Psalm 96:1-3, -13
In 1983 I was in Ireland at the end of the Jubilee Year. Throughout all of the country you could find in every church a banner. On this banner was the image of a Celtic cross. Within the cross, there were eight frames each depicting the Advent/Christmas event. This started with the four Sundays of Advent followed by Christmas, Feast of Mary the Mother of God, Jesus’ temptations in the desert, and finally the Baptism of Jesus.
Just as it took a number of events in the life of Jesus to celebrate appropriately His truth for the Jubilee Year, so too at Christmas. The church finds it impossible to express in one liturgy the richness of this day. The Feast of Christmas is so rich the church assigns three masses to this day to capture the theological truth of this celebration. The Mass at Midnight celebrates the historical birth of Jesus. The Mass at Dawn celebrates the birth of Jesus as a liberating king, living among us. The Mass at Day celebrates the new age inaugurated in us the baptized.
Most children can relate to the Christmas story very readily. The birth of Jesus, the visit of the shepherds, the manger, the swaddling clothes, and the song of the angels. What is said beneath all the images is that #1. The incarnation of Christ happened among us in a very human condition. #2. The Divine is known in the Child (the angels sing, the night is illumined). #3. Only those of humble heart can know this Wonder. #4. It is the poor, the outcasts, the shepherds who see and believe. #5. The Child weak and voiceless, with neither legal rights or power will shake the kingdom and destroy evil. All this will be accomplished through a helpless child who comes to us in the middle of the night.
Fr. Kenneth O’Malley, C.P. is the archivist at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.