The Jesuits in England, in the 1500s, are said to have imitated Jesus’ use of allegories.
As you know, King Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic Church. Eleven years later, one of his successors, Queen Elizabeth I, established the Anglican Church as the official religion of England and the Catholic Church had to go underground. Anyone found practicing Catholicism would be imprisoned or even put to death. In order to keep Catholic teaching alive, folklore says that two Jesuits composed a song whose meaning would not be recognized by Queen Elizabeth’s government, but would be recognized by Catholics.
That song is “The Twelve Days of Christmas”
The song was supposedly originally meant as a coded outline of the Catholic faith to be used as a guide in teaching the truths of the Catholic Church – sort of like a list of chapter headings for a catechism.
This is the meaning according to this account:
The 12 days of Christmas (Dec. 26-Jan. 6 (Epiphany))
“My true love said to me” is God speaking to the anonymous Catholic.
“12 lords a-leaping is not the 12 Apostles but, rather, the 12 beliefs outlined in the Apostle’s Creed.
“11 pipers piping” are the 11 apostles – Judas not counted – who pipe the faith in an unbroken tradition
“10 ladies dancing” are the Ten Commandments
“9 drummers drumming” are the nine choirs of angels
“8 maids a-milking” are the eight beatitudes
“7 swans a-swimming” are, of course, the seven sacraments
“6 geese a-laying” are the six precepts of the Church
“5 golden rings” are the first five books of the Bible, called the Pentateuch
“4 calling birds” are the four Gospels which sing the good news
“3 French hens” are the three gifts of the Magi
“2 turtledoves” are the old and the new testaments
“The partridge in the pear tree” is Jesus Christ reigning on the cross.
Whether this assigning of meaning is true or not, it can suggest things for us to meditate on when we hear that song played over and over again.
It is true that we Catholics have the fullness of God’s revelation and all of the means of salvation. We have been chosen and called by God. However, we don’t have exclusive rights to a special place. We, as the Scribes and Pharisees, can fail in our responsibilities to promote God’s kingdom.