THE MASS OF CHRIST
Just as Candlemas Day means the Mass of the Candles, so Christmas means the Mass of Christ. I would like to comment on the Christmas Liturgies.
As we know, Vatican II, in terms of its liturgical renewal and reform, restored the practice of the Sunday Vigil. This means that the Sunday celebration starts with evening prayer on Saturday evening and runs through evening prayer on Sunday. Thus we have become accustomed to the 4 o’clock or 5 o’clock Vigil Mass on Saturday afternoon. In my view, the Vigil Mass has been a mixed blessing. It is wonderful for us older folks to get out in the afternoon and enjoy daylight both coming to church and going home except for December and January’s dark days. On the other hand, however, it seems that the restoration of the Sunday Vigil has not helped the Church’s efforts to restore Sundays as the Day of God, the Day of Christ, the Day of the Church, our day for prayer and family life and family recreation and the like. Of course, restoring the Easter Vigil, which was the great gift when Pius XII was Pope, was wonderful beyond all words. For centuries the great Easter Vigil, the climax of the Church’s liturgical year, lay only in the Church’s memory and not in its practice. This, of course, does not mean starting the Easter Vigil at 7 o’clock or 8 o’clock in the evening. My dream is to restore to the parish the Easter Vigil that would begin at 10:30 p.m. which would then give us time for all nine scriptural readings which summarize the mystery of salvation from creation to our own day. Then at midnight we would celebrate the Lord’s resurrection at the Eucharist. Restoring the Vigil of Christmas in no way elicits my enthusiasm, certainly not the enthusiasm I showed in the last sentence for the Easter Vigil. (Of course, the Christmas Vigil would be good for us older folks for the same reasons listed above for the Sunday Vigil.) However, the way we celebrate the Christmas Vigil is not particularly helpful for the celebration of Christmas Day. It doesn’t capture, in my view, what the Christmas Liturgy has been designed to capture.
Christmas Day is one of those rare feasts which offers three distinct liturgies. Advent is the time we watch and pray as we hope for the final coming of the divine Messiah who first came on Christmas Day and comes to his Catholic people all over the world in sacramental mystery. Our urgent prayer that the Lord come and not delay is visible at midnight Mass for the minute the day begins we are ready to celebrate his coming. Then there is the Mass at Dawn; then there is the Mass During the Day. Obviously the Church does not insist that we attend three Masses, but those who used to do so in earlier centuries experienced a wonderful sense of the integrity of the Christmas celebration.
I would like to highlight aspects of our Christmas Liturgies. At the Vigil, the entrance antiphon will say to us – “Today you will know that the Lord is coming to save us, and in the morning you will see his glory.” In our opening prayer we will say to God our Father – “Every year we rejoice as we look forward to the feast of our salvation. May we welcome Christ as our Redeemer, and meet him with confidence when he comes to be our judge.” We will then listen to readings from Isaiah, the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of Matthew. At Midnight, Psalm 2 says to us – “The Lord said to me: You are my Son; this day have I begotten you.” These words are addressed to our incarnate Lord. Their scriptural use is often seen as a resurrection theme. In our opening prayer we will say to God our Father – “You make this holy night radiant with the splendor of Jesus Christ our light. We welcome him as Lord, the true light of the world.” Then we read from Isaiah, St. Paul and St. Luke. The second reading – Paul to Titus – is printed below. The Mass at Dawn, begins with this antiphon: “A light will shine on us this day, the Lord is born for us: he shall be called Wonderful God, Prince of Peace, Father of the world to come; and his kingship will never end.” Then we say to God in prayer: “We are filled with the new light by the coming of your Word among us. May the light of faith shine in our words and actions.” Then we hear from Isaiah, St. Paul and St. Luke. The second reading is printed below. Then comes the Mass During the Day. The entrance antiphon says to us: “A child is born for us, a son is given to us; dominion is laid on his shoulder, and he shall be called Wonderful-Counselor.” In our opening prayer we will say to God our Father: “We praise you for creating man, and still more for restoring him in Christ. Your Son shared our weakness: may we share his glory.”
From the Letter of St. Paul to Titus:
“The grace of God has appeared, saving all and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age as we await the blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of our great God and savior Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people as his own, eager to do what is good.”
A second reading from Paul to Titus:
“When the kindness and generous love of God our savior appeared, not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of his mercy, he saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he richly poured out on us through Jesus Christ our savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.”