Introduction to Nativity
On four Sundays, as in four stages, we prepared our hearts. With Isaiah, we raised our eyes to that desert road from which the Savior would come, and John, with his exaggerated finger, pointed out to us the greater than him, asking us to prepare the way for Him, the Christ. And farther on, the glory of Christ came back in power and majesty, while with the psalm rose our desire: “Show us, O Lord, your love!”. We were still singing the “Rejoice, for the Lord is near”, that already the prophecies were concretized on a descendant of David who would be born of a virgin and would leave Bethlehem. Mary, the last of the Old Testament, will now become the first of the New.
The heart is prepared in the more intense prayer and joyful effort, freely consented penance and concern for others - for it is also the time of the little, the stranger and the poor that we will celebrate.
It is not even to the accessories - they are important - that we have prepared: the table at home where the Eucharist will continue as a family celebration, the gifts, signs of the heart.
Yes, the heart, the heart is ready; it hastens to the “holy mysteries” which will be celebrated with this mixture of joy and gravity where the exultation is marked, tonight, with a certain quality of silence.
Whether in the splendor of a cathedral liturgy or in a small church with poor means, the important thing is to welcome, the heart wide opened, the One that we have awaited for so long.
In truth, the Christian of the first centuries, if he came back to us, would be very surprised at the way the majority celebrates Christmas today, this insistence on the childhood of Christ and the romanticism of the crib. On the other hand, he would find himself fairly easily in the liturgy which speaks of a Christ of glory, of an epiphany (manifestation) of the Word made flesh, accepted by some and rejected by others. He would like this brilliant glance, the striking shortcut in which the Letter to the Hebrews sees, in one vision, the eternal birth of the Word, His birth among men and His birth as the Risen One, seated at the right hand of the divine Majesty. (Christmas, Mass of the day, Epistle).
For most, Christmas is the manger, the shepherds, the angels, the star, the magi-kings. They celebrate in parts and do not see that Christmas is a beginning: today is born the Savior; the beginning of a climb to the summit of the Calvary where this Savior on the Cross will liberate us, the One of whom Easter Night will sing “the rebirth” and thanks to which children of God will be born in the waters of baptism. If Christmas is a birth, it is in view of the Easter rebirth.
A global message proclaimed by the head at its summit in the gospel of the Mass of the day: “The Word became flesh (at Christmas - Jn 1,14) and we saw His glory (at Easter - Jn 1,14) and those who did accept Him He gave power (through baptism) to become children of God” (Jn 1,12).
While primitive Christianity took care very early to date the celebration of Easter - for the birth of Christ, this concern is non-existent. At the beginning of the 3rd century, Egypt appointed May 20th; the earliest fixed known calendar and the birth and death of Christ on the same day, 14th Nisan. A true feast of the birth of Christ is mentioned for the first time in a Roman calendar of 354, on December 25th; about the same time, there is a similar celebration in the East on the 6th of January. The choice of these last two dates is symbolic: the two are, in fact, the feasts of the sun, which at this period of the year begins to ascend its curve. One wanted less celebrate the birth of Christ than His whole person and all His work, in opposition to the celebration of the “Sol invictus,” the undefeated sun which the Emperor Aurelian had instituted on December 25th to consolidate the empire. The rapid success of the celebration was explained by the reaction of Christendom against the Arian heresy, which denied the divinity of Christ.
Enough soon Rome adopted the Eastern epiphany, just as the Oriental acclimatized the Latin Nativity. Hence, in the two liturgies, the festive doublet which makes one guess the happy communion of the churches of that time and their mutual enrichment.
The Sun Cycle
Easter is oriented to the lunar cycle: it is celebrated on the first Sunday after the full moon following the spring equinox (between March 22 and April 25).
Christmas goes after the sun, and celebrates after the winter solstice, when (in our hemisphere) the sun rises, the day wins over the night. This climatic aspect obviously does not apply to churches located at the equator or to our antipodes. But the dating and cultural origin of the Christian celebrations does not affect their content. Christmas is not a winter celebration, it is the feast of Christ coming into this world; Easter is not the spring celebration, but the celebration of the Resurrected Christ.
The three Masses of Christmas
The custom of celebrating three Masses at Christmas may come from Palestine where Christians celebrated a first Eucharist at night in the cave of the birth of Bethlehem; then they returned to Jerusalem (a distance of 7 km) where they arrived at the dawn and celebrated a second Mass to celebrate another third at the end of the morning, thus prolonging, with a profusion all Oriental, the splendor of this blessed day.
In Rome, one went the opposite way. A mass was first celebrated in the day, at Saint Peter; a century later, under the influence of Jerusalem, the midnight Mass is added to Santa Maria Maggiore; a century later (in the sixth century, when Byzantium dominated Rome), the Pope made politeness to the Oriental diplomats by celebrating a third Mass at dawn in their church of St. Anastasia.
The Roman custom spread throughout the Latin Church. Hence our Midnight mass, that of the dawn (still called that of the shepherds) and that of the day. Note the beautiful progression: the light of the night, the rising of the sun, the burst of noon - to which correspond in the gospels: Mary, as alone in the night, the humble shepherds in the early morning and by day all men enlightened by the Word.
At great celebrations, at Christmas, in particular, liturgical joy reaches a peak, and the reticence to celebrate and rejoice is also stronger: how celebrate peace in the midst of so much hatred? And how rejoice when so many humans are unhappy?
What is at stake here are false joy and peace, because they are selfish. There is no true joy except the one that is shared. It is therefore necessary to let the poor, the sick, the isolated enter into our joy. It is therefore necessary to work all the year round for justice and peace.
There is no question of renouncing joy. A sad mine will not console the one who lacks happiness. Let us be joyful, so full of profound joy that it radiates and warms up - and let us not forget that our terrestrial joys will always be primers, incomplete beginnings of the true joy and true peace that are to come.
What kind of quality has my Christmas joy?
What does “Incarnation” mean?
If John says, “The Word became flesh” (1,14), it is to affirm that the Son of God did not pretend to be a man, that He really entered our world, in our human condition, in a human body and mind; He has assumed everything, except sin. The purpose of this incarnation was to redress and sanctify “from within” the whole humanity of which Christ became the representative, the “new Adam”.
The incarnation of Christ continues in His mystical body which is the Church: we are the members of His body (1 Cor 12). The Church continues the incarnation of Christ in our time, she is the “Christ continued”. “Jesus yes - Church no” is a refusal of the consequences of the incarnation of Christ. Christ can not be separated from the Church who embodies Him today.
Finally, we must continue the incarnation of Christ by embodying ourselves in the tasks of today. Fleeing them in a liturgy foreign to the worries of this world would indirectly deny the incarnation of Jesus. Let us love our world, bear it to Christ, who alone can lead it to its completion.
One can prolong this incarnation at leisure. Thus faith must be incarnated in the thought of today, the liturgy to be celebrated according to the African, Asian sensitivity...