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``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D

Feast of
Pope St. Sylvester I


Today is the Feast of Pope St. Sylvester I, son of a Roman soldier named Rufinus and a woman possibly named Justa. He was Pontiff during the time of Constantine the Great who granted greater freedom to Christians, and during his reign, many of Rome's great churches were founded. Though he is often depicted in art as baptizing Constantine, this is metaphorical as Constantine was actually baptized on his death bed. Pope St. Sylvester is buried in the church he built over the Priscilla Catacombs.

An excerpt from the life of Pope St. Sylvester I from the Golden Legend:
In this time it happed that there was at Rome a dragon in a pit, which every day slew with his breath more than three hundred men. Then came the bishops of the idols unto the emperor [Constantine the Great] and said unto him: O thou most holy emperor, sith the time that thou hast received Christian faith the dragon which is in yonder fosse or pit slayeth every day with his breath more than three hundred men.

Then sent the emperor for S. Silvester and asked counsel of him of this matter. S. Silvester answered that by the might of God he promised to make him cease of his hurt and blessure of this people. Then S Silvester put himself to prayer, and S. Peter appeared to him and said: Go surely to the dragon and the two priests that be with thee take in thy company, and when thou shalt come to him thou shalt say to him in this manner: Our Lord Jesu Christ which was born of the Virgin Mary, crucified, buried and arose, and now sitteth on the right side of the Father, this is he that shall come to deem and judge the living and the dead, I commend thee Sathanas that thou abide him in this place till he come. Then thou shalt bind his mouth with a thread, and seal it with thy seal , wherein is the imprint of the cross. Then thou and the two priests shall come to me whole and safe, and such bread as I shall make ready for you ye shall eat.

Thus as S. Peter had said, S. Silvester did. And when he came to the pit, he descended down one hundred and fifty steps, bearing with him two lanterns, and found the dragon, and said the words that S. Peter had said to him, and bound his mouth with the thread, and sealed it, and after returned, and as he came upward again he met with two enchanters which followed him for to see if he descended, which were almost dead of the stench of the dragon, whom he brought with him whole and sound, which anon were baptized, with a great multitude of people with them.

Thus was the city of Rome delivered from double death, that was from the culture and worshipping of false idols, and from the venom of the dragon. At the last when S. Silvester approached towards his death, he called to him the clergy and admonished them to have charity, and that they should diligently govern their churches, and keep their flock from the wolves. And after the year of the incarnation of our Lord three hundred and twenty, he departed out of this world and slept in our Lord, etc.


Frankly, the popular focus is on the end of the secular year, but on this, the seventh day of Christmas, a plenary indulgence may be gained, under the usual conditions, by reciting the Te Deum in thanksgiving for the past year. (the Veni, Creator Spiritus prayer is prayed tomorrow, on New Year's Day). Download a pdf of these two prayers: Te Deum and Veni Creator Spiritus.

Every place has its own customs on this day, most being rooted in the desire to bring blessings for the following year, to do things so as to "start things out on the right foot," and often with the belief that how you find yourself at midnight portends how things will be for you the rest of the new year. Merriment is the rule in all cases, and "lucky foods" are eaten, all of which vary from place to place. Pea Soup is a German "lucky food," and in France it is oysters. In Spain and Italy, one must eat 12 grapes at midnight to fend off evil and acquire wealth in the following year (an old Italian saying is "Chi mangia l'uva per Capodanno conta i quattrini tutto l'anno": "Who eats grapes for New Year counts money all year round"). It's especially lucky if one is able to eat one grape for each stroke of the clock at midnight. In Italy, too, the wearing of red underwear -- underwear that one must receive as a present, wear once, and throw out the next day -- is considered lucky, as is the presence or consumption of red chili peppers.

Customs of New Year's Eve in the United States include kissing at the stroke of midnight; banging on pots and pans, honking car horns, and generally making noise at that time; making "New Year's resolutions" (commitments to break a bad habit, add a good habit, or fulfill a goal of some sort in the coming year); drinking champagne or sparkling wine; watching the "ball drop" in New York City's Times Square on television; and singing Auld Lang Syne, the traditional (secular) New Year's Song in the English speaking world. This hauntingly sad but convivial song, written by the Scottish poet Robert Burns (A.D. 1759-1796), is a song that toasts the past and old friends who've gone. Few people know what the right lyrics are or what the song means, however, so here it is in its original form and in a modern translation, with the melody played by Guy Lombardo:

Auld Lang Syne

Original by Burns: Modern English translation:
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days o’ lang syne!
Should old acquaintances be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintances be forgot,
And days of old long past.
For auld lang syne, my dear
For auld lang syne,
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet
For auld lang syne!
And for old long past, my dear,
For old long past,
We will take a cup of kindness yet,
For old long past,
We twa hae run about the braes,
And pu’d the gowans fine,
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary foot
Sin’ auld lang syne.
We two have run about the hillsides
And pulled the wild daisies fine;
But we have wandered many a weary foot
Since old long past.
We twa hae paidl’t in the burn
Frae morning sun till dine,
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
Sin’ auld lang syne.
We two have paddled in the stream,
From morning sun till noon;
But seas between us broad have roared
Since old long past.
And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere,
And gie’s a hand o’ thine,
And we’ll tak a right guid willie-waught
For auld lang syne!
And there is a hand, my trusty friend!
And give me a hand of yours!
And we will take a right good-will drink,
For old long past.
And surely ye’ll be your pint’ stoup,
And surely I’ll be mine!
And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet
For auld lang syne!
And surely you will pay for your pint-vessel!
And surely I will pay for mine!
And we will take a cup of kindness yet,
For old long past.

Finally, a new "tradition" (if it can be called that) is to make a lemon pig by taking a lemon, inserting 4 toothpicks or wooden matchsticks for legs, cutting a mouth on the pointy end, then cutting the peel and flipping it up to shape ears, and using two cloves for eyes. For the tail, you can use string or a tiny strip of foil curled into a pig tail shape. Some insist on placing a penny in the pig's mouth for "luck." At least it's something that's sort of cute and that your children might enjoy!

P.S. If you're eating black-eyed peas tomorrow, be sure to soak your peas tonight.

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