Rorate Caeli

December 21st: Feast of Saint Thomas the Apostle

The feast of St. Thomas the Apostle has been kept on this day, December 21 from at least the ninth century.  It was moved to July 3, the day mentioned by St. Jerome as the date of his martyrdom in India, by those who revised the calendar after the Second Vatican Council.  They did this so that his feast would not interrupt the major ferial days of Advent leading to Christmas.  They wanted to tidy things up, calendar wise.  They considered the feast of St. Thomas in later Advent out of place.  Their liturgical rationalism made them blind to the wonderful interruption of late Advent made possible by the feast of this apostle.


Today’s Gospel is the famous Gospel of "doubting Thomas".  This Gospel is heard also on the Sunday after Easter, Low Sunday.  Heard on Low Sunday it makes sense as the continuing narrative of Jesus’ resurrection and appearances to the disciples. But it also makes sense in a discontinuous way today, four days before the celebration of the birth of Christ.  The celebration of Christmas makes sense only if one believes that the baby in the manger is the Incarnate Lord, the God-man, who came to save the world from sin and eternal death.  In an increasingly secularized world, this is either deliberately erased by a celebration of general good feeling and bonhomie. Or it is forgotten by Christians whose faith has been watered down lest they be uncomfortable in thinking about the real link between the wood of the manger and the wood of the Cross. 


It is precisely today’s Gospel that makes us remember the full meaning of the great feast which we are about to celebrate.  Thomas is not present when the Lord appears to his disciple in the Upper Room where they have locked themselves in in fear that they might be next to be killed. When they tell Thomas that they have seen the Lord, he says: Except I shall see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe."  Of course!-- seeing is believing. 

The next day when Jesus appears again, Thomas is there, and the Resurrected Lord challenges Thomas to faith: "Peace be to you. Then He saith to Thomas: Put in thy finger hither, and see My hands, and bring hither thy hand, and put it into My side; and be not faithless, but believing. Thomas answered and said to Him: ' My Lord, and my God.' Jesus saith to him: Because thou hast seen Me, Thomas, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and have believed."  St. Thomas' words are the words of faith: “My Lord and my God!”.  There have been very many paintings depicting this scene with Thomas touching Jesus’ wounds.  But the Gospel clearly does not mention at all this act of touching, for the question at hand is seeing and believing.  That is clear from Jesus words that follow St. Thomas profession of faith: "Because thou hast seen Me, Thomas, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and have believed. "

Those words:  they describe you and me, we who have not seen and believe, and that is the essence of faith.  That is why this feast is a wonderful jolt in late Advent, for it reminds us of who the baby born in the manger is and therefore reminds us of what faith in Christ means not only in general or doctrinally, but personally, for you and me.  

This year, a year of sorrow and woe, a year that challenges our faith, when on Christmas we place the bambino into the manger in the creche in our homes,  and when we gaze at the Sacred Host at the elevation at Holy Mass, let us utter those words of St. Thomas:  “My Lord and my God!”


Father Richard Gennaro Cipolla