The following is excerpted from a December 29 Crisis Magazine article by Dusty Gates:
On Friday, January 1, the secular world will observe “New Year’s Day.” The Catholic world will not, for two reasons. One is that we have a genuine religious feast day to observe, in celebration of Mary, the Mother of God. The second is that Catholics don’t find much use in celebrating the chronological movement from December 31, 2015 to January 1, 2016. Not because we are grumpy, and not because we are boring. Catholics don’t have much use for “New Year’s,” simply because we live on a different sort of calendar than the rest of the world.
The Catholic calendar is not progressive, in the sense that it does not continuously march on from one date to the next indefinitely, as does the secular calendar. The Catholic calendar is perpetually seasonal, cyclical, and repetitive. We like rote prayers, not just because we happen to have them memorized, but because we have accepted the rotary characteristic of our faith, our lives, and the world. Shortened attention span created by technological gluttony and self-centeredness isn’t the only reason the secular world is bored by repetition. Fascination with the new is rooted in a worldview opposed to ours, which is enamored with the novel and dissatisfied with the static. Pope Francis, for example, has warned of “those who doggedly uphold the myth of progress,” pointing out that they are largely to blame for causing the very problems that many contemporary progressives claim to be solving (Laudato Si, 60).
The Catholic worldview is, instead, a sacramental one. If God is outside of time, then so too, at least to a degree, is our communion with him—firstly in our particular participation in the sacraments, but also in the rest of our lives as a continued manifestation of and participation in that sacramental communion. The Catholic life is in tune with eternity, and thus always has a quality of, and preference for, timelessness. “You turn man back to dust, saying ‘Return, O children of men.’ For a thousand years in your sight are as yesterday, now that it is past, or as a watch of the night”(Psalm 90). St. Peter echoes this Psalm when he says, “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day. The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard ‘delay,’ but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief” (2 Peter 3:8b-10a). Human time has no bearing on the God who is creator and master of all ages.
And yet, on December 31, we find the world gearing up for what is proposed to be the “party of the year.” Is it evil? No, but neither is it a real celebration, at least in its connection with the calendar. If it is going to be a real celebration, from the Catholic perspective, it must be about something more. “There are worldly, but there are no purely profane, festivals,” wrote Josef Pieper in In Tune with the World. “And we may presume that not only can we not find them, but that they cannot exist. A festival without gods is a non-concept, is in-conceivable”
New Year’s is a definitively secular (saecula—“this age”) holiday. But, like so many worldly things, it can be redeemed. On The Feast of Mary, Mother of God, Catholics celebrate the one thing that is worth celebrating, and the one thing that makes other celebrations possible, fitting, and even necessary.