Father David's Reflection for Christmas Midnight 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: 1-6 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 translated: “as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ”).
1 See 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; 1 Samuel 9:16 and 16:12-13; Leviticus 8:12; Numbers 3:3.
2 John 14:12.
3 John 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.
5 Galatians 2:22-23.
6 Philippians 2:5-11.
What is the Good News? How do we come to appreciate it?
Begin every Mass consciously praising and thanking God. Listen to the words.