… I once remarked that I could study Catholicism every day of my life and still never even scratch the surface of all the knowledge She contains. I could read every day, all day and never complete everything ever written by Her Doctors, saints, scholars, bishops, and Popes. It is entirely possible to learn something new every day.
January first was one such day when I learned something new. When the Feast of Mary, Mother of God rolled around I also noted it was formerly known as the Feast of the Circumcision. Now I’m just a common novus ordo Catholic, forgive my lowliness, but I honestly had no previous knowledge about the Feast of the Circumcision. A feast celebrating a bris? Well, alright-y then. I know we’ll celebrate pretty much anything but this one still surprised me. Oh, and then there’s this.
My curiosity genuinely piqued, I made an appeal for more information on the subject because we’re all about learning stuff here. Fr. Steve Grunow, Assistant Director of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries and papist mohel, very kindly wrote this informative post in response to my queries so others like me will not continue on in ignorance.
There are ample representations of Christ’s circumcision in art, and though we might blush and wince from the mere mention of the procedure, the faithful in ages past were less inclined to look away. The cult of the relic of Christ’s alleged foreskin was the occasion for pilgrimage with rival claimants to the real thing vying for the attention of the crowds and the Church’s approbation. It was a cultural icon with enough traction behind it to warrant Voltaire’s sneer, and as Modernity advanced, for many in the Church, the foreskin relics and their cults became a source of embarrassment. I think that the last one of these alleged relics was kept on display until the early 1980’s. The bejeweled reliquary and its relic have since disappeared. Novelist Chuck Palahniuk concocted an irreverent, fictional tale of someone cloned from the alleged DNA of Christ’s foreskin. I kid you not. More evidence that nothing is sacred. (I never read the book, as I was disappointed that it wasn’t a sequel to “Fight Club.”)
Alleged relics aside, the Circumcision of Christ is actually an event of great theological and spiritual importance, and it is a profound loss that it has been relegated to the obscure. It really is an in-your-face assertion of the scandal of Christ’s particularity. The central claim of the Church’s Faith is that God in Christ accepts human nature and lives a real, human life. Born into our world, God accepts a particular family and culture as his own. In the mysteries of his Providence, he chooses Israel even before he lays down the foundations of the world. William Howard Ewer’s cryptic remark, “How odd of God to choose the Jews,” comes to mind. By citing this remark, I do not mean to offend, but to offer that the Incarnation is deeply mysterious and inextricably bound forever to Israel. God’s identification with Israel is literally cut into the body of his human nature within days of his birth. We now know that it would have gone even deeper than the wound of his circumcision and would have penetrated to the cellular level. The glorified body of the Lord is that of an Israelite. The Church does not give in to Marcionism in any age of her life. God in Christ doesn’t give up on Israel, he becomes an Israelite, and in doing so, creates a new kind of Israel that can include the whole of humanity.
Even if you thought you already knew everything you needed to know about this feast do yourself a favor and read Fr. Grunow’s post in it’s entirety anyway. I bet you learn something new. The Church is awesome like that.