The great feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12 coincides this year with the beginning of another great religious festival. We Catholics hardly notice this feast even though it is the most widely celebrated Jewish holiday in the United States. I refer to Hanukkah (also spelled Chanukah).
Our faith is rooted in Judaism. Jesus was called “rabbi” and taught in the temple. St. Joseph was a “righteous Jew” who practiced his faith diligently abiding by the rules as best he could. Our dear Blessed Mother was a Jewish girl probably entrusted to the temple hierarchy around the age of three. When the Roman Canon (Eucharistic Prayer #1) is used by the priest offering Mass, “Abraham, our father in faith” is mentioned right after the consecration. Yes, our Catholic faith is most definitely descended from Judaism (no need to mention the Apostles).
So as the “younger brothers and sisters” of the Jews, we should learn more about the traditions of our older siblings in the faith.
Let us begin with the Bible and John 10: 22-35. This begins with the Feast of the Dedication. This is known today as the Festival of Lights, aka Hanukkah. The last verse has Jesus saying, “and scripture cannot be set aside.” By saying this he ties the Old Testament to himself.
In our Catholic Bible, in the Old Testament we have 1 Maccabees 4:59, which reads; “Then Judas and his brothers and the entire congregation of Israel decreed that the days of dedication of the altar should be observed with joy and gladness on the anniversary every year for eight days from the 25th day of the month of Chislev.”
This is today’s Hanukkah. And John has Jesus referring to it in his Gospel.
Here is some basic information about Hanukkah:
- Hanukkah is the Jewish 8-day, wintertime “festival of lights.” This holiday celebrates the re-dedication of the Temple after Judas Maccabeus and his brothers liberated Judea from pagan domination.
- The Menorah is a candelabra with a new candle lit each day of the celebration. A specifically Catholic connection to Hanukkah lies in the fact that this holiday comes from 1 and 2 Maccabees. These books are not in the Hebrew Bible or the Protestant (King James) Bible. But they are in the Catholic and Orthodox Bible.
- “Gelt” is Yiddish for coins. Gelt has been part of Hanukkah observances for centuries. Today, chocolate is often substituted for gold coins. There are those who say that chocolate gelt is similar to the European tradition of exchanging gold-covered chocolate coins in honor of the miracles of St. Nicholas. (Christmas and Hanukkah have been tied together.)
- In 2013, the holidays of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah joined together on the same day, November 28. It was so unusual for this to happen they even had turkey-shaped menorahs in the Thanksgiving Day Parade. For many of today’s millennials, they may still be around when this clash of Holidays happens again. That will happen on November 27, 2070. (As for me, I probably will miss that parade.)
The following two (or three) blessings are said each night before the menorah is lit. Note the parallels to our Offertory prayers said over the bread and wine.
1) Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to kindle the Chanukah light.
2) Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who performed miracles for our forefathers in those days, at this time.
3) Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion.
HAPPY HANUKKAH and MERRY CHRISTMAS to everyone.