Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Years Eve and Ritual - the Pickled Herring

Sitting here enjoying a quiet New Years Eve.  It occurs to me that even this is one of those holidays that connects to family traditions. My mom always served pickled herring on New Years Eve- the kind in the brine, not the cream. We never went out that night, but stayed in and watched TV or played board games and ate special snacks - cheese and crackers, sausages, chips, pickles, raw vegetables. Inevitably there was herring. The next day, there was the inevitable ham and baked sweet potatoes. Predictable, comforting rituals to mark the changing of the calendar. My sense is that something similar is true for most families.

Why is it then, that the Church, on the Octave of Christmas, the secular New Year, has, since 1968, apparently muddied the liturgical waters by giving two options? The readings are for the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God, but the Sacramentary prayers can be either for the Marian feast or for World Day of Peace. Not that the latter is not worth celebrating, but it deserves its own separate identity and not as a secondary option. Similarly, Mary Mother of God deserves not to be the only Solemnity with optional orations.

The original Message  from Pope Paul VI proposing the World Day of Peace (December 8, 1967) indicates that he did not wish to replace Mary, Mother of God: "Such an observance must not change the liturgical calendar, which reserves New Year's Day for veneration of the divine motherhood of Mary and the most holy Name of Jesus; indeed, those holy and loving religious remembrances must shed their light of goodness, wisdom and hope upon the prayer for, the meditation upon, and the fostering of the great and yearned-for gift of Peace, of which the world has so much need."

Although this is certainly a worthy desire on the part of the Holy Father, the result has been somewhat of a confusion of identity for the day as parishes try to combine elements of both celebrations and pastors choose one or both "themes" for the homily. I have been in parishes that did one or the other, and tried to incoporate both into the General Intercessions and music. (The mixing of Marian hymns with "The Prayer of St. Francis" and "Let There be Peace on Earth"). I have also experience the absence of one or the other of the themes. Makes it more difficult to connect with this feast. Maybe this explains, even more than post-partying hang-overs, why attendance at New Year's Eve or Day is often light?

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