Commentary from THE ANNOTATED
BOOK OF COMMON PRAYEREdited by JOHN HENRY BLUNT
Rivingtons, London, 1884
This day has been observed from the earliest ages of the Church as the Octave
of the Nativity, and from about the sixth century as both the octave of the
Nativity and the Feast of the Circumcision. From its coincidence with
the Kalends of January, on which the riotous and immoral festival of the Saturnalia
was kept by the Romans, it offered a great difficulty to the Church for some
centuries, and there were places and periods in which the Saturnalia were
so mixed up with the Christian feast that the observance of the latter was
Of the Circumcision there is no notice whatever in the Comes of St. Jerome,
the day being called Octava Domini , the Epistle being Gal. iii. 23, and the
Gospel the same as ours. In St. Gregory's Sacramentary the name of
the day is still the Octave of the Lord, and the Circumcision is not noticed
in the Collect; but in the proper Preface are the worlds, "per Christum Dominum
nostrum; eujus hodie Circumcisionis diem, et nativitatis octavum celebrantes;"
and the words of the Benediction, as printed above, are equally explicit.
In the Salisbury Missal the day is named as it now is in the Prayer
Book, but except in the Gospel there is not the slightest allusion to the
festival as being connected with the Circumcision. In modern times the
tendency has been to observe the day as New Year's Day, overlooking, as far
as possible, its connection with the Nativity, as well as with the Circumcision.
The true idea of the day seems to be that it belongs to Christmas as its
Octave; but that as the three days after Christmas are specially honoured
by the Commemoration of Saints, so the Octave is supplemented with the Commemoration
of our Lord's Circumcision, to do still greater honour to the day of His Nativity.
The two are pleaded conjointly in the Litany, "By Thy holy Nativity
The Rubric at the end of the Gospel was inserted by Bishop Cosin. It
varies in a very important particular from the previous Rubric of 1552.
1552. If there be a Sunday between
the Epiphany and the Circumcision: then
In the Scottish Prayer Book of 1637 the Rubric stood as in that of 1552,
with the addition, "So likewise, upon every other day from the time of the
Circumcision to the Epiphany." Either daily celebration of the Holy
Communion was not contemplated in 1552, or the omission of any mention of
it in this Rubric was an oversight. In 1637 and 1662 it was clearly
shall be used the
same Collect, Epistle, and Gospel, at the Communion,
which we used upon
the day of Circumcision.
1662. The same Collect, Epistle, and Gospel, shall
serve for every day after
unto the Epiphany.
January 1st was never in any way connected with the opening of the Christian
year; and the religious observance of this day has never received any sanction
from the Church, except as the Octave of Christmas and the Feast of the Circumcision.
The spiritual 'point' of the season all gathers about Christmas: and
as the modern New Year's Day is merely conventionally so (New Year's Day being
on March 25th until the middle of the eighteenth century), there is no reason
why it should be allowed at all to dim the lustre of a day so important to
all persons and all ages as Christmas Day.