On the eve of old St Thomas's Day

The old liturgy has St Thomas coming just before Christmas ... We are walking in the vicinity of old St Thomas's Day and of the shortest day of the year - Ronald Bylthe, 'Failing Light', from Out of the Valley: Another Year at Wormingford.

Advent is ending.  Christmas is now but five days away.  Surely the liturgical revisionists are correct, moving St Thomas from the awkward, odd date of 21st December to the long days of July (with the perhaps surprising exception of TEC's BCP 1979).  Can late Advent really be a time to celebrate St Thomas the Apostle?

Yes, it is a neat and tidy revision.  It appears to be rational.  It surely is functional.

It is, however, a thoroughly one-dimensional product of liturgical revision, depriving the Church of layers of meaning associated with celebrating St Thomas in the closing days of Advent.

In the very darkest day of the year, the traditional calendar celebrates the Apostle who in the darkness of the upper room beheld the glorious Light which had filled and transfigured the darkness of the Tomb.  In the words of Keble:

Thus, ever brighter and more bright,
      On those He came to save
   The Lord of new-created light
      Dawned gradual from the grave
- 'St Thomas' Day', The Christian Year.

By celebrating St Thomas in the dark days of December, the Church witnesses to the created order caught up in the Lord's Resurrection, and thus being sign of Life and Light.  For from old St Thomas's Day, the days come "every brighter and more bright".

Then there is the proximity of Christmas Day.  We will hear in the Christmas Gospel, "And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not".  St Thomas's Day prepares us to gaze upon Light Incarnate, with the Apostle to confess "My Lord and my God" of the Infant in the Manger, no less than the Risen One.

Our gaze, of course, is not the same as that of Thomas.  He saw.  We do not.  We hear apostolic testimony, we behold signs.  But we do not see.

This is why the words of the Gospel for old St Thomas's Day particularly prepare us for our celebrations of the Lord's Nativity:

Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed; blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.

Old St Thomas's Day gives a Dominical blessing on our Christmas celebrations.

Finally, there is St Thomas beholding the wounds of the Risen Lord:

Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side; and be not faithless, but believing.

Just as the feasts of St Stephen, St John the Evangelist, and the Holy Innocents in the days following Christmas Day bring us to perceive the Lord's Nativity as oriented to the Paschal Mystery, so it is with St Thomas on 21st December.  It means that Christmas is gloriously encircled by feasts which draw us to behold how the mystery of the Incarnation leads to the Passion.

Old St Thomas's Day, therefore, is echoed in many traditional Carols, in their reflection on the relationship between Incarnation and Passion, Manger and Cross:

The holly bears a berry
As red as any  blood
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
To do poor sinners good.

These rich layers of meaning are lost when St Thomas's Day is moved to July.  A desire to simplify and tidy, to avoid odd and surprising contrasts, deprives the Church of the richness of the layers of meaning which accompany celebrating St Thomas the Apostle in the final days of Advent, in the last days before Christmas.  


  1. Beautiful, thank you! Reposted at holyapostlesredletterdays.blogspot.com

    1. Robert, many thanks for your comment and the mention on your blog.



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