Pope Francis! Restore the Feast of the Circumcision!


The video…

Visita di Papa Francesco alla Sinagoga di Roma

Un simpatico incontro all'esterno della Sinagoga e una richiesta particolare rivolta al Santo Padre.

Posted by Tv2000 on Sunday, January 17, 2016

I found this anecdote from Crux’s John Allen amusing.  Pope Francis went to visit the Roman Synagogue.  A Catholic who converted to Judaism and is active in their community in Rome asked the Pope to reinstate the Feast of the Circumcision on 1 January.


Those episodes are no laughing matter, and Francis appeared somber and restrained as he began shaking hands. That lasted until he saw an elderly man named Nereo Musante, wearing a fedora and sporting a long beard, who was gazing at the pontiff with an infectious smile.

Francis lit up and made a beeline for Musante, wrapping his outstretched hand in both of his own and engaging in a brief chat. Nearby microphones picked up most of the exchange.  [I hope there is a video.]

Listen, Holy Father, how about putting the [feast of] the circumcision back on the calendar?” Musante said, causing others standing nearby to laugh that he would use the occasion to give the pope unsolicited advice.

“It would be a beautiful thing to do, wouldn’t it?” he persisted.

Francis didn’t directly respond to the suggestion, but his body language indicated he certainly didn’t take any offense.

As Francis was about to pull away to greet someone else, the still-beaming Musante then said: “Anyway, you’re a very nice person … we love you a lot!”

What Musante was referring to is an old Catholic feast based on the Biblical story that on the eighth day after his birth, in keeping with Jewish law, the newborn Christ child was circumcised and presented with his name, “Jesus.”

Undoubtedly, Musante sees the account from the Gospel of Luke as a clear confirmation of the Jewish roots of Jesus, and thus of Christianity itself.

From the 13th and 14th centuries, the Feast of the Circumcision of the Lord was celebrated on Jan. 1 and was considered a holy day of obligation, when Catholics are required to attend Mass. After the Second Vatican Council, however, Jan. 1 was designated as a feast of Mary, Mother of God, returning to an ancient practice, and the Feast of the Circumcision was more or less forgotten. [Not by everyone.]

Musante, now 95, would know all that because he was born Catholic in the Italian city of Livorno, and came of age in the Catholic Church before Vatican II in the mid-1960s, when the Feast of the Circumcision was a major annual event.

Somewhere along the line, Musante developed an attraction to Judaism and wanted to embrace the faith. During the 1970s and early 80s, after he moved to Rome, he presented himself at the Great Synagogue several times hoping to convert, but was sent away.

Musante wouldn’t give up, which is how he came to be at the synagogue on the day when the 1982 attack occurred, and he was injured himself. Afterwards, then-Chief Rabbi Elio Toaf agreed to accept him into Judaism, and he’s gone on to become a pillar of Rome’s Jewish community, which is why he was on hand to greet Francis on Sunday.

In many ways, Musante exudes the typical zeal of the convert, feeling more protective of Judaism, and the Roman Jewish community, than even some of those born into it. As a result, he just couldn’t resist using the pope’s visit to prod Francis to take one more step down the path of acknowledging the Jewish origins of the Church.

Yet at the same time, Musante also couldn’t help telling Francis what a great guy he is and how much local Jews love him.



About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Augustine says:

    In the Maronite Church, and I suspect that in other Eastern Churches too, January 1st is still the feast of the Circumcision of Jesus.

  2. AnthonyJ says:

    It would have been great if the Pope said to Musante, “Renounce your apostasy, go to confession and return to the Church. Then I will consider your request.”

  3. stephen c says:

    I will pray tonight, as I hope that many other Christians will, that Nereo Musante, who seems like a friendly and likable person, remembers, at some point between this day and his death, that Christ died for his sins. And I will pray that God forgives those who may have made him believe that Christ did not die for his sins.

  4. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    So this formerly Catholic Jew seems to have left the Church in the late 1960s. Curious timing.

  5. nemo says:

    Uh–they changed it? I was taught it was the Feast of the Circumcision. The Gospel for that Mass states, “At that time, when eight days were fulfilled for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called Jesus, the name given Him by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.”

    It is probably the shortest Gospel reading of all.

  6. jeffreyquick says:

    It was a mistake to cut that feast.

    The Anglo-Catholics still observe it. When I was singing for them, there was a certain tenor who would show up (at best) hung over, and often, hearing him, I would think, “Baby Jesus, I feel your pain.”

  7. Geoffrey says:

    The name of the feast was changed by Blessed John XXIII, as it does not appear in the 1962 missal. Even in the ordinary form, it’s the same Gospel.

  8. Auggie says:

    Speaking of circumcision, I read a book this weekend that claims that DNA from the foreskin of Jesus will be used to make a clone that will be enlivened by the Beast who will rule the world.

  9. Suburbanbanshee says:

    AnthonyJ, how on earth was the Pope supposed to know that the Jewish gentleman used to be Catholic?

    Was he supposed to get in his time machine and read today’s papers? Did the Swiss Guard Ninja Elite sniff out the past history of every Jewish guy in town? Or is the Holy Spirit granting omniscience in matters of identity as well as infallibility in matters of dogma?

    As for me, I think we should pray for Mr. Musante’s return home, and we should be glad that he spoke up for the silent majority. From his lips to God’s ears!

  10. slainewe says:

    It would be a wonderful way to celebrate this Year of Mercy by honoring the Source of all Mercy — the Blood of Christ — by returning the Feast of the Circumcision and the Feast of the Precious Blood to the universal calendar. The Gospel for the former feast recalls the Lord’s first shedding of Blood; the Gospel for the latter recalls His last shedding of Blood. (Two events that the devil would rather we forget, as he was crushed magnificently on both occasions.)

  11. The fact of the matter is that both are legitimate celebrations for that day, so here’s an idea (although I don’t know exactly how well this would turn out in practice): why not make one feast required and make the other one an optional one (I would say give the priest the option of which feast to celebrate that day, but things happen sometimes when you allow a priest to have options)?

  12. Lazylyn says:

    I think it would be a great idea in that perhaps it would help in Catholic / Jewish understanding of Jesus being a Jew.

  13. pelerin says:

    Fr Z – there is a video of the whole ceremony on the KTO website. The Pope took over 20 minutes to walk into the Synagogue shaking hands and meeting many people. It was interesting to see many bowing to him as they shook his hand.

    The meeting with the elderly man starts at 23.56. When I watched it on Sunday I wondered what the conversation was about. The organ plays over it and as I do not know Italian I had no idea of the subject of the conversation.

  14. Josephus Muris Saliensis says:

    May I raise a query about the contention that the Feast of Mary Mother of God was a restoration of an ancient practice? This was avowed at the time, following ‘research’ by the progressive liturgist Bernard Dotte in 1933, but in fact research by Bernardo Opfermann in 1936 had already dismissed this as false archaeology.

    It is a shame that Pius XII, the Pope who warned against archaeologist so firmly in ‘Mediator Dei’, should have allowed this controversial change, and in a way, thus begun the musical chairs of feasts.

    See here, I do not have time to translate: http://yvesdaoudal.hautetfort.com/archive/2013/12/31/octave-de-la-nativite-5259583.html

    As one consecrated to Our Lady it is annoying that one should have to argue this case of facts, and certainly there is no implied disrespect to our blessed Mother.

  15. frjim4321 says:

    “It was a mistake to cut that feast.”

    Honestly, Jeffrey?

  16. entirelyuseless says:

    Catholic Tech Geek, they are the same feast. The name alone was changed, every other detail was left alone. So you have the option anyway: just call it the one you prefer to call it.

  17. Maineman1 says:

    AnthonyJ, that is a pleasant thought. But remember, the Church has fully renounced institutional efforts to convert Jews.

  18. Quanah says:

    Restoration of the feast is not only in greater continuity with the tradition of the Roman Church, but also with the tradition of the whole Church, East and West. It is sad that it was changed. I like that there is a feast of the Holy Mother of God in addition to the Nativity and the Annunciation, but it doesn’t need to displace the Circumcision of the Lord. It would be fitting to celebrate the Holy Mother of God on the day this was proclaimed by the Council of Ephesus.

  19. AnthonyJ says:

    Suburban banshee,

    Maybe he knew because maybe the man mentioned it to him. Maybe he didn’t and the Pope doesn’t know. Maybe the Pope did tell him to come back to the Church. Articles never tell the whole story. I was only making a point that he should return to the faith and renounce his apostasy. You had to reply in what was a snarky and obnoxious way. I hope that made you feel good inside.

    It is interesting that most on this thread care more about the name of a feast than the soul of this man. Last I checked apostasy is still a mortal sin.

  20. TNCath says:

    While I have no problems with restoring the Feast of the Circumcision to January 1 (without necessarily the obligation to attend Mass), I think a greater priority for the Church in the United States is the restoration of the Feast of the Epiphany to January 6 (and not the nearest Sunday) as a holy day of obligation.

  21. bobk says:

    The Orthodox Church has it on January 1st with St. Basil as well. A clever librarian I know greets people with “Merry Brismas”.

  22. Charlotte Allen says:

    Bring it back! It’s also a good way to remind Catholics about Jesus’ Jewish origins and the deep Jewish piety of his family.

  23. Eleanor says:

    The article stated that: “Francis lit up and made a beeline for Musante, wrapping his outstretched hand in both of his own and engaging in a brief chat.” This sounds like the pope recognized Musante as someone he was acquainted with, and headed for him eagerly. Thus he would, most likely have know of the history of his leaving the Church.

  24. Imrahil says:

    As for the feast of the Circumscision,

    i.m.h.o. it was never abolished. Not in the extraordinary form for sure (which Pope em. Benedict taught was never abolished), but not, if you look at it, in the ordinary form either. If you look at the liturgical texts, they were all very Octave-of-Christmas-ish (with some mentioning of our Lady, see below); without any specific mentioning of circumscision apart from the Gospel.

    And the Gospel has stayed there.

    (It has, sure, been a bit extended, which seems one of the more legitimate changes to me: it was just so short… sure the Transeamus story, which someone who does not go to the Mass in aurora on Christmas nor to a ferial Mass of the Christmas octave would have missed – and most go to the night mass and the day mass – merits inclusion on the Octave Day. The Gospel, which is the point here, still culminates in the report of the Circumscision.)

    So, I’d venture to say that even in the Ordinary Form, the feast of the Circumscision is no longer mentioned in the official Calendar (which could be changed): but it is still celebrated.

    We’re quite free to insert into the long name of this day, “Feast of St. Mary the Mother of God, Octave Day of Christmas, Civil New year” a “Feast of the Circumscision of the Lord”. The Schott missal comments: “the name of the feast is long; but we do need much for this day which is supposed to be a beginning.

    Coming to speak of it, it is quite fitting that the civil year starts at the day when our Lord himself formally subjected himself to Jewish law and thus in some sense began his life as a Jew, and to end it on the feast of the Pope in whose days the Church gained (some) peace in this world, St. Silvester, and thus in some sense the fight of the (first, Roman) persecutions ended in victory.

    As for the obligation to hear Mass,

    as long as the day is still a public holiday in most jurisdictions, and a high-ranking feast on the liturgical calendar, “holiday of obligation” seems a matter of course to me. (Sure, people want to party… let there be evening Masses.)

    As for the feast of our Lady,

    whatever or not be said about supposed ancient practice (I have no expertise here), the extraordinary-form texts themselves do display a strongly Marian tone. So, the station is at the most popular and most ancient (though not the very first by rank) Marian basilica at Rome, St. Mary beyond the Tiber; the collect mentions our Lady; the offertory mentions “sedes tua” which in one of the four senses of Scripture could rather certainly be applied to our Lady; and most importantly, the postcommunio has “et intercedente beata Virgine Dei Genetrice Maria”, a phrase usually only found in feasts of saints.

    Abstractly, it makes sense to celebrate, on the Octave of the Son, also the mother.

    By the way, the Wikipedia article on bination mentions that, before the rules were simplified to the “one day one Mass” rule, priests were allowed without further cause to binate on New Year: with one mass said for the Circumscision and one for the blessed Virgin Mary.

    [note: I am referring to the 1962 form. If it really was Pius XII whom Josephus Muris Saliensis mentions above, that might of course have been changed in his time, but I somehow don’t believe it was; the renaming at any rate took place only later; the station at St. Mary beyond the Tiber also certainly predates the 20th century.]

  25. majuscule says:

    I’m not sure if this is a funny story or not…but it is true.

    After our son was born in 1969 we had to decide if he should be circumcised or not. I was only 20 and not well versed in my faith. My husband had been born at home and was not circumcised but the doctor has recommending the procedure (it was not yet so controversial).

    What decided me was remembering the Feast of the Circumcision… If Jesus had been circumcised, why not our son? So it was done.

  26. Gregory DiPippo says:

    Video now available with translation of the relevant bits here:


  27. Gerard Plourde says:

    In the United States, January 1 remains a Holy Day of Obligation. The obligation is only waived when the feast falls on a Saturday or a Monday.

  28. Matt R says:

    The Marian Mass on 1 January, the Octave Day of Christmas, was for St. Mary Major. The other Mass was used elsewhere and became normative in the early modern period.

    My contention is the new feast in the Pauline missal is artificial and that keeping the feast of her Maternity in October was the better choice.

  29. Mike says:

    My 1962 missal has 1/1 as Octave –day of the Nativity with Gospel of circumcision.

  30. Suburbanbanshee says:

    The article doesn’t say the Pope knew the guy. It says he saw J. Anonymous Smileyface, and headed for the happy smile.

    We have all seen the man do this with cute babies, cute kids, and enthusiastic old lady nuns, so it does not surprise me that he also does it with friendly old geezers.

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