Mgr Francesco Follo, 17 Déc. 2018 © Mgr Francesco Follo

Archbishop Follo: Christmas Meditation

With the invitation to receive the child Jesus with the same astonishment of Mary, of Joseph and of the shepherds

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                                                     Christmas

                                             December 25, 2019

                    The Child Jesus is born. Heaven has come to earth,

                                            bringing blessing and joy.

 

Mass at Midnight: Is 9:2-4 6-7; Ti 2:11-14; Lk 2:1-14

Mass at Dawn:       Is 62:11=12; Ti 3:4-7; Lk 2:15-20

Mass During the Day: Is 52:7-10; Heb 1:1-6; Jn 1:1-18

 

  • Mass at Midnight: the feast of Heaven

In the night of the world that Advent has lighted during the busy waiting for the fullness of time, Jesus the Son of God comes on Earth and gives light to the eyes of the mind and of the heart. The Word becomes the flesh that we can not only hear but also see. Now it is possible to meet the Word of God that is born into the world. We are called to grow in the faith that God has become man. We are called to see Him in a manger and as defenseless child. We are called to celebrate this manifestation of God’s Love that today becomes flesh through the “yes” of our heart.

Christmas is so permeated with mystery that the liturgy proposes three Masses[1] to celebrate it, allowing us to live three moments of the amazement and joy of the Church for the birth of the Savior.

The first moment is the Mass at Midnight that begins with the chant of the Introit: “I will proclaim the decree of the LORD; he said to me, “You are my son; today I have begotten you.”(Ps 3,7)

     It is the moment of the Father. His good and loving will “uses” heaven, earth and mankind’s will to give birth in Bethlehem (the City of Bread) to the Bread of Angels, and to donate Him to humanity as the food of true life.

It is the moment of the blessed Mother. Mary, in her first encounter with the Son, wraps him in swaddling clothes and takes care of Him with humble gestures. Her job as a mother is an act of adoration of the incarnated Creator who needs to be washed and clothed like every newborn. The dingy environment of the cave doesn’t sadden Mary. The Father takes charge to organize the feast for the birth into times of His Son, and sends a festive array of Angels that sing, “Glory to God in the highest and peace on Earth for men, all loved by God”

It is a small event that is not registered in any historic chronicle, but it is the event that has changed the world. That is: God has become king on Earth becoming a child and the Father who is in Heaven, through the angels, invites humanity to celebrate because “the Lord is born.” What is the sign for this extraordinary event? A baby wrapped and lying in a manger. Nothing special. He is a baby like all the others wrapped babies, and he cannot move because he is lying in swaddling clothes. Thanks to God the shepherds trusted the words of the Angels.

  • The Mass at Dawn; the Feast of the Earth

When the Angels, ascending to heaven, went away, the shepherds started to say, “‘Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So, they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child.(Lk 2:15-20) The shepherds went, saw the sign pointed out to them by Heaven and believed. They believed because they knew how to go from the extraordinary event of the Angels singing in the sky to the humble ordinary event in a cave. These poor men were able to act as did God becoming a child. Like God who is in the highest took the way of humility, so did the shepherds. In fact, to meet God we must do as he does: “to descend’ toward our poor, suffering, thirsty, naked, sick and imprisoned brothers. With the incarnation, His place is there. He identified himself with these people and continues to do it even now. This is the great joy that we hear today: God has sent us the Savior. If from one side we are poor of life and chained to the necessity to be saved, on the other side this Christmas – but not only today – we are sent to the poor and the prisoners because we are part of Salvation that is a joy to share.

The feast of Heaven, where the Angels sing glory to God and peace to men on Earth, starts becoming a feast of the Earth where the gift to see the divine Child and his Mother is given to poor shepherds. The shepherds are the first witnesses and the first fortunate participants to this feast of salvation donated by the God rich in mercy.  On them, and thanks to them, today the light shines on us because the Savior is born: Almighty God is his name, Prince of peace, Father of eternity. His kingdom will never end (Antiphon of the introit of the Mass at Dawn)

The second Mass of Christmas, called Mass at Dawn, celebrates the first manifestation of the Word to humanity represented by the shepherds that adored the “shortened”[2] Word in a newborn. The shepherds accepted the Baby Jesus as “the only heart of their hearts” (Saint Pious of Pietralcina) and received comfort and strength: full joy. As soon as they saw in the dim light of the Stable a young beautiful Woman in silent adoration of her son, and saw the child who had just open his eyes to the world, his little body and little mouth, their hearts melted , their minds were open and they believed. They were happy because the heavens had been open, and man was not any more a vagrant on the road of the world: he has found the way of truth and true life.

For them the sentence of the prologue of the Gospel of John became true: “But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God.” (Jn 1:12). Saint Gregory of Nazianzus comments as follows the great event of Christmas where the Word become flesh “Man now assumes his true dimension because he is not truly a man but in God. Is there a presence in God stronger than divine filiation? Now the exiled King returns to the Earth prepared for him, and at the same time man find his ‘place,’ his true home and his true country: God”

  • The Mass During the Day: the Feast of Light

      The third moment that the Church celebrates in the Mass called During the Day is the eternal birth of the Son of God in the womb of his Father.  At Midnight the liturgy makes us celebrate the God-Man that is born to the Virgin in a Manger.  At Dawn we remember the divine Child that is born in the heart of the shepherds that is us. During the third celebration the Church celebrates a birth much more amazing than the previous two, a birth whose light blinds the eyes of the Angels and that is the eternal testimony of the sublime fecundity of our God. The son of Mary is also the Son of God. Our duty is to proclaim today the glory of this indescribable generation of God from God, of Light from Light.

If in the Mass at Midnight we, together with the Father, have given thanks also to the Virgin Mary, and if in the Mass at Dawn we have received the invitation to imitate the shepherds, in the Mass during the Day we celebrate Christ who is the Light. He has illuminated the cosmos of creation and has shaped man in the most sublime light of the intellect and in the image of God so that man can become all light, defying himself through faith and the works that please God and reaching the everlasting day that never turns into night.

Saint Jerome says that for the saint even sleep is prayer. Saint Gregory of Nazianzus wants his sleep to be short so that he will not miss the opportunity to be the echo of the everlasting singing of angels praising God. Moreover, he wants that even when his body sleeps, his soul must be awake conversing with the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost: with God.

The consecrated Virgins are dedicated to this vigilant prayer. These chosen women have answered promptly to the Lord who to every one of them has lovingly said “I’ll make you my bride in justice and in right, in love and in goodness. I will make you my bride in loyalty and you will know the Lord.” The bride that “knows”, loves and feels to be loved is vigilant and not just when she is waiting for the groom, just like the wise virgins of the Gospel.  With the burning lamp of love and a good reserve of oil that means perseverance, vigilance and readiness in listening, the consecrated Virgin vigils every day with Christ, carries the light of Christ to the world and reminds all of the significance of today’s mystery “The true light that illuminates every man that is born (see Jn 1; 9), has come. All of us, my brothers, are illuminated and all shine. Let no one be excluded from this splendor, nobody should persist to remain immerse in darkness”. (Saint Sophronius , bishop. Speech # 3 on “ Hypapante” 6,7; page 87, 3,3291-3293)

 

SPIRITUAL READING

The First Life of St. Francis

by Thomas of Celano

Of the manger that he made on Christmas day

There was in that place a man named John, of good repute, but of better life, whom blessed Francis loved with special affection, because, having been a man of the most noble and honorable position in his town, he had trampled on the nobility of the flesh, and followed after the nobility of the mind. This man did blessed Francis send for (as he was often wont) about fifteen days before the Nativity of the Lord, and said to him, “If you will that we celebrate the present festival of the Lord at Greccio, make haste to go before and diligently prepare what I tell you. For I would make memorial of that Child who was born in Bethlehem, and in some sort behold with bodily eyes His infant hardships; how He lay in a manger on the hay, with the ox and the ass standing by.” When the good and faithful man heard it, he made haste and prepared in the aforesaid place all the things that the Saint had told him of.
. The day of gladness drew nigh, the time of exultation arrived. The brethren were summoned from many places;53 the men and women of that town with exulting hearts prepared tapers and torches, as they were able to illuminate that night which with its radiant Star has illuminated all the days and years. At length the Saint of God came, and finding all things prepared, beheld them and rejoiced. The manger had been made ready, the hay ass was led in.

There Simplicity was honored, Poverty exalted, Humility commended; and of Greccio there was made as it were a new Bethlehem. The night was lit up as the day and was delightful to men and beasts. The people came, and at the new Mystery rejoiced with new rejoicing. The woodland rang with voices, the rocks made answer to the jubilant throng. The brethren sang, yielding due praises to the Lord, and all that night resounded with jubilation. The Saint of God stood before the manger, full of sighs, overcome with tenderness and filled with wondrous joy. The solemnities of Mass were celebrated over the manger, and the priest enjoyed a new consolation.

53 A technical term by which the early Franciscan convents were known [see the explanation above].
The Saint of God was vested with Levitical ornaments, for he was a Levite,54 and with sonorous voice chanted the holy Gospel–an earnest, sweet, clear and loud-sounding voice; inviting all to the highest rewards. Then he preached to the people who stood around, and uttered mellifluous words concerning the birth of the poor King and the little town of Bethlehem. (And often, when he would name Christ Jesus, aglow with exceeding love he would call Him the Child of Bethlehem, and, uttering the word “Bethlehem” in the manner of a sheep bleating, he filled his mouth with the sound, but even more his whole self with the sweet affection. Moreover, in naming “the Child of Bethlehem” or “Jesus” he would, as it were, lick his lips, relishing with happy palate, and swallowing the sweetness of that word.) There the gifts of the Almighty were multiplied, and a vision of wondrous efficacy was seen by a certain man; for in the manger he saw a little child lying lifeless, to whom the Saint of God seemed to draw near and (as it were) to rouse the child from the lethargy of sleep. Nor was this vision incongruous; for the child Jesus had been given over to forgetfulness in the hearts of many in whom, by the working of His Grace, He was raised up again through His servant Francis and imprinted on a diligent memory.

At length the solemn vigil was ended, and each one returned with joy to his own place.

54[Clerical robes. A Levite is technically a person in minor clerical orders although it can be used of a deacon as well. Francis never became a priest.]

 

[1] The Gelasian and Gregorian Sacramentary tell of the three Masses. However, at the beginning of the V century there was only one Mass, the one of the Day, which was celebrated in Saint Peter Church. The institution of the Midnight Mass happened at the end of the V century. To explain why we have three Masses Dom Prosper Guerenguer, OSB, wrote that they “were needed “to celebrate Three births: “Why three Births? He is born tonight from the Blessed Virgin; He will be borne by Grace in the hearts of the shepherds that are the beginning of Christianity; he will be born forever in the heart of His Father in the splendor of Saints: this triple birth must be honored with a triple homage”.

[2] “Quickly will the Lord execute sentence upon the earth “(Rm 9, 28 Is 10,230). On Christmas 2006, Pope Benedict XVI commented this biblical sentence: “The Fathers interpreted this sentence having two meanings. The Son is the Word, the Logos; the eternal Word has become little- so little to enter in a manger. It has become a child so that we can understand the Word. In this way God teaches us how to love children”

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Archbishop Francesco Follo

Monsignor Francesco Follo è osservatore permanente della Santa Sede presso l'UNESCO a Parigi.

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