Merry Christmas my dear brothers and sisters!While secular society, as of this morning, has finished celebrating the "holiday season," we in the Church, people of faith, have only just begun our true Season of Christmas. It begins with the great Masses of Christmas.
"Something new has happened: he has appeared. He has revealed himself. He has emerged from the inaccessible light in which he dwells. He himself has come into our midst. This was the great joy of Christmas for the early Church: God has appeared.” (Pope Benedict XVI)
From ancient times to our present age, the Catholic Church has celebrated four Masses for Christmas. In fact, the name "Christmas" comes from the old English name for the Nativity of the Lord, "Christ's Mass."
Vigil Mass This Mass retains much of the "Advent flavor." The Gospel reading is the Genealogy of the Messiah from Saint Matthew. At this Mass, we just "turn the corner" on Christmas, and some of the Advent mood still lingers. This is definitely seen as a Christmas Mass, and fulfills the obligation for the holy day.
Mass during the Night (Midnight Mass) The official name for this liturgy is Mass during the Night. Since historically this was considered the first Mass of Christmas, it had been celebrated in the first hour of that day itself, that is, midnight. As might be expected at a night-time Mass, the theme of darkness is contrasted with the "splendor of the true light." Isaiah speaks of "the people who walked in darkness," and Saint Luke's scene has the shepherds "keeping the nightwatch over their flocks." The Gospel then ends with the angelic chorus, "Glory to God in the highest..." and we rightly sing that at our Christmas liturgies.
Mass at Dawn It is not surprising that light appears in this Mass at Dawn: from the Introit: "Today a light will shine upon us"; from the Collect: "your incarnate Word, the light of faith, which illumines our minds"; from the Responsorial Psalm: "A light will shine on us this day." The Lord Jesus is acclaimed as Savior in the first two readings. The Gospel from Luke has the shepherds leaving the fields, traveling to Bethlehem, to meet the Holy Family.
Mass during the Day This is the most profound of the formularies. We see themes of universality, glory and mystery in the readings. "All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of God," the Son is the "refulgence of the Father's glory." The Gospel is no longer a story of Christ's birth - it is the mysterious Prologue (beginning) of Saint John's Gospel, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God... and the Word became flesh."
While we all have our own familial traditions, always remember to keep Christ born in Bethlehem, as the center of your celebration. When you open presents, be grateful to the givers of those gifts, but also remember that the greatest gift is God coming to us in Jesus Christ. As you look at the warm hearth, lights and Christmas tree, see in those things the warmth of God's love, the light He brings to a darkened world, and the life poured out on the Tree of Life, the Cross.
Merry Christmas to all,
Father Robert Letona