Guests frequently ask us why we leave our Christmas tree up until February. This isn’t mere sentimentalism on our part, but is rooted in the nature of this time of the Church year, even in the “ordinary form” of the Mass.
Traditionally, the time between Epiphany and Lent is marked by a gradual transition. This is clearer if one is celebrating the extraordinary form with the old calendar. This Sunday will be the Second Sunday after Epiphany rather than the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time. However, the new calendar and the ordinary form of the Mass still conform in important ways to the old rite. This week, the collect at Mass (the opening prayer) is the same as that in the old rite, and the collect, prayers, and chant propers for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time are the same as for the Second Sunday after Epiphany. This correspondence continues for several weeks. So even though we are in Ordinary Time, the prayers and chants continue to emphasize the mystery of Epiphany, the appearance of God made visible in our human flesh.
This is not as clear if you don’t sing the traditional chants! But we do.
There are two primary hinges that move us away from Epiphany toward Lent. The first no longer appears in the calendar, and that is the Sunday called “Septuagesima.” This is roughly 70 days before the Easter Octave, and in the extraordinary form, one wears begins to wear violet vestments and stops singing Alleluia, as if Lent had already begun. This Sunday is movable, and this year falls on January 28. We don’t follow the old calendar, but we still mark this date with a higher level of asceticism in the cloister and darker chants at Mass.
The second hinge is the Feast of the Presentation. This is traditional a ‘joyful’ mystery in the prayer of the rosary, and it is especially known for the blessing of the candles to be used at the liturgy throughout the year. But it also has echoes of a ‘sorrowful’ mystery. Christ is presented in the temple as a sacrifice. He is redeemed, ‘bought back’, at the price of two turtledoves, but the imagery is clear. This is the child destined to offer Himself for the salvation of the world, to be the new and true temple. This celebration falls forty days after Christmas, and is really the end of the season that follows Epiphany. Hence, we keep our tree up until the Presentation.
We hope to see many of you at 7:00 p.m. on the evening of February 2, when we will celebrate Solemn Vespers. It will be your last chance to see our tree for this year!