St. Stephen the Proto-Martyr
Acts 6:8-10; 7:54-59 + Matthew 10:17-22
December 26, 2015
“Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.”
You don’t often hear about the “Octave of Christmas”. Due to the paring down of the Church’s liturgical calendar after the Second Vatican Council, there are only two Octaves left within the Church year. One of the few advantages of this paring down is that the two remaining Octaves are highlighted, and point to the importance of the two events celebrated throughout their respective Octaves: the Nativity and the Resurrection of Christ.
The Octave of Christmas begins on Christmas Day, and concludes on the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. The eight days that stretch from the former solemnity to the latter include many feast days. Some of these feasts might seem odd in their placement, today’s feast of St. Stephen the Proto-Martyr being the prime example.
“Proto-Martyr” is Greek for “first witness”. As we hear in the First Reading, the deacon Stephen was the first in the early Church to be martyred for his faith in Jesus Christ. This focus on death might seem odd coming the day after celebrating the birth of Jesus. However, there’s an important lesson in this. As the old saying puts it, “The wood of the crib is the wood of the Cross.” Or in other words, “Jesus was born into this world only in order to teach us how to die to this world.” St. Stephen’s faith-filled martyrdom focuses our attention on this truth. Each of us in our turn must accept death, and the spiritual practice of mortification, as a way of life.