For the afternoon of December 24
CHRISTMAS VIGIL MASS (not midnight)
The Good News of Christ’s Birth
Do you appreciate Jesus? What effect does he have on your daily life? Does the thought of him make you happy? How often do you think of him?
What does it mean to you (affectively as well as intellectually) to say Jesus is the Savior of the world and your Savior?
The Entrance Antiphon tells us, “Today you will know the Lord is coming to save us, and in the morning you will see his glory.” This is from Exodus 16: 6-7, when God promises to “rain bread from heaven” for his People each day while they are in the desert. The “manna” has been replaced by Jesus, the “living bread that came down from heaven” (John 6:51). This Bread of Life is available to us every day in the Eucharist. It is ours for the taking.
That is something to appreciate.
In the Opening Prayer, we say that “every year we rejoice as we look forward to this feast of our salvation.” We celebrate Christmas every year to help us look forward to Mass every Sunday — and just to waking up every day. In every Mass we celebrate the gift, and the ongoing experience, of salvation. Whenever we think of him, we “welcome Christ as our Redeemer.”
“Salvation” becomes real for us the day we realize that there is something going on between ourselves and God, and we decide to get involved in it. That is when we begin to “meet him with confidence,” not just “when he comes to be our judge,” but as we undertake, with his help, to let him act with us, in us and through us in every action of our day.
In the Prayer after Communion we ask God to “give us a new birth as we celebrate the beginning of your Son’s life on earth” and to “strengthen us in Spirit.” We can have this new birth and new strength in the Spirit every day. All we have to do is celebrate every day the beginning of your Son’s life on earth. Say the WIT prayer every morning: “Lord, live this day with me, live this day in me, live this day through me.” Say it before everything you do, all day long.
“As a bridegroom…”
The Responsorial Psalm is: “Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord” (Psalm 89). The Psalm specifies, “Happy the people who know…” enough to do this. “At your name they rejoice all the day.” If we reflect on what Jesus did and is doing for us, and if we remember it frequently, we too will “rejoice all the day.”
What is there to know?
Isaiah 62: 1-5 deserves to be read and re-read every day of Christmas! It gives us a reason (many reasons, and there are many, many more!) to be Christians. It tells us what is so great about recognizing there is something “going on” between ourselves and God and deciding to get involved in it. It tells us what we get out of participating in the life of the Church.
Isaiah leaves no doubt about what our relationship with Christ is: “The Lord delights in you and makes your land his spouse…. As a bridegroom rejoices in his bride, so shall your God rejoice in you.” The Church is the “bride of Christ” (John 3:29; Ephesians 5: 25-32; Revelation 19:7-9; 21: 2-10; 22: 17). And all of us (male and female alike) are “brides in the Bride.” What this means is that we are all committed to seek perfect union of mind and will and heart with Jesus as Spouse — just as married couples are committed to seek perfect union of mind and will and heart with each other. When Paul speaks of marriage he says, “This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the Church” (Ephesians 5:32).
This may sound daunting, but look at what it gives! “You shall be called by a new name” — you will have a whole new sense of your identity. “No longer” shall you see yourself as “Forsaken” or “Desolate,” “but you shall be called [and know yourselves as] ‘My Delight’ and… ‘Espoused.’” Think for a minute about what this says. Is this a relationship with God worth entering into? Once we appreciate what this means, our response will be, “Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord!”
“Have no fear…”
Matthew 1: 1-25 answers the hesitancy we have about entering into a relationship of spousal love with Jesus Christ. It tells us how Joseph felt when he learned that God had chosen his fiancée to make her the mother of his own Son.
Contrary to legend, Joseph was not suspicious of Mary when she told him she was pregnant. He believed what he told her about the angel’s message. But like any devout Jew — or any one of us! — when he learned that God had chosen Mary for his own spouse, he bowed down in reverence and began to back out of the picture. Who was he to interfere in the mystery of God’s relationship with Mary? We would do the same!
But the angel came to Joseph and said, “Have no fear about taking Mary as your wife. It is by the Holy Spirit that she has conceived this child.” But you, Joseph “are to name him” with the name God has chosen. You are chosen by God to fulfill the role of earthly father to Jesus. And you are to be the earthly spouse of Mary in every way but sexual. She is to be your wife and you her husband — and you are to be a father to the Son of the Most High.
Was this a scary, a daunting call? Yes. Did it call for sacrifice? Yes. Was the sacrifice worth the privilege of playing such a role in the redemption of the world? When Joseph was assured that God wanted him to do this, and that God would be his strength, wasn’t his response, “Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord!”? Is that our response to the call we have received to seek perfect union of mind and will and heart with Jesus Christ?
The strength of call
In Acts 13: 16-25 Paul is presenting Jesus as the culmination of Israel’s long history of being chosen, guided, supported and empowered by God. It should give us confidence to embrace the relationship with God to which Jesus calls us.
Paul reminds the Jews that God “chose our fathers. He made this people great… led them out of Egypt… raised up David… ‘a man after my own heart, who will fulfill my every wish.’”
Then “according to his promise” he brought forth from David’s descendants “Jesus, a savior for Israel.” John the Baptizer, who announced him, was thought by some to be the Messiah himself. But John said, “What you suppose me to be I am not. Rather, look for the one who comes after me. I am not worthy to unfasten the sandals on his feet.”
It is possible that Christianity itself is not “what we suppose it to be.” If we don’t feel like shouting every day, “Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord!” it means we haven’t really understood or appreciated the Good News. This is not a matter of emotions, but of deep, interior understanding, awareness and joy; joy even on those days when we would have preferred not to get out of bed! We will come to appreciate the Good News if, when we feel depressed and discouraged, naming ourselves “Forsaken” and “Desolate,” we do four things: remember what Jesus has done for us, think about all he is doing and willing to do for us in our lives right now, decide to believe in this — to believe in him — and act as if we believed. Then we will appreciate the “grace of our Lord Jesus Christ”—the favor of “sharing in the life of God”—and the privilege of being chosen to continue and carry out Christ’s mission on earth. And yes, we will even appreciate the opportunities we have to show our love for him, and his love for the world, by putting out when it costs us. We will appreciate what it means to be a Christian, what it means to take part in the life and life-giving labor of the Church. What it means to know Jesus Christ.
This is what Christmas is all about: a celebration to help us celebrate with more appreciation all year. It is the celebration of Jesus as Savior of the world and Savior of our lives in the world. Savior of our family and social lives, of our business and professional lives — the Savior of life itself. Celebrating will make it natural for us to say, “Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord!”
What would you say to someone who asked you what Christmas means to you? Does your daily life —including your visible attitudes, values and priorities, the stance you express in action toward the Church and the world — say the same thing?
Every day during Christmas season (until the Sunday after the Epiphany) consciously and deliberately think of one thing Christianity gives you. Set a time to do this. And enter with special attention into the Introductory Rites at Mass.
CHRISTMAS MIDNIGHT MASS
The Good News of Jesus the Savior
“Gospel” means “Good News.” Have you experienced Christianity as good news or just heard that it is? How is Jesus “news” to people today? What is so good about whatever Christianity is? When do you personally think about this and celebrate it?
The Entrance Antiphon tells us, “Let us all rejoice in the Lord, for our Savior is born to the world. True peace has descended from heaven.” What gives hope of peace is something (Someone) from heaven who is now present on earth. The Good News is a new and special presence of God in the world: the “Incarnation”; that is, God’s “taking flesh” as a human being on this earth.
The alternate Entrance Antiphon is, “The Lord said to me, ‘You are my Son; this day have I begotten you.’” The Psalm speaks of an Israelite king, called God’s “anointed” because “in Israel kings and high priests received the power of their office through anointing.” The Church applies this to Jesus, the Anointed One (“christos” in Greek, “mashiah” or “Messiah” in Hebrew).1
If we truly understand the mystery of our Baptism, we will also apply these words to ourselves. Each of us will say, “The Lord said to me, “You are my son, my daughter,” because on “this day” — the day of our Baptism — we became Christ. In Him we have become filii in Filio, true children of the Father. And we were anointed at Baptism with chrism to share in Christ’s own divine anointing and consecration as Priest, Prophet and King.
The Good News continues to be news in the world as Jesus reveals himself anew in each one of us, in the words he speaks through us and the “works” he performs through us. Jesus promised this before he died: “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.”2
In the Opening Prayer(s), we celebrate the “splendor of Jesus our light,” and the “glory that breaks on the world” with his birth. We also ask for “a foretaste of the joy” that will be ours “when the fullness of his glory has filled the earth.” In the Prayer after Communion we acknowledge that we ourselves will be God’s answer to this prayer. We will fill the earth with the splendor and glory of Jesus when we “share his life completely by living as he has taught.” We — with Christ acting with us, in us, and through us — are the Good News made visible on earth today.
The Light of Life
The Responsorial Psalm gives the key to the readings: “Today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11 and Psalm 96).
This is what Christianity is about: on Christmas Day and every day.
Isaiah 9: 1-7 tells us to expect four things of the Savior:
1. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” He will show us the way to live by being the Way, and will teach us by being the Truth.
2. He will bring us “abundant joy.” Jesus came that we might “have life, life to the full.” He is the Life.3
3. He will set us free from “the yoke that burdened us and the rod of the taskmaster.” Our religion will not be fearful or slavish obedience to laws, but responses of love made in the intimacy of personal friendship with God.
4. His rule will establish peace through justice throughout the world: “For every boot that tramped in battle will be burned… His dominion is vast and forever peaceful, [sustained] by judgment and justice, both now and forever.”
Jesus is not a Savior who will do all of this “from on high,” with purely divine power. He took flesh to save the world as a human being, living and working on “ground level.” Everything promised above Jesus will give to the human race through humans, by speaking and acting in humans, in the members of his body on earth, in us. If we don’t do it — by letting him do it with us, in us and through us — it will be done, but not in our lifetime. Only when we “share his life completely by living as he has taught,” as we asked in the Prayer after Communion, will we experience the joy that will be ours “when the fullness of his glory has filled the earth.”
We are the glory of God. The glory of God is God’s life shining in us. St. Irenaeus said it: “Life in humans is the glory of God; the life of humans is the vision of God.” But Jesus said it first: just as he glorified the Father by letting the Father’s life appear in him, so Jesus is glorified when his life is visible in his disciples.
We are “the light of the world.”4
God’s life is visible in us when our lives show forth the “fruit of the Spirit… love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” When our lives, our actions, our choices, our joy cannot be explained except by the life of God in us, then we are proof to the world that “Today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord.” 5
Glory and Peace
The Gloria at Mass echoes the angels’ song in Luke 2: 1-14: “Glory to God in high heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests!” We celebrate this Christmas theme all year long. We live in a vision of glory and peace. Christianity focuses us on glory and peace. But we have to listen to the words that are said and sung at Mass. And we have to consciously say them and mean them.
It is possible to grow up Christian from childhood and never appreciate the Good News. To appreciate we have to praise. (Read that again: this is a working principle in life). If we do not praise God we will not appreciate him. (If we do not praise other people, we will not appreciate them either). So when we make the decision to consciously, intentionally praise God through the words we say at Mass, we are making a decision to grow into appreciation of the Good News.
The contrary is also true: if we do not decide to consciously praise God at Mass, we are in fact accepting to deny ourselves the appreciation of the Good News that Mass can give. Many Catholics do this: they simply don’t “get into” praising God at Mass (or anywhere else, for that matter). They just say the words without thinking about them or meaning them. As a result, many just drop out of active participation in the Mass, saying it “never meant anything” to them. And it didn’t: they never paid attention to the meaning of the words, never said the words with awareness that they were meaning them, never addressed them consciously to God, speaking directly and personally to him. To echo John of the Cross, “Where you don’t find meaning, put meaning and you will find it!”
The truth is, many who identify themselves as Christians have never really been “evangelized.” They grew up hearing the Good News without hearing it, because they gave no conscious, personal response to it in their hearts. If they had, they would still be, like the shepherds, “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.”
That is why we celebrate Christmas: to re-evangelize ourselves. To appreciate deeply and personally the Good News that “Today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord.” Christmas is a time to recapture the vision of glory and peace.
The Blessed Hope
Titus 2: 11-14 reminds us that Christianity also focuses us on waiting. Jesus has come, announced and inaugurated the “reign of God,” and he will come again when, by working with us, in us and through us, he has established God’s reign in every human heart. Jesus is the Savior who came in the weakness and self-emptying of human nature, ending his life in apparent defeat on the cross. He will come again in the glory of his resurrection and the triumph of his kingship. In the interim he is the Savior still present and working in us, his body on earth.6
Paul’s words to Titus are quoted in the Rite of Communion at Mass: “as we await our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of… our Savior Jesus Christ” (currently altered to: “as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ”).
1See The Catholic Study Bible edition of the New American Bible, Oxford University Press, 1990, footnotes to Psalm 2 with references to Acts 4:25-27; 13:33; Hebrews 1:5; Judges 9:8; 1Samuel 9:16 and 16:12-13; Leviticus 8:12; Numbers 3:3.
3John 14:6; 10:10.
4 John 13:31-32; 14:13; 15:8; 17:4-10; Matthew 5:14. And see the treatise of St. Irenaeus Against Heresies, quoted in the Office of Readings for his feast day, June 28.
What is the Good News? How do we come to appreciate it?
Begin every Mass consciously praising and thanking God. Listen to the words.
(Mass During the Day)
The Saving Power Of God
The Responsorial Psalm proclaims: “All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God” (Psalm 98). And all three readings emphasize the uniqueness of this “saving power,” which abides in Jesus, who is uniquely the “Son of God.”
Isaiah 52: 7-10 keeps insisting that the power that saves us is God’s own: “Your God is King!,” ”They see… before their eyes, the LORD restoring Zion…. The LORD comforts his people… the LORD has bared his holy arm….”
Hebrews 1: 1-6 is unequivocal about the uniqueness of Jesus: “God spoke to our ancestors in partial and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son…. He is the refulgence of God's glory, the very imprint of his being, who sustains all things by his mighty word.”
John 1: 1-18 is perhaps the most mystical of all the passages in the Gospels, and the most explicit about Jesus’ divinity: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.” (“Grace” is hesed, charis, “love”; and “truth” is emet, aletheia, “fidelity.” Jesus is the embodiment of God’s “steadfast, enduring love”).
John concludes, “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known.” So we sing, “All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.”
This power is able to accomplish “far more than all we can ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20). To all who believe in him, Jesus gives “power to become children of God.” Jesus is the Son of God who makes us “sons and daughters in the Son.” By his death and resurrection he became able to say to his disciples, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (John 20:17). He has made us divine.
Christianity is unique in believing that God became human. And equally unique in believing that “in Christ” — and only in Christ, by sharing in his divine life — humans become God (see December 20). This is why Christians are called to be, not just exemplary human beings, but people who live and love on the level of God. The more we grow into this by surrender to Christ within us, the more “All the ends of the earth will see the saving power of God.”
Initiative: If you want to live life to the full, be Christ! Accept to live on the level of God. Say before every action, “Lord, do this with me, do this in me, do this through me.” In everything you do, act with the love of Jesus himself.