Christmas Scriptures present gifts to ponder for many weeks
By: By Father Dominic Garramone, OSB
The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Dec. 26
Sirach 3:2-7,12-14; Psalm 128:1-2,3,4-5; Colossians 3:12-21; Matthew 2:13-15,19-23
In the missal there are three Masses of Christmas — the Mass at Midnight, another at dawn, and Mass During the Day — each of them with its own set of prayers and readings. By examining all these Masses we can gain a greater understanding of the meaning of this solemnity.
The Mass at midnight includes a passage from Isaiah, our familiar companion from Advent. The prophet promises the people of Israel that there will be an end to darkness and slavery because of the coming of the Anointed One, the heir of David, the prince of peace. These verses remind us of the long history of salvation that began with the covenant with Abraham and was renewed in subsequent generations with Isaac, Jacob, and David. As Christians we are part of that history as well.
Luke’s Gospel for the Midnight Mass also includes historical data regarding ruler, decrees and geography, again emphasizing that the Son enters human history and does so in simplicity and poverty, vulnerable as a baby born in a stable.
The themes of simplicity and poverty are continued in the Mass at Dawn, sometimes known as the Shepherd’s Mass, since their arrival at the Bethlehem manger is recounted in the Gospel. We often see the shepherd through the lens of romantic paintings and contemporary Christmas cards, but in first century Palestine they were the lowest level of agricultural worker.
Shepherds were considered uncivilized, little better than thieves or beggars, and certainly not the kind of people who would be worthy of an angelic messenger. Yet they represent us at the manger, for Paul’s letter to Titus reminds us that the savior appeared “not because of any righteous deeds we had done, but because of his mercy.”
ONLY THE BEGINNING
The Gospel of Christmas Mass During the Day comes from the prologue of John’s Gospel. Lest we dwell too much upon the helpless baby in the manger or the human origins of Jesus, the evangelist reminds us that he who came in time to save us existed from all eternity: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The helplessness of the child in a darkened stable at Bethlehem masks his inestimable power: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
Even though there are three Masses of Christmas they cannot exhaust the riches of meaning that flow from the Incarnation. Our reflection on this mystery continues on the feast of the Holy Family, as we see how Jesus calls us to be “united in respect and love” (opening prayer).
The Gospel for the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God presents further guidance for deepening our understanding of the Incarnation: “Mary kept these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (Luke 2:18). We should imitate her example of meditation and prayer.
Despite the world’s tendency to forget about Christmas by Dec. 26, our Catholic tradition celebrates and explores the mystery of the Nativity over several weeks, pondering its meaning for human history and for each human heart. Whatever Mass we attend on Christmas, let us be open to the abundant gifts of grace offered by the Eucharistic sacrifice, made possible by the Incarnation we call to mind each year and the Paschal Mystery we celebrate each day.
FATHER DOMINIC Garramone, OSB, is a monk of St. Bede Abbey in Peru, where he serves as subprior and choirmaster. He also heads the religion department and serves as drama director at St. Bede Academy. Contact him at FRDOM@st-bede.com.