Christmas and the Epiphany and the Baptism are three facets of the same event, and it resonates throughout the liturgy of the period. But there is more to come.

Before Christmas there is a seven-day countdown, marked by the ancient ‘O Antiphons’ – and that is part of the bigger almost-four-week warm-up which starts on Advent Sunday. Cribs often start then. I remember seeing one in Hildesheim in Germany which was 20 feet long and told the whole story of salvation history, beginning with a Garden of Eden with giraffes in it.

After the triple Christmas-Epiphany-Baptism celebration, it still isn’t all over. The afterglow of Christmas still carries on. The Marian anthem at Compline is the Alma redemptoris mater, and the Crib is still to be seen in churches. This is because Jewish tradition does not bring the season of “a child has been born” to a close until forty days have passed. Forty days bring us to today, so today is final, definitive closure of the Christmas season as a whole: the feast of the Presentation in the Temple, with all its candles.

And that is that. Now we are back to normal. Or rather, we aren’t, because nothing is normal. The entire ten-week celebration has taken us once again through the transition from BC to AD, and it reminds us that we are in a ‘new normal’ which is not normal at all, because the Child has been born.

God is with us, and can never not be.

When travelling, or away from home, our Order’s Deans’ Council allows the use of an online version of Common Worship Offices or the Offices in the Book of Common Prayer, or the RC Divine Office on mobile telephone and/or tablet

Cistercian monks’ numeral system once competed with Roman numerals

Used widely by religious communities in the Middle Ages, it fell out of style when printing became widespread.

Before the Arabic system became cemented as the world standard of numbers, there were Roman numerals. Each conquered nation adopted the Romans’ counting style, spreading the system across Europe and into Asia. The system is not without its difficulties, however, and some folks strove to make a simpler, easier to follow system. That’s where medieval Cistercian monks came in.

From the 13th to 15th centuries the Cistercian monks of Europe developed and used a brand-new numeral system. Called Cistercian numerals, this counting method is notable for its incredibly condensed form. Just a few lines could record any number from 1-9999. At a glance the system can seem dizzying, but the numbers don’t lie — they’re just hard for us to understand.