Tuesday, December 29, 2020

The Circumcision of Christ

Why do Traditional Anglicans observe something so seemingly esoteric as the Circumcision of Our Blessed Lord on 1st January? I shall never forget a New Year's Day during my seminary formation, when returning to my flat from Mass on cold sunny 1st January I was greeted at my door with a lovely envelope. Inside was a splendidly calligraphed card which read 'Happy Circumcision!' Anglicans have always possessed a keen sense of humour. 


Primarily, the Feast is most significant because the first day of January is the Octave of Christmas Day, the eighth day after Christ's Nativity, on which Our Divine Lord was subject to the Mosaic Law for the salvation of man and received the Old Testament ordinance of circumcision. In the Circumcision of Jesus Christ, Our Lord first shed His Precious Blood for the redemption of the human race. It was the first time in the history of salvation that our Saviour and Redeemer submitted to His bloodshedding, that shedding of blood without which there is no remission of sins (Hebrews 9.22), and through which the Lord Jesus takes away our sins. 

Since it is first instance in which the Blood of Christ was shed, this salvific moment is a beginning of the process of the redemption of mankind, a manifestation of Our Lord's full and complete human nature. In this act, Our Lord is obedient to Biblical Law, a Law He came not to destroy but to fulfill (Saint Matthew 5.17). As a foretaste of His saving Passion, the Circumcision already points to the suffering of Jesus Christ in His true humanity, offered freely for our sake. 

The Anglican divine Blessed Jeremy Taylor writes in a 1657 treatise that the Circumcision of the Lord proves the reality of His human nature whilst fulfilling the Law of Moses. Blessed Jeremy also notes that Our Lord's Circumcision more radically opens the Jewish people to receive His Gospel of salvation, since through the ancient ordinance He is conformed to the old covenant in the pattern of its initiation. The Lord Jesus is the personification and fulfillment of Israel. 

Circumcision itself was instituted by God in the Old Testament as a sign of the covenant between God and His people. The blood shed on the eighth day after birth was a ratification of the covenant for every Jewish male. By virtue of it, every Jew became a son of Abraham, a son of the promise: 'And God said to Abraham, This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you. And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed' (Genesis 17.9-12).

Initially, Abraham received circumcision as a sign of his faith in God. God made His covenant with Abraham because Abraham believed in Him. Faith was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness. He received circumcision as a sign of the righteousness he already had by faith before he was circumcised. The sign shows him to be the father of all who believe without being circumcised and who therefore have faith reckoned to them too. He is also the father of the circumcised, who more importantly follow the example of his faith (Romans 4.9-12). 

Now, through faith in Jesus Christ and union with Him, all who are baptised into Christ and made members of His Mystical Body, the Holy Catholic Church, are made the sons of Abraham and inserted into the covenantal promise God first offered in Abraham. 'And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise' (Galatians 3.29). The covenant God seeks with man is perfected and fully consummated in the Person of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Son of Abraham, the Promise of Abraham. He is the Bridge between God and man, for He is fully God and fully Man in His One Divine Person. In His hypostatic union, divine nature and life is for all eternity united to our human nature. Jesus Christ is the God-Man, and forever unites God and man in Himself.  

Our Blessed Saviour was circumcised on the eighth day, as any other Jewish male. After the seven days of creation comes the Eighth Day, the Day of the New Creation. Just as the Lord was raised from death on the Eighth Day, the Day of Resurrection and the eternal Kingdom, so was He also circumcised to inaugurate the New and Everlasting Covenant, the new relationship between God and mankind which is extended to all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues. Whereas the old covenant was ethnic, local, and particular, the New Covenant is truly Catholic - intended for all human beings of all times and all places. Holy Baptism replaces and fulfills circumcision as the sign of the covenant. 

Circumcision was the occasion on which a Jewish child was formally given his name. At His Circumcision, Our Lord was given the Name which is above every Name (Philippians 2.9-10) - JESUS, Yeshua - a Name derived from Hebrew meaning 'the Lord saves' or 'salvation' or 'Saviour.'  As the Archangel Gabriel annunciated to Our Lady: 'And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus' (Saint Luke 1.31). And as was announced to Saint Joseph: 'Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins' (Saint Matthew 1.20-21). 

'And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb' (Saint Luke 2.21).

The Council of the Holy Apostles recorded in Acts of the Apostles 15 declares that Christians are no longer bound to receive the old rite of circumcision. Our union with Jesus Christ is accomplished through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. Through the gift and grace of Baptism, we are plunged into Christ's life, death, and resurrection and placed into the human nature of Our Lord. We receive a 'human nature transplant' in Baptism as we are grafted into the risen Body of Jesus. We are bodily united to Christ in His own Body; Baptism washes us in His Precious Blood. 'In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead' (Colossians 2.9-12). 

It is no longer required for our flesh to be circumcised because Our Lord's Body and Blood redeem us entirely and completely. We can add nothing from the ceremonial law of the old covenant to the Person and Work of Jesus Christ for our salvation - the New Covenant between God and man is now absolute (Hebrews 10.10).  

Rather, baptised Christians are summoned to what Saint Paul calls 'the circumcision of the heart,' a moral transformation in which we live by the Holy Ghost through the infused theological virtues of faith, hope, and love. From henceforth we are to walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5.16). 'For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love' (Galatians 5.6). Saint Paul tells us the true circumcision is not external or physical. The true participant in God's covenant is one inwardly, for real circumcision is a matter of the heart, spiritual, and his praise is not from men but from God (Romans 2.28-29). Supernatural grace raises us to divine sonship - so that we may become true filii in Filio, sons in the Son, heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ. 

Happy Circumcision - God bless you!

+Chad

Friday, December 25, 2020

Happy Christmas!

May the Lord Jesus grant all of you, my dear friends, a truly blessed, happy and holy Nativity of the Saviour! Merry Christmas! And remember, let us put MASS back in Christmastide!





Christmas Solemn High Mass - Saint Barnabas Dunwoody