Happy Circumcision Day

Photo by the author.As we kick off the New Year, let’s not forget that fallen Catholic festival, the Feast of the Circumcision. The Catholic Encyclopedia outlines the reasons for commemorating this festival on January 1st. “As Christ wished to fulfill the law and to show His descent according to the flesh from Abraham. He, though not bound by the law, was circumcised on the eighth day (Luke 2:21), and received the sublime name expressive of His office, Jesus, i.e. Savior.” CatholicCulture.org expounds upon the reasons for commemorating the bloody cutting of the baby Jesus’ bits: “When Our Lord submitted to the cut in His flesh at the Circumcision he began His work as Redeemer. He commenced that shedding of Blood which would reach its highest point of generosity in the Passion and Death.”

Despite depictions, such as the painting I found at the Cloisters, that portray an elaborate temple ceremony, this act more than likely took place in a private home. Even though Jewish law doesn’t mention the ritual need to preserve the foreskin, David Farley notes in An Irreverent Curiosity that there were supposedly 18 foreskins of Christ floating around. Farley traced these relics and their feast back to the era of Charlemagne (742-814), who gave his relic of Jesus’ foreskin to Pope Leo III upon being crowned emperor. After passing into the hands of a marauding sixteenth-century German soldier, the relic finally ended up in the Italian town of Calcata, where supposedly it was stolen in 1983. However, one wonders if any foreskins were ever actually preserved because during Farley’s stay in Calcata, he was unable to find any reliable sources proving that even one of these relics ever existed.

As Farley documents in his book, the Catholic Church downplayed the existence of the relic, going so far as threatening to excommunicate anyone who dared to write or speak about the existence of the Savior’s foreskin. After the Second Vatican Council, the Church finally did away with commemorating Christ’s circumcision by renaming this feast day the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. But it’s still a Holy Day of Obligation, so all good Catholics must still go to Mass.

Becky Garrison is a satirist/storyteller whose most recent book is Roger Williams’s Little Book of Virtues (Wipf & Stock, March 2020). Also, she edited Love, Always: Partners of Trans People on Intimacy, Challenge and Resilience (Transgress Press, 2015). Her six books include 2006’s Red and Blue God, Black and Blue Church (PW, starred review).