Let me be among the first to wish you a holy and happy Christmas and Christmas season. And let me thank all of you who generously gave of your time and resources to help us to celebrate our Lord’s birthday in a worthy fashion. May the infant Jesus bless you abundantly.
Every now and again, I have been asked whether Christmas is more important than Easter, or the other way around. Obviously, there could not have been an Easter if Christ had never been born – but equally obviously, from our perspective, the redemptive aspects of Good Friday and Easter Sunday are of paramount importance to mankind. But, perhaps the question is best answered by remembering that while the individual events, commemorated as feast days, are important, we need to look at the entire liturgical year more as a continuum than as a string of isolated events.
It might help to understand this if we were to change the question slightly to ask: “Which is the most important mystery of the Rosary?" Hopefully, that makes it a little easier to see that the story of our salvation is composed of many events, which really ought to be viewed as a whole. Just as there is no one “most important” mystery of the Rosary, all of the events in the lives of Jesus and Mary are of importance to our salvation.
The Rosary is an excellent adjunct to attending Mass regularly and learning about the history of salvation through the epistle and Gospel readings we hear as the year progresses. It helps to put them in order, and to frequently call them to mind for our meditation.
There is another custom that helps to put the understanding of Christmas in perspective. You might be familiar with it -- it was quite popular when I was a boy. It is called “the Angelus.”
Fifty years ago it was common to hear the church bells ringing each morning around sunrise, at noon, and again around sunset. Somewhere along the line, I found out that there were prayers associated with the bell ringing. When I attended a Catholic college, it was rather impressive to see everything come to a halt as the noon Angelus bell rang out from the campus chapel – everyone stopped in their tracks until the bells ceased to ring. I have to confess that, although I had read the prayers once or twice, I had never committed them to memory, until a few years back. At that time we had a parishioner who was quite devoted to the Angelus – and if she happened to be around at noon or six, it was pretty likely that everyone was going to say the Angelus.
I mention the Angelus today because it is a simple way of keeping in mind the unity of our salvation. The prayers are very brief, and take us from one end of the story to the other in just a few moments. You might even be interested in taking up the prayer yourself:
– The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary,
We are thus reminded that before there could even be a Christmas, there would be the Annunciation of the Angel unto Mary, telling her that she had been chosen by God to be the Mother of the Redeemer of the entire human race. And we are reminded that even before there could be the Annunciation, there was Mary’s Immaculate Conception – from the very first moment of her conception she was preserved from all stain of original sin, the only way that she could possibly be “full of grace” before the Redemption. Indeed we can say that Mary Immaculate existed in the mind of God from the time of creation.
“Behold the handmaid
of the Lord
The Angel declared, and Mary conceived – but not before she had given her consent. The Divine Motherhood was not something forced upon her, but something she freely accepted. Remember that the fall of mankind came through nothing other than the disobedience of Adam and Eve. Our Redemption would come through nothing less than the obedience of Jesus and Mary – the obedience of the new Adam and the new Eve – to the will of God.
“And the Word was made
We are reminded of that Gospel we hear so many times at the end of Mass: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.…” As the second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Word existed from all eternity. But only with the Incarnation and with Christmas did He take human form and dwell amongst us in the flesh. This is the significance of Christmas; this is the time that God chose to enter human history, to move amongst His people, and ultimately to redeem us from the curse of Adam’s disobedience by His perfect obedience to the will of the Father. Today Mary brings forth the perfect Gift which will ultimately be offered for the sins of mankind.
Finally, the Angelus ends, like many of the Church’s prayers, with a collect; a prayer which sums up all of out thoughts on the matter:
Let us pray. Pour forth Thy grace into our hearts, O Lord! By the voice of an angel we have learned of the incarnation of Christ, Thy Son; lead us, by His passion and His Cross, to the glory of the resurrection. Through the same Christ, our Lord. [All:] Amen.
Christmas is and should be a joyous day. Roughly fifteen-hundred years ago, Pope Saint Leo the Great said: “It would be unlawful to be sad today, for today is Life’s birthday; the birthday of that Life which takes away the sting of death and brings the promise of an eternal hereafter.”[i] Everyone should rejoice, whether he be saint or sinner, Christian or pagan, for this day celebrates our salvation. On this day our Lord entered into the world to take our sins upon Himself. If that seems not to be joyous because we are moved with compassion for His sufferings, then let us be joyous that by our Faith and good works we can reduce that suffering.
Remember indeed that each and every day in the Church’s year – each and every day in our lives – plays a unique and important part in the story of our salvation. When times are difficult it may help to recognize that each day is related to the joyful feast of Christmas – that even the penitential day of the year, and the sad times in our lives, should draw consolation by looking backward to the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. For all of these days ought to be lived looking forward to the joys of our future resurrection.
May God bless you, now. May He grant you the peace that only Jesus Christ can give. May your Christmas be a holy and a happy one, and may its joys extend throughout the year, and for the rest of your life!
[i] Pope Saint Leo I, sermon on the Nativity, Matins of the feast.