Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!
  

Ave Maria!
Christmas—25 December AD 2006
“She conceived Thine only begotten Son by the overshadowing of the Holy Ghost; and losing not the glory of her virginity, gave forth to the world the everlasting light, Jesus Christ Our Lord.”[1]

Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English

    Please allow me to wish everyone a very holy and happy Christmas—the celebration of the birthday of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ—Son of God and the Blessed Virgin Mary.  And also allow me to thank all of you who have, in any way, contributed to making this celebration possible—your efforts and your generosity are truly appreciated.

    As you know, there are three different texts for the three Masses which each priest is privileged to offer on this day.  Even if you are unable to attend all of the Masses today, I would strongly suggest that you take the time to read all of the Gospels.

    The first (at midnight) tells the story of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem to register in a Roman census, and the birth of our Lord in a stable, probably a cave below the inn which had no room for them because of the great numbers visiting the town for the census.  The story closes with the adoration of the angels, singing the glorious hymn we know as the Glória in excélsis Deo.[3]

    The second text (for the Mass at dawn) relates the adoration of our Lord by the shepherds of the surrounding fields, who came “to see this thing ... which the Lord made known to us.”[4]

    The third text (for the Mass of the daytime) contains the Gospel which we are accustomed to hearing after most Masses as the “Last Gospel.”[5]  It is particularly important on this celebration of our Lord’s birth, as we shall see in a moment.  In traditional Catholic churches the Last Gospel for this third Mass relates the visit of the three Wise Men, their offering of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, and the jealousy of King Herod which led to the slaughter of the Holy Innocents.[6]  (If you are using a newer missal, you will find this Gospel in the Mass of Epiphany, January 6).

    I say that the Gospel of the third Mass is particularly significant, because it is very important for us to realize that God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, Whose birth in human form we celebrate today, did not somehow come into existence for the very first time on this day.  In this Gospel we learn that the Word of God existed from the very beginning:  “He was in the beginning with God,” and “all things were made through Him.”  That is to say that everything, including time itself, came into being through the agency of God’s Word.

    It is important, therefore, to recognize that we are celebrating the birth of the eternal God who has no beginning or end, who decided to personally intervene in human history by adding the nature and the substance of His human creatures to His own.  Important, that we recognize that Jesus Christ was not merely a vision in the minds of men;  that He was not some created being, sent like an angel, to convey the message of another;  but rather that God Himself became incarnate of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  It is worth noting, as well, that this Incarnation took place some nine months earlier, which we celebrate on March 25th as the feast of the Annunciation—Mary gave her consent to what was proposed by the angel, “be it done to me according to thy word,” and she was overshadowed by the Holy Ghost, and she conceived the physical body and soul of the Son of God.

    Catholics (together with the Eastern Orthodox) thus recognize Mary as the Mother of God—not claiming, of course, that Mary came before God in eternity, but that she, through the power of the Holy Ghost, did conceive, carry, and give birth to her Child who was both God and man.  The late Monsignor Ronald Knox, himself a convert from Protestantism suggested that non-Catholics “refuse to honor the God-bearing Woman because their Christ is only a God-bearing Man.”  Those who, in their error, think of Jesus as a mere vision, or as an angel, or as a naturally conceived man, cannot understand the exalted position of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  To speak of her as a “creature miraculously preserved from sin by the indwelling power of the Holy Ghost—that is to them a divine title, because that is all the claim their grudging theologies will concede ... to our Lord Himself.”[7]

    Christmas, then, is the entrance of God Himself into the world He created, in which He allowed Himself to be bound by the strictures of matter, time, and place.  It is a wonderful testimony of God’s love for us that our infinite God would, in His benevolence, become one of us, in order to redeem us from the sin of Adam and Eve.

    In outward appearance, the birth of Christ seems to be much like of every other child.  He is quite helpless, he shivers in the cold, requiring the warmth of the swaddling cloths, the heat of the animals, and the loving touch of His mother.  Monsignor Knox points out that if Jesus was a miracle Child, so is every other child in the eyes of his own mother.  Every woman, going back to Eve herself, looks down upon the miracle of her first-born and says something to the effect of “I have begotten a man from the Lord.”[8]  Knox even suggests that much like Mary, Eve gave birth to Cain “in a forlorn cave, remote of access, fenced about from the wild beasts.”[9]  For sinful man, all births are miracles, for they are the only way in which we may reach the future—if sin brought mortality, we still have a pale sort of immortality in our children.

    But in spite of the external surroundings we read about in the first Christmas Gospel, the birth of Christ was, of course, unique.  Being free from original sin, Mary brought forth her Son without the pains of childbirth, and without any loss of  bodily integrity.  Whereas Eve brought forth Cain who would kill his own brother, Mary brought forth Jesus who would lay down His own life for His brothers.  Metaphorically, we can say that all of the children of Adam and Eve (with two exceptions) are conceived in death—as Pope Pius XI phrased it:  “the very natural process of generating life has become the way of death by which original sin is passed on to posterity.”[10]  But, uniquely, Mary was conceived in life—the supernatural life of grace, as was her Son.  What was lost through Adam and Eve has been restored through the new Adam and the new Eve—and, not just for themselves, but for all who will “be regenerated through the laver of Baptism unto supernatural justice and ... be made living members of Christ, partakers of immortal life, and heirs of ... eternal glory.”[11]

    Today we celebrate no less of a mystery than the intersection of eternity with the here and now—no less of a mystery than the joining of almighty God with His humble human creatures—no less of a mystery than the possibility of becoming “partakers of His divinity, Who humbled Himself to partake of our humanity.”[12]  Today we celebrate Christmas, the mystery of heaven on earth.  This is the day on which the “almighty Word leaped down from heaven from His royal throne ... into the midst of the land of destruction.”[13]

    Since Jesus Christ is born today, we celebrate nothing less than the turning of darkness into everlasting light;  the turning of death into life.  May we rejoice with Mary and Joseph, with the shepherds and the wise men, and with all the angels of heaven.  Merry Christmas—a happy and a holy day for all who love the Son of God and His most Virgin Mother!


NOTES:

[1]   Preface of the Blessed Virgin Mary. ../english/prefbvm.html ../latin/prefbvm.html

[2]   http://www.thegardenhelper.com/Nativity.jpg at http://www.thegardenhelper.com/Santadirectory.htm.

[3]   Gospel of the First Mass: Luke ii: 1-14.

[4]   Gospel of the Second Mass: Luke ii: 15-20.

[5]   Gospel of the Third Mass:  John i: 1-14.

[6]   Last Gospel of the Third Mass:  Matthew ii: 1-12.

[7]   Msgr. Ronald A. Knox, The Belief of Catholics (Garden City: Image)  www.ewtn.com/library/CHRIST/BELIEF.TXT

[8]   Genesis iv: 1.

[9]   Ronald A. Knox, Pastoral Sermons, “The Birth of  Our Lord,”  pp. 354-358.

[11]   Pope Pius XI, ibid.

[12]   Cf. Prayer at the mixture of water and wine at the Offertory.

[13]   Wisdom xviii:  15.

 


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