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St. Stephen, the first Martyr; December 26

This entry is part 38 of 43 in the series Hobart's Commentary on the Church Year

For placing the Festivals of St. Stephen, St. John, and the Holy Innocents, immediately after Christmas, the following reason, among others, has been assigned; that St. Stephen was the first who suffered martyrdom; St. John was the disciple whom JESUS loved; and the slaughter of the Holy Innocents was the first considerable consequence of our Saviour’s birth. Thus, martyrdom, love, and innocence, are first magnified as things wherein CHRIST is most honored.

The Collect teaches us to pray that we may imitate this holy martyr in his lively faith of immortal glory, and in his forgiveness of his enemies. The Epistle gives us an account of his martyrdom. And the Gospel assures us, that his blood, and the blood of all those who suffer for the name of CHRIST, shall be required at the hands of those who shed it.

[Excerpt from John Henry Hobart, A Companion for the Book of Common Prayer, Containing an Explanation of the Service (1859), 78-79.]

Christmas-Day; December 25

This entry is part 37 of 43 in the series Hobart's Commentary on the Church Year

For the observation of this Festival, we have the authority of the primitive Church; for though we have no certain evidence of the exact time when it was first observed, yet it was certainly very early observed all over the West. The immemorial observation of it is a proof of its primitive institution. It is a matter of inferior moment, whether the twenty-fifth of December be the real anniversary of CHRIST’S birth. The only matter of real importance is, that a particular day be set apart for celebrating, with proper gratitude and devotion, the blessed event of the Saviour’s nativity.*

The Church both excites and assists our devotion by the particular service appointed for the day. In the first Lessons she reads to us the clearest prophecies of CHRIST’S coming in the flesh; and in the second Lessons, and in the Epistle and Gospel, she shows us the completion of those prophecies, by giving us the entire history of his birth. In the Collect she teaches us to pray that we may be partakers of the benefits of his birth; and in the proper Psalms she employs us in our duty of praising and glorifying GOD for this incomprehensible mystery.**  The Epistle and Gospel for the day were used in the most ancient Liturgies.

* Yet the early archives of Rome, it has been clearly shown, furnish complete evidence that Christ was born of Mary, in Bethlehem, on the 25th of December.

**  The sublime and evangelical import of the Psalms appointed for Christmas-Day, as well as those for the other principal Festivals and Fasts, will be found admirably explained by Bishop Horne, in his Commentary upon them.

[Excerpt from John Henry Hobart, A Companion for the Book of Common Prayer, Containing an Explanation of the Service (1859), 77-78.]

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