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Wednesday 4 January 2012

The 12 Days of Christmas and the Ordinariate

The traditional Christmas carol The Twelve Days of Christmas was written by English Jesuits in the 16th Century when Catholicism had gone underground following the Reformation.  Traditionally for Catholic Christians throughout England and still today the Christmas season begins on Christmas Day and ends twelve days later on the Feast of the Epiphany (Twelfth Night).

The carol was a cryptic summary of the Catholic faith.  “My true love” refers to God and “me” refers to the individual. The “twelve lords a leaping” are the twelve basic beliefs of the Catholic Church as outlined in the Apostles Creed.

The “eleven pipers piping” are the eleven Apostles who remained faithful after the treachery of Judas. The “ten ladies dancing” are the Ten Commandments. The “nine drummers drumming” are the nine choirs of angels which in the Middle Ages had been seen as an important element in the hierarchy of life.

Significant for the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter is New Year’s Day – the eighth day of Christmas and the inauguration of the Ordinariate. The song refers to the “eight maids a milking” i.e. the Eight Beatitudes. Perhaps this is a grace note as to how we should seek to conduct ourselves in the Ordinariate.

Relatedly, we have been exhorted by our Ordinary, Fr. Steenson who said recently in his initial statment:

"The Holy Father has asked us to bring this patrimony with us: “to maintain the liturgical, spiritual and pastoral traditions of the Anglican Communion within the Catholic Church, as a precious gift nourishing the members of the Ordinariate and as a treasure to be shared.” [Anglicanorum coetibus 3].   
"Here is one thing I earnestly desire to share with you from the outset:  Anglican spirituality has always emphasized the need to be
gentlemanly in all of our relationships. May you see in us always the virtue of courtesy!"

To finish the carol, we see that the “seven swans a swimming” refer to the Seven Sacraments. The “six geese a laying” are the Six Commandments of the Church regarding how we are to treat others (honour parents, don't murder, don't commit adultery, don't steal, don't bear false witness)
or the six days of creation.

The “five golden rings” are the first five books of the Old Testament called the Torah, the most sacred and important of all the Old Testament. The “four calling birds” are the Four Gospels.  “Three French hens” reflect the Catholic belief in the Trinity – the Three Persons of God or the three gifts of the Wise Men. The “two turtle doves” represent the two natures in Jesus: human and divine or the two Testaments, Old and New.

The “partridge” is, of course, Jesus himself, and the “pear tree”, his Cross.