“O God, Thou
hast created human nature in wondrous dignity, and even more wondrously hast
renewed it. Grant that we may become partakers of His divinity, who humbled
Himself to partake of our humanity.”
Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English
During Advent we learned that God
had created Adam and Eve with great gifts, which they lost—due to their
inordinate pride—by refusing to obey their Creator. We learned, too, that
God promised to send a Redeemer, to make up for the damage done by this
original sin. To restore, at least, those gifts which man could handle
without inflating his pride. If Advent was a season of promise, then we may
think of this season of Christmas as one of fulfillment.
Actually, to be consistent, we
should call to mind that this fulfillment began when the Angel Gabriel
announced to the Blessed Virgin that she was to become the Mother of God.
Or, perhaps, even more accurately, when she gave her consent: “Fiat mihi,
secundum verbum tuum—Be it done to me according to thy word.” For,
especially in this work of salvation, God respects our free will.
Quite correctly, then, we celebrate
the Incarnation on the 25th of March, on the Feast of the Annunciation. But
human nature is what it is—it wants to believe only what it can see and
touch. So we defer our celebration until this day, nine months later, when
we commemorate the birth of our Lord—visible for all to see.
In fact, on Christmas, there are
three separate celebrations of the birth of the Son of God; the three
different Masses which the Church allows her priests to celebrate on
First of all, at midnight, we
celebrate His birth from the perspective of the Angels; the “multitude of
the heavenly host,” which sang the very first “Glória in excélsis Deo.”
Remember that this is significant in the understanding of redemption, for
before man was tempted and fell; some of our fellow creatures, the angels,
suffered a similar fate. It is conjectured that, in their pride, Lucifer
and the other rebellious angels could not accept the idea that they would
one day have to worship the Son of God in the form of a lower creature; a
mere man. The good angels would then seem to be joining us in making
reparation to God for the sins of their brothers.
In the Second Mass, at dawn, we
celebrate Christ's birth from the perspective of mankind; represented in the
Gospel account by the shepherds—normal human beings like ourselves. The
Gospel implies that the shepherds received some sort of revelation, or
explanation from God, about the babe whom they saw in the manger. (Because
of their great intellect, the good angels immediately understood what they
saw. But man, his intellect dimmed by sin, often requires the extra help of
divine revelation.) But, with this help, man hears and sees and
understands, and then he too can glorify God like the angels.
The third and last Mass of Christmas
day celebrates the Incarnation from the eternal perspective. We read Saint
John’s familiar Gospel which portrays our Lord as the Second Person of the
Blessed Trinity. He is the “Logos,” or “Word,” existing in eternity
with God the Father. And, from His position above and outside of time and
space, our Lord enters history; first as its Creator, “by whom all things
were made,” and then as its Redeemer, when “He became flesh, and dwelt among
us.” This is one of the things which makes Christianity different from most
of the religions of this world; a Faith whose God has actually taken a
personal part in its history.
The three Masses of Christmas, then,
treat of the Incarnation; from an angelic perspective, from a human
perspective, and, finally, from an eternal perspective.
It is left for us to examine the
significance of this Incarnation. Why is it so important that we devote
these three different Masses to it? What are we to learn from it? How will
it affect us?
Obviously, it is important to us in
that it cleared the way for the forgiveness of sin; for our redemption, and
for our salvation. Yet, there is another importance which we must attach to
the Incarnation. It goes back to what we said about man needing to see and
touch things in order to have regard for them. In the “Preface” of all the
Masses of the Christmas season we hear:
Because by the mystery of the Word made flesh, the
new light of Thy glory has shone upon the eyes of our mind:
That while we acknowledge Him to be God seen by men, we may be drawn
to Him by the love of things unseen.
The Incarnation, then prepares our
earthbound and feeble minds to perceive the glories of God in heaven.
And, finally, the Incarnation
affects us in the manner expressed in the words with which I started this
instruction; words which occur in every Mass, at the offertory, when the
priest mingles very plain and colorless water, symbolizing the nature of
man—with rich and intoxicating wine, which symbolizes the grand nature of
God. We pray that by the Incarnation, celebrated this and every Christmas,
we will allow our sinful and shallow nature to be swallowed up in God's
nature of abundant holiness.
Our Christmas present from the Lord
is three-fold: First, forgiveness of our sins. Second, an increase of
Faith. And, finally, a share in God's own divinity.
No wonder then that Pope St. Leo
told us over a thousand years ago that “it would be unlawful to be sad
today.” No one is excluded from sharing in this joy: “Rejoice if you are a
saint: for you are drawing nearer to the palm of victory. “Rejoice if you
are a sinner: for your Savior offers you pardon! “And, Rejoice if you are a
pagan: For God calls you to life.”