And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:9-14)
Merry Christmas on this joyful, blessed, Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord! What a wonderful time, amidst the fears and anxieties of this world, to remember the words of the Angels to the shepherds of Bethlehem.
Today is also a good day to remember St. Anastasia, and say a little prayer, at least, asking for her intercession.
You may wonder, why St. Anastasia? (you may, in fact, wonder who is St. Anastasia), and why should we remember her in particular in the midst of one of the greatest and most joyful feasts in the liturgical year, the celebration of the birth of Christ himself?
The short answer is that the Church itself has done the same throughout most of its history: from the earliest centuries of the Roman Church up until the present day (with a brief hiatus following the reform of the liturgy fifty years ago), the second mass on Christmas Day has been a commemoration, not of the Nativity, but of this ancient martyr whose memorial is December 25th.
There’s more to it than that, of course. But first, let me take a step or two back. One of the things I set out to do with this blog is to highlight saints who are not well known, such as St. Monegundis, or those whose memorial is overshadowed by a more prominent celebration, as is the case with St. Equitius, who shares his memorial with the formidable St. Clare of Assisi.
Last year it occurred to me that if it’s possible to all but disappear in the shadow of another saint, or by mere proximity to a greater celebration as is the case with St. Servulus (December 23rd, two days before Christmas), what happens to those holy men and women whose feasts fall on December 25th, on the very same day as the great Feast of the Nativity itself? I decided to investigate the saints who share Christmas Day with the Christ Child, and that’s how I found St. Anastasia.
I quickly discovered that St. Anastasia is not in fact an obscure saint . . . at least she wasn’t. She was, in fact, a very well-known saint at one time, and is still venerated in not just the Latin Church, but in the Eastern Orthodox, Eastern Catholic, and Coptic Churches. She is mentioned by name at every mass that contains the Roman Canon (she is the last named in the list of saints invoked after the consecration). There are numerous churches dedicated to her, including a prominent church in Constantinople, the Cathedral in Zadar, Croatia (which also holds her relics), and a very ancient church in Rome with a very intriguing history.
I quickly discovered that I was opening up a much bigger topic than I anticipated – in fact, one cannot really adequately discuss this seemingly obscure saint without also touching upon the history of parish churches in Rome at the dawn of the Christian era, hagiography and the reliability of the oral tradition, the relationship between the Greek churches and the Latin churches, changes in the liturgy of the Mass after the second Vatican Council, and more. Oh yes, and perhaps most of all, the relationship between the Incarnation, Passion, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
That’s rather a lot for one blog post, and besides, there’s celebrating that needs to be done, so I’ll just limit myself to just one further observation on that last point above. St. Anastasia was martyred in the city of Sirmium in present day Serbia, probably in the first decade of the 4th century. That’s all we know with certainty (although there are various accounts of her life and death dating from later centuries). Her martyrdom connects her with the Passion and Death of Christ: as St. Paul would put it (Colossians 1:24), she completed in her own body what was lacking in Christ’s sufferings. She shares in the Incarnation by sharing her feast day with the commemoration of Christ’s Nativity on the Solemnity of Christmas. And how, you may wonder, is this saint connected to the crowning Miracle we celebrate at Easter? Her name, Anastasia, comes from the Greek word ἀνάστασις (anastasis), which means Resurrection.
So, a Merry Christmas to all – May you enjoy all the blessings of this wonderful grace filled season . . . but don’t forget to pause for a moment to prayerfully remember the martyr who shares our Lord’s birthday.
Saint Anastasia, pray for us!
Music for Christmas
“Of The Father’s Love Begotten” is a beautiful and ancient hymn. Written in Latin in the 5th century by Aurelius Prudentius (translated in the 19th century by Henry W. Baker and J.M. Neale); the tune is Divinum Mysterium, an 11th century chant. The song is performed in the video below by Concordia from their album Hymns for All Saints: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany. The image is The Nativity, by Tintoretto, originally 1550s, reworked 1570s (also the featuresd image at the top of this page).