For many people, December 25 is the most important date of the whole year because it is the date on which Jesus was born. Interestingly enough, most early Christians would disagree.

For one, the celebration of Jesus’ birth was not celebrated for at least 150 years after his death. The idea of commemorating someone’s birth, rather than death, was a particularly pagan practice. Christians, keeping with Jewish tradition, were more interested in commemorating Jesus’ death (because, you know, the whole rising from the dead thing) and have continued the practice til today: we do not remember the birthdays of saints, but rather the day they entered eternal life through death.

For those that did celebrate Christmas early on, the date was highly flexible. Some celebrated it in December, others in January, even others in May. While some will contend that December 25 is the actual date of Jesus’ birth, the early Christians almost universally deny this: they recognized even then that the date was lost to history, and that whatever date was chosen was not the real one. A simple look to its description in scripture shows that it was far more likely to have taken place in the spring.

Far more interesting to early Christians was the Annunciation, the time when Mary conceived by the Holy Spirit. A somewhat lesser feast for us today, it should give us pause: if we believe that life begins at conception, wouldn’t the true celebration of the Incarnation—God becoming part of creation—be the Annunciation, not Christmas? While the feast did not become a universal celebration of the Church until centuries later, the recognition of its date on March 25 preceded, and ultimately inspired, the date for Christmas.

So, how do we get the date of December 25 if it is not the actual date on which Jesus was born and early Christians didn’t seem to care that much? This week’s Catholicism In Focus looks to answer just that.

It may seem like an extremely simple question. Sunday is the Lord’s Day. Of course we go to Church on Sunday.

And yet, when I asked someone recently about how our Sunday obligation related to the Sabbath, they didn’t know how to answer. You see, in the Old Testament, God ordained the 7th day the day of rest. After six days of working, we were to observe the Sabbath just as the Lord had. That day was not Sunday. The seventh day is actually Saturday.

So why do we celebrate on Sunday? Are we ignoring God’s commandment by working on Saturdays? And what gave us the right to change the day? In this week’s Catholicism In Focus, I answer all of these questions and more.

For centuries, it was absolutely against Catholic law for someone to be cremated. Why was this, and what changed the Church’s stance today?

In this week’s Catholicism in Focus I share about the official common prayer of the Church, the Liturgy of the Hours (also known as the Divine Office.) It is an ancient prayer that people of faith have been praying for more than 2500 years, and is something that holds the Christian community in prayer throughout the day.

It is also a prayer that many people find a bit complicated to pray at first, especially if doing it alone.

Have no fear! There are many ways to pray it that can simplify the experience. The easiest is simply to download one of the many apps and pray directly on your phone or tablet. iBreviary is an app created by the Franciscans and all proceeds support the Holy Land. To pray this, all one has to do is select the particular hour and read (everything is laid out for you!)

If you prefer a paper version, there are three variations: a shorter Christian prayer book (just one week cycle of Morning and Evening prayer), the one-volume breviary (the whole four-week psalter of morning and evening prayer, feasts, propers, and abbreviated versions of the other hours), or the full four-volume breviary (complete with everything and everything!) Guides can be purchased alongside these books to ensure that you are on the right page and doing the right prayers (although be sure to buy the guide that matches the version of breviary you are using!)

This week on Catholicism in Focus, I take a look at how the New Testament was put together and what books were left out of the final edition. In it, I talk about the Apostolic Fathers, works written within the first century after Christ. If you are interested in reading these texts (and I highly recommend that you do!) I’ve provided links below:

The Didache

First Clement

Second Clement

Epistle of Barnabas

Epistle of Polycarp

Letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch

Martyrdom of Polycarp

Shepherd of Hermas