A NOTE ON SAINT BARBARA'S DAY
As we move on in our Advent observance I want to make note of the flourish of St. Barbara’s Day (December 4th) which coincides with the Second Sunday of Advent this year. St. Barbara is a Virgin-Martyr from the early 4th century A.D. And one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers of medieval Catholic devotion. According to the legend of her Life, she was confined in a tower by her jealously protective father on account of her great beauty. Once, when her father returned from a journey he found that a third window had been constructed in her tower. Barbara confessed to her father that she had become a Christian and that this third window was in honor of the Trinity.
Enraged, her father put her to the torture in an effort to compel her to renounce Christianity and finally killed her by cutting off her head. Immediately, a lightning strike smote her father dead, as a sign of divine vengeance. In Christian iconography St. Barbara is portrayed with a Chalice and Host beside a tower having three windows, or with a sword. She is invoked in Catholic devotion for preservation from sudden death:
Saint Barbara, thou noble bride,
To thee my body I confide
As well in life as at life’s end.
Come, aid me when I breathe my last
That I may, ere here all is past,
Receive the Blessed Sacrament!
In certain parts of Europe, particularly in the German-speaking countries, there is the touching custom of the “Barbara branch” (Der Barbarazweig). On St. Barbara’s Day, December 4th, a twig from a cherry tree branch is brought into the house and placed in water in a warm room. It should blossom on Christmas Eve. Although the cherry-tree is most traditional other branches such as lilac or forsythia and the like may also be used.
The Barbara branch custom is suggestive of the Biblical prophecy of Isaiah regarding the human origins of Jesus Christ: “A bud shall spring forth from the root of Jesse and the flower from its root.” Jesse was the father of David the King who inaugurated the Royal line of which Christ was born in the flesh. In His day, however, that Royal House was like a dead tree stump— apparently vanquished, but not in reality. In the fullness of time, Our Lord Jesus Christ, the “King of Kings” was to be born of this line. As the Angel will announce to the Shepherds on Christmas Eve: “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will come to all the people; for unto you is born this day in the city of David [Bethlehem], a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)
The St. Barbara’s branch dovetails beautifully with St. John the Baptist’s role as the Herald of the Lord, appearing as our Advent preacher in this Sunday’s Gospel. Let us continue to make our hearts ready for the Coming of the Lord.