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Q. What exactly is Boxing Day, and how did it get its name?
O.K., Toronto, Ont.
A. Today is Boxing Day, which coincides with the feast of St. Stephen (though it may be moved to the following week when December 26 falls on a Saturday or Sunday). Boxing Day has its origins in England and is a public holiday in several English-speaking countries (the U.K., Canada, New Zealand, Australia and others), but it is unknown to most people in the United States.
Apparently, the day was originally associated with the giving of gifts to those who were in some way “below” the giver in social class. (Presumably, gifts to social “equals” were given on Christmas Day itself.) But the precise reason why this practice came to be called “boxing” is debated.
Some historians say that, since servants of wealthy families had to work on Christmas, they were given the day after Christmas as a holiday. As they prepared to leave work, their employers gave them boxes of food or other gifts.
A different theory is that the “poor box” kept in churches, in which parishioners placed coins as alms for the poor, were opened this day and distributed to the needy.
Still others say the name refers to the “Christmas box” — a clay box kept in artisan shops, in which apprentices, masters, customers and visitors would place donations of coins (much as we might put coins in a piggy bank). On the day after Christmas, the box was shattered and the donations were shared among the workers of the shop as a kind of holiday bonus.
Today, Boxing Day is known primarily as a shopping holiday in Canada, when drastically reduced sale prices make it the largest sales day of the year. In this regard, it could be compared to the so-called “Black Friday” in the U.S. on the day after Thanksgiving.
“Christmas” vs. “Nativity”
Q. The origin of the name for Christmas in languages such as Spanish (Navidad) and Italian (Natale) is obvious, since these words mean “nativity,” referring of course to the birth of Our Lord. So where do we get the name “Christmas” in English?
J.N., Anaheim, Calif.
A. Our English word “Christmas” comes from the Old English Cristes Mæsse, “Christ’s Mass.” The earliest recorded use of the term comes from the year 1038.
The Spanish Navidad, Italian Natale and French Noël all ultimately derive from the Latin Dies Natalis, “Natal Day” (or birthday).
A blessed Christmas to one and all!
Origins of “Silent Night”?
Q. What are the origins of the popular Christmas carol “Silent Night”?
W.M., Bethlehem, Pa.
A. The six-verse lyrics of “Silent Night” were composed in 1816 by Father Josef Mohr (1792-1848), the pastor of St. Nicholas Catholic Church in Obendorf, Austria.
We don’t known for certain why he wrote the song. But we do know that on Christmas Eve in 1818, he presented the poem to the parish organist, Franz Xavier Gruber, asking Gruber to compose an accompanying melody for two solo voices with choir and guitar accompaniment.
The song was first performed during Mass on that Christmas Eve. Gruber and the parish choir sang, while Father Mohr accompanied them on guitar. The tune became popular immediately.
Toward the end of his life several decades later, Father Mohr reportedly said that composing this Christmas carol was one of the “most treasured moments” of his life. Today the “Silent Night Chapel” marks the place where the beloved song was composed, and a memorial of the two men who composed the song is held there each year.
Master of Ceremonies?
Q. Our priest recently introduced someone as the “Master of Ceremonies” for our Masses. I had never heard that title before. What is a “Master of Ceremonies” for the Mass, and why do we need one?
V.J., via email
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:
A good “Master of Ceremonies” is worth his weight in gold, especially if the liturgy is somewhat complicated or solemn, as is the case for confirmations, ordinations, the services of Holy Week and various large concelebrations. The “Emcee” is in charge of directing and coordinating all the ministers of the liturgy so that the overall effect will be pious, reverent, elegant and beautiful. Without an “Emcee,” some liturgical celebrations could easily disintegrate into a show of clerical bumper cars in the sanctuary.
Q. I am a loyal Catholic and have been thinking all my life about Judgment Day. My own thoughts tell me that our last judgment is when we die. And I think that is the time we are judged. Moses, Aaron, Jacob, those people of long ago have died. And I believe they are already in heaven with the Lord. How will we be judged when we always confess our sins every time we sin against God our Father?
A.K., via email
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D.:
The Church teaches that after death we face two judgments: a particular and a last (or general) judgment. “Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ.” From that particular judgment there are two possible outcomes: “either entrance into the blessedness of heaven — through a purification [purgatory] or immediately — or immediate and everlasting damnation” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1022).
For the saved, death marks the end of spiritual growth. In purgatory we will be perfected at the level of sanctity to which we have attained by grace in this life. In heaven in our glorified state, we eternally remain at that level.
At the second coming of Christ all the dead will be raised, both the redeemed and the damned. All will already know their eternal destiny, they having undergone the particular judgment. All will be given their resurrection bodies. Our Lord taught us that “the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs [both the redeemed and the damned] will hear his [the Son of Man’s] voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment” (Jn 5:28-29).
Then comes the last or general judgment. “In the presence of Christ, who is Truth itself, the truth of each man’s relationship with God will be laid bare” (CCC, 1039). Scripture repeatedly assures us that all which is hidden about each person will be revealed, presumably to the whole universe.
“For nothing is hid that shall not be made manifest, nor anything secret that shall not be known and come to light” (Lk 8:17). When the Lord comes again, He “will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purpose of men’s hearts” (1 Cor 4:5).
“For all the truth about us will be brought out in the law court of Christ, and each of us will get what he deserves for the things he did in the body, good or bad” (2 Cor 5:10).
Christ’s redemption is cosmic in scope. At His coming, “the universe itself, which is so closely related to man and which attains its destiny through him, will be perfectly reestablished in Christ (cf. Eph. 1:10; Col. 1:20; 2 Pet. 3:10-13)” (Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 48).
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