Feast of the Circumcision of the Lord

[Circumcision of the Lord icon]
Also known as

  • In Circumcisione Domini et Octav Nativitatis

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Though he was not bound by law, Christ wanted to fulfill the law and to show His descent in the flesh from Abraham, and so was circumcised on the eighth day of his life (Luke 2:21), and received the name expressive of His office, Jesus, (Saviour). He was, as Saint Paul says, “made under the law”, that is, He submitted to the Mosaic Dispensation, “that he might redeem them who were under the law: that we might receive the adoption of sons” (Galatians 4:4-5). “The Christ, in order to fulfil all justice, was required to endure this humiliation, and bear in His body the stigma of the sins which He had taken upon Himself.” The circumcision took place, not in the Temple, though painters sometimes so represent it, but in some private house, where the Holy Family had found a rather late hospitality. The public ceremony in the synagogue, which is now the usage, was introduced later.

As Christmas was celebrated on 25 December, celebration of Circumcision fell on the first of January. In the ages of paganism, however, the solemnization of the feast was almost impossible due to orgies connected with the Saturnalian festivities being celebrated at the same time. Even in our own day the secular features of the opening of the New Year interfere with the religious observance of the Circumcision, and tend to make a mere holiday of that which should have the sacred character of a Holy Day. Saint Augustine of Hippo points out the difference between the pagan and Christian manners of celebrating the day: pagan feasting and excesses were to be expiated by Christian fasting and prayer. The Feast was kept at an early date in the Gallican Rite, as is clearly indicated in a Council of Tours in 567, in which he Mass of the Circumcision is prescribed. The feast celebrated at Rome in the seventh century was not the Circumcision as such, but the octave of Christmas. The Gelasian Sacramentary gives the title “In Octabas Domini”, and prohibits the faithful from idolatry and the profanities of the season. The earliest Byzantine calendars (eighth and ninth centuries) give for the first of January both the Circumcision and the anniversary of Saint Basil. The Feast of the Circumcision was observed in Spain before the death of Saint Isidore in 636. It seems, therefore, that the octave was more prominent in the early centuries, and the Circumcision later. As paganism passed away the religious festivities of the Circumcision became more conspicuous and solemn; yet, even in the tenth century, Atto, Bishop of Vercelli, rebuked those who profaned the holy season by pagan dances, songs, and the lighting of lamps.

Additional Information

MLA Citation

  • “Feast of the Circumcision of the Lord“. Saints.SQPN.com. 30 December 2013. Web. 21 October 2014. <>