Christmas Day, The Nativity of the Lord
Mass Celebrated during the Day
The Introit (Is. 9:6; Ps 97:1) Puer natus est nobis … A child is born to us, and a son is given to us, whose government is upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called the Angel of Great Counsel. Sing to the Lord a new canticle, because He hath done wonderful things. Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, world without end. A child is born to us … Amen.
The Collect Grant we beseech Thee, Almighty God, that the new birth of Thine Only-Begotten Son in the flesh may set us free, whom the old bondage doth hold under the yoke of sin. Through the same our Lord. …
The Epistle (Hebrews 1:1-12) God, Who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets, last of all in these days hath spoken to us by His Son, Whom He hath appointed heir of all things, by Whom also He made the world: Who being the brightness of His glory and the figure of His substance, and upholding all things by the word of His power, making purgation of sins, sits on the right hand of the Majesty on high: being made so much better than the angels as He hath inherited a more excellent name than they.
For to which of the angels hath He said at any time: Thou art My Son, today have I begotten Thee? And again: I will be to Him a Father, and He shall be to Me a Son? And again, when He brings in the first begotten into the world, He says: And let all the angels of God adore Him. And to the angels indeed He says: He that makes His angels spirits, and His ministers a flame of fire. But to the Son: Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of justice is the sceptre of Thy kingdom. Thou hast loved justice and hated iniquity: therefore God, Thy God, hath anointed Thee with the oil of gladness above Thy fellows. And: Thou in the beginning, O Lord, didst found the earth: and the works of Thy hands are the heavens. They shall perish, but Thou shalt continue; and they shall all grow old as a garment: and as a vesture shalt Thou change them, and they shall be changed: but Thou art the selfsame, and Thy years shall not fail..
The Gradual and Alleluia (Psalm 97:3, 4, 2) All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God: sing joyfully to God, all the earth. The Lord hath made known His salvation: He hath revealed His justice in the sight of the Gentiles. Alleluia, alleluia. A sanctified day hath shone upon us: come ye Gentiles and adore the Lord: for this day a great light hath descended upon the earth. Alleluia.
The Gospel (John 1:1-14) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him, and without Him was made nothing that was made: in Him was life, and the life was the Light of men; and the Light shines in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to give testimony of the Light, that all might believe through Him. He was not the Light, but he was to give testimony of the Light. That was the true Light, which enlightens every man that cometh into this world. He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not. He came unto His own, and His own received Him not. But as many as received Him, He gave them power to become sons of God, to them that believe in His Name, who are born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. [Here all kneel.] And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us: and we saw His glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
Preface of the Nativity It is truly meet and just, right and for our salvation, that we should at all times and in all places give thanks unto Thee, O holy Lord, Father almighty, eternal God: for through the Mystery of the Word made flesh, new radiance from Thy glory hath so shone on the eye of the soul that the recognition of our God made visible draws us to love what is invisible. And therefore with Angels and Archangels, with Thrones and Dominations, and with all the hosts of the heavenly army we sing a hymn to Thy glory, evermore saying:
Offertory (Psalm 88:12,15) Thine are the heavens, and Thine is the earth, the world and the fullness thereof Thou hast founded: justice and judgment are the preparation of Thy throne. Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. How shall this be done in me, because I know not man? The Spirit of the Lord shall come upon you, and the power of the most High shall overshadow you. And therefore also the Holy which shall be born out of you shall be called the Son of God.
The Secret Sanctify, O Lord, the gifts offered to Thee by the new birth of Thine only-begotten Son: and cleanse us from the stains of our sins. Through the same our Lord.
Communion (Psalm 97:3) All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our Lord. a Virgin shall conceive, and bring forth a Son : and his name shall be called Emmanuel.
Post-Communion Grant, we beseech Thee, almighty God, that as the Saviour of the world born on this day is the Author of our heavenly birth, so He may Himself also be to us the Giver of immortality: Who with Thee lives and reigns.
Gratitude and the Spirit of Christmas
When we speak of the “Spirit of Christmas”, what do we mean? Surely it is a powerful feeling of worship directed to the Christ-child who was truly God and truly Man, and was born into this world two thousand years ago, that we might learn the ways and commandments of God, live holy lives, and be united in heaven with Him, His Holy Mother, and all the saints. So the Spirit of Christmas is what fills our hearts with the love and worship of the Holy Infant of Bethlehem, and all that has to do with Him and His Holy Will.
This great feast has renewed humanity for two thousand years. It has filled hearts, and displaced darkness, anger, resentment, envy, all the sins, and all sinful impulses. When we are moved by the spirit of Christmas we will know joy, we will feel like children, pure in heart, suspecting no evil, seeing goodness because we see God in the world He created. In short, the spirit of Christmas brings innocence, purity and wonder. It brings the deep-felt desire to be a good child of God the Father.
This worship of God as we contemplate the Nativity of the Lord, includes a profound gratitude to God, whose Only Begotten Son was made man in the knowledge that He would suffer for us. It includes love of humanity, for when we worship God as His children, we must also recognise that we are all children of the common Father, and so, we can truly say that – before God – we are all brothers and sisters.
This virtue of gratitude is what we Catholics term an “infused virtue”, meaning a virtue which is given to us by the grace of God. Through these infused virtues, we have the great privilege of friendship with God. Our relationship with God is made possible and is sustained through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Christmas is the feast of our possible relationship with God, and for this we have reason to be deeply and forever grateful.
Let us examine gratitude a little more. First of all, the very word includes in itself a reference to “grace”. The Latin root of both words, “grace” and “gratitude”, is gratia. It refers to something given as a favour. We still speak of something done for no pay as having been done “gratis”. When we speak ethically, we say that “gratitude” is the morally right response of a beneficiary (someone who has received a grace or favour) to their benefactor (the one who has bestowed or given the grace or favour).
“Gratitude”, in Catholic ethics, is not just an internal feeling: no, it is that feeling plus the corresponding repayment. Gratitude, for the Catholic, is enacted. For this reason, St Thomas Aquinas understands gratitude as being a part of the virtue of justice. Through gratitude to God, we become like Him. We begin by acknowledging the gift, by giving thanks, and repaying it so far as we can. Since only God can repay God, our greatest possible act of gratitude is to offer Him His Only son in the Eucharistic sacrifice of the Mass. The Mass is our thanks enacted, hence its name “the Eucharistic”, from the Greek word to give thanks.
To be ungrateful to our benefactors is therefore to be unjust. But neither should people attempt to use what they have done for us as leverage. Our giving must be unconditional if it is done with the right intention. Itis wrong to say that because I have done X. for you, then you are under an obligation to do Y. for me. As Our Lord said: “So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honoured by men. Amen, I say to you, they have their reward in full”. (Matthew 6:2)
One final thought: as a great man says, “The cure for our human anxiety is gratitude to God.”
Resources for the EFM
I am today (21 December) preparing my Mass for Christmas Day, and not being at the cathedral, had to find some materials on-line to substitute for the books I have in my office. To my pleasant surprise, I came across this site: https://sermonry.com
And what should I find there but handy links to commentaries, most notably to the Catena aurea for the Gospel. The Catena aurea, or “the golden chain” is a massive collection of excerpts from the Fathers, arranged as a commentary on the Gospels compiled by St Thomas Aquinas. St John Henry Newman, one of my patrons, arranged for its translation into English. It is an excellent resource not so much for a five minute homily, but for reflection. A priest who has a good deal of experience, and whom I consider wise, once commented to me that it is not ideal for putting a homily together. However, it does help you meditate on the Gospel. Here, as an example, is what it has from St Augustine for today’s Gospel. As you will see, it is not something a priest could use in his sermon to the average parish, but it is very deep
St Augustine (on John 1).
Now the Word of God is a Form, not a formation, but the Form of all forms, a Form unchangeable, removed form accident, from failure, from time, from space, surpassing all things, and existing in all things as a kind of foundation underneath, and summit above them.
… Words by their daily use, sound, and passage out of us, have become common things. But there is a word which remains inward, in the very man himself; distinct from the sound which proceeds out of the mouth. There is a word, which is truly and spiritually that, which you understand by the sound, not being the actual sound.
Now whoever can conceive the notion of word, as existing not only before its sound, but even before the idea of its sound is formed, may see enigmatically, and as it were in a glass, some similitude of that Word of Which it is said, “In the beginning was the Word.” For when we give expression to something which we know, the word used is necessarily derived from the knowledge thus retained in the memory, and must be of the same quality with that knowledge. For a word is a thought formed from a thing which we know; which word is spoken in the heart, being neither Greek nor Latin, nor of any language, though, when we want to communicate it to others, some sign is assumed by which to express it …
Wherefore the word which sounds externally, is a sign of the word which lies hid within, to which the name of word more truly appertains. For that which is uttered by the mouth of our flesh, is the voice of the word; and is in fact called word, with reference to that from which it is taken, when it is developed externally.
As our knowledge differs from God’s, so does our word, which arises from our knowledge, differ from that Word of God, which is born of the Father’s essence; we might say, from the Father’s knowledge, the Father’s wisdom, or, more correctly, the Father Who is Knowledge, the Father Who is Wisdom.
The Word of God then, the Only-Begotten Son of the Father, is in all things like and equal to the Father; being altogether what the Father is, yet not the Father; because the one is the Son, the other the Father. And thereby He knows all things which the Father knows; yet His knowledge is from the Father, even as is His being: for knowing and being are the same with Him; and so as the Father’s being is not from the Son, so neither is His knowing. …
With respect however to our own inner word, which we find, in whatever sense, to be like the Word, let us not object to see how very unlike it is also. A word is a formation of our mind going to take place, but not yet made, and something in our mind which we toss to and fro in a slippery circuitous way, as one thing and another is discovered, or occurs to our thoughts. When this, which we toss to and fro, has reached the subject of our knowledge, and been formed therefrom, when it has assumed the most exact likeness to it, and the conception has quite answered to the thing; then we have a true word. Who may not see how great the difference is here from that Word of God …