On my home from work everyday, I pass by the church to say a little prayer of thanks for the blessings I have received for the day. This particular church, the Pope John Paul II Parish Church (formerly The Holy Family Parish) in Eastwood City is a beautiful little church in the middle of a high end residential and business district.
The Church's foyer has little prayer booklets and reading materials that are given free to parishioners. Yesterday, I picked up a little reading material which really caught my attention. I am sharing it with you.
Much more than a haunting melody with nonsensical lyrics, "The Twelve Days of Christmas" was written by the English Jesuits during the 15th century as a catechetical device.
By Father Edward T. Dowling, S.J. (Source: catholic.net)
I'm sure you have all head the Christmas carol, "The Twelve Days of Christmas." with its haunting melody. The carol dates back to the 15th century and its precise author is unknown. It has generally been assumed to consist of twelve nonsense verses built around a pretty melody. But in a fascinating article in Our Sunday Visitor (12/20/92), Fr. Gilhooley, a chaplain at St. Mary's College, informs us that the carol was written by the English Jesuits of the 16th century as a catechetical device and it is far from filled with non sensical verses.
The carol is akin to the apocalyptic literature of Scripture that used to obscure symbols to hide its true meaning from the enemy in time of persecution. To understand the background that gave rise to the carol, let us look briefly at the history of Catholicism in the 16th century England.
When Henry VIII was rebuffed by Rome in his bid to divorce Catherine of Aragon to marry Anne Boleyn, he declared himself head of the Church in England replacing the Pope and demanded that all swear an oath of allegiance to him as such. St. Thomas More, the Chancellor of the Realm, the equivalent of the Prime Minister today, refused the oath supporting the elimination of the Pope's authority and Henry had him publicly beheaded. Catholic convents and monasteries were closed and looted. The situation was worse under his son, Edward VI, and better during the short reign of Catherine's daughter, Mary Tudor. She was succeeded by her half sister Elizabeth I, an ardent Protestant, the daughter of Anne Boleyn. The practice of the Catholic faith was banned. Priests were exiled and forbidden under the pain of death from returning or performing the sacraments. It was a desperate, dreadful time.
With this as a background we can see the need for secrecy and deception 'The Twelve Days of Christmas" was written to educate the faithful in the doctrines of the faith and yet not be so obvious to the persecutors. The numbers are simply a mnemonic to help Catholics remember some basic facts.
"The Twelve Days of Christmas" celebrates the official Christmas season which starts liturgically on Christmas Day and ends twelve days later on the Feast of the Epiphany.
"My true love" refers to God and "me" is the individual Catholic. "Twelve lords are leaping" are the twelve basic beliefs of the Catholic Church as outlined in the Apostles Creed. The "Eleven pipers piping" are the eleven Apostles that 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. The "Eight maids a milking" are the Eight Beatitudes. The "Seven swans are swimming" are the Seven Sacraments. The "Six geese are laying" are the 6 days of creation. The "Five Golden Rings" are the first five books of the Old Testament called Torah, which is generally considered the most sacred and important of all the Old Testament. The "Four Calling Birds" are the four Gospels. The "Three French Hens" are the three persons in God. The "Two Turtle Doves" represents the two natures in Jesus - human and divine. The "partridge" is the piece de resistance or Jesus himself and "the pear tree" is the cross.
Fr. Edward Dowling is the author of Have You Heard the Good News. Reprinted with permission from the publisher. All rights reserved.