Today in the Universal Liturgical Calendar of the Catholic Church we celebrate the memorial of St. Ambrose of Milan. This fourth century Latin Father of the Church (one of the original four doctors) was quite a remarkable fellow. Having served as a Roman governor, Ambrose was elected Archbishop of Milan despite his lack of baptism. He served the Church in this capacity for 23 years until his death. Ambrose is perhaps best remembered as the man who trained and welcomed another great man, Augustine, into the Church.
Unfortunately for Ambrose (awesome name, by the way) he had the bad luck to receive his ordination as bishop on December 7th. Normally, the Church celebrates a saint on the anniversary of his death (viewed as that man’s or woman’s “birthday” into eternal life). However we have some rare exceptions. For instance, St. Benedict, the founder of Western monasticism, has a death-day in late February. This time of year almost always falls inside the season of Lent. Since the observance of the major penitential season of the Church would necessarily trump the feast of a saint (however important that saint is) his feast was eventually moved to July 11th. That happens to be the date that the Benedictine community around the world observes as the anniversary of the transfer of Benedict’s remains. It would be like someone saying “My birthday is December 25th so I’m going to celebrate instead the day I graduated college in May instead.” Other notable examples include the two newest pope-saints John XXIII and John Paul the Great. They will be celebrated on October 11 and October 22 respectively. Curious? The 11th is the anniversary of the opening of Vatican II, the Council called by John XXIII, and the 22nd is the anniversary of the inaugural mass of John Paul II. Both men died in what is normally the Easter season.
But why is December 7th unfortunate for Ambrose? There is but one reason. True it’s always going to be Advent. Nevertheless, Ambrose ranks high enough in importance to have a memorial during this season. Rather, it has to do with what we celebrate on December 8th — the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. That’s one of the biggies on the calendar. As a solemnity, the Church follows in Her Jewish roots and begins the celebration the night before. In other words, Ambrose’s feast day is ALWAYS cut short by a few hours. The International Society for the Promotion of All-Things Ambrose has so far been unsuccessful in its efforts to rectify this situation.
That explains the shaft then.
Now for the “double shaft”…
Wilma (say a prayer) and I, fresh off of our victory in venturing out to a local parish last night even though the roads were a bit treacherous (cf: Dallas ice storm ’13) decided we’d give it a go and head to the Dominican Priory for mass this morning. It hasn’t warmed enough for anything to have melted and re-frozen so we thought we’d be OK. Boy were we wrong! Long story short, we made a two mile loop before arriving back at our house. Our journey took us thirty minutes as we skidded and spun our way in a series of left turns. We really wanted to worship God in honor of His remarkable saint. But at this point we’re not sure we’re going to be able to make tomorrow’s mass, and that’s a Sunday!
In the meantime, upon our return to my beautifully appointed and quite toasty home we discovered my wife and children happily decorating for Christmas. Take a look at our primary Nativity display (both outdoor and indoor sets). One can never have too many Nativities around this time of year. Ambrose who? Yeah, him. Oh well, there’s always next year when his feast will be celebrated on a Sunday and therefore, not celebrated at all! The moral of this story? If you’re a Roman governor with Christian leanings, known for your incredible administrative abilities, do not, under any circumstances, venture near the cathedral church in Milan on the 7th of December.