Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christ Mass!

File:Lorenzo Lotto 017.jpg
The Nativity by Lorenzo Lotto, 1523AD.

Merry Christmas!  On this day a Saviour is born unto us!  Puer natus in Bethlehem!





For more on the history and customs of this great feast and solemnity:
Old Catholic Encyclopedia: Christmas

Fisheaters: Christmas Eve & Christmas Day

Fisheaters: Christmas Season Overview

Also, for a presentation of some gorgeous artwork featuring the Holy Nativity, I would encourage you to take a look at this page:
The Birth of Jesus in Art: 20 Gorgeous Paintings of the Nativity, Magi, and Shepherds


On a high feast as this, this blogger can hardly equal the great words of Scripture and men greater than himself.  So, for your edification, I present the Nativity account from the Gospel According to St. Luke, the entry from the Golden Legend of Blessed Jacobus de Voragine, OP, and the commentary on the feast by Dom Gueranger.


From the Gospel of St. Luke, Chapter 2:
---
And it came to pass that in those days there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled. 2 This enrolling was first made by Cyrinus, the governor of Syria3 And all went to be enrolled, every one into his own city.

4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem: because he was of the house and family of David5 To be enrolled with Mary his espoused wife, who was with child.

6 And it came to pass that when they were there, her days were accomplished that she should be delivered. 7 And she brought forth her first born son and wrapped him up in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger: because there was no room for them in the inn.

8 And there were in the same country shepherds watching and keeping the night watches over their flock. 9 And behold an angel of the Lord stood by them and the brightness of God shone round about them: and they feared with a great fear.

10 And the angel said to them: Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy that shall be to all the people: 11 For, this day is born to you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David12 And this shall be a sign unto you. You shall find the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger.

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army, praising God and saying: 14 "Glory to God in the highest: and on earth peace to men of good will."

And it came to pass, after the angels departed from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another: "Let us go over to Bethlehem and let us see this word that has come to pass, which the Lord has showed to us."

16 And they came with haste: and they found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger17 And seeing, they understood of the word that had been spoken to them concerning this child. 18 And all that heard wondered, and at those things that were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these words, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.
Cf., Gospel According to St. Luke, Chapter 2
---

Next, I present an entry from the Golden Legend of Blessed Jacobus de Voragine, OP, a 13th century bishop on the Nativity of Christ.  This is a lives of the Saints and the Liturgical Year commentary from 1275AD:

----
Here followeth the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ.

When the world had endured five thousand and nine hundred years, after Eusebius the holy saint, Octavian the Emperor commanded that all the world should be described, so that he might know how many cities, how many towns, and how many persons he had in all the universal world. Then was so great peace in the earth that all the world was obedient to him. And therefore our Lord would be born in that time, that it should be known that he brought peace from heaven. And this Emperor commanded that every man should go into the towns, cities or villages from whence they were of, and should bring with him a penny in acknowledgment that he was subject to the Empire of Rome. And by so many pence as should be found received, should be known the number of the persons.

Joseph which then was of the lineage of David, and dwelled in Nazareth, went into the city of Bethlehem, and led with him the Virgin Mary his wife. And when they were come thither, because the hostelries were all taken up, they were constrained to be without in a common place where all people went. And there was a stable for an ass that he brought with him, and for an ox. In that night our Blessed Lady and Mother of God was delivered of our Blessed Saviour upon the hay that lay in the rack. 

At which nativity our Lord shewed many marvels. For because that the world was in so great peace, the Romans had done made a temple which was named the Temple of Peace, in which they counselled with Apollo to know how long it should stand and endure. Apollo answered to them that, it should stand as long till a maid had brought forth and borne a child. And therefore they did do write on the portal of the Temple: Lo! this is the temple of peace that ever shall endure. For they supposed well that a maid might never bear Bethlehem, there may ye find him wrapt in clouts. And anon, as the angel had said this, a areas multitude of angels appeared with him, and began to sing. Honour, glory and health be to God on high, and in the earth peace to men of goodwill. Then said the shepherds, let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing. And when they came they found like as the angel had said.

And it happed this night that all the sodomites that did sin against nature were dead and extinct; for God hated so much this sin, that he might not suffer that nature human, which he had taken, were delivered to so great shame. Whereof S. Austin saith that, it lacked but little that God would not become man for that sin.

In this time Octavian made to cut and enlarge the ways and quitted the Romans of all the debts that they owed to him. This feast of Nativity of our Lord is one of the greatest feasts of all the year, and for to tell all the miracles that our Lord hath showed, it should contain a whole book; but at this time I shall leave and pass over save one thing that I have heard once preached of a worshipful doctor, that what person being in clean life desire on this day a boon of God, as far as it is rightful and good for him, our Lord at the reverence of this blessed high feast of his Nativity will grant it to him. Then let us always make us in clean life at this feast that we may so please him, that after this short life we may come unto his bliss. Amen
Source.
The Golden Legend or Lives of the Saints. Compiled by Jacobus de Voragine, Archbishop of Genoa, 1275. First Edition Published 1470. Englished by William Caxton, First Edition 1483, Edited by F.S. Ellis, Temple Classics, 1900 (Reprinted 1922, 1931.)
This chapter is from: Volume 1: Nativity
Cf.: Medieval Sourcebook: Golden Legend Nativity
----

Finally, from the Liturgical Year by the splendid Dom Gueranger:
---
"The Mystery of Christmas"
from Dom Gueranger's "The Liturgical Year"
Everything is Mystery in this holy season. The Word of God, whose generation is before the day-star, is born in time -- a Child is God -- a Virgin becomes a Mother, and remains a Virgin -- things divine are commingled with those that are human -- and the sublime, the ineffable antithesis, expressed by the Beloved Disciple in those words of his Gospel, THE WORD WAS MADE FLESH, is repeated in a thousand different ways in all the prayers of the Church: -- and rightly, for it admirably embodies the whole of the great portent which unites in one Person the nature of Man and the nature of God.

The splendour of this Mystery dazzles the understanding, but it inundates the heart with joy. It is the consummation of the designs of God in time. It is the endless subject of admiration and wonder to the Angels and Saints; nay, is the source and cause of their beatitude. Let us see how the Church offers this Mystery to her children, veiled under the symbolism of the liturgy.
The Nativity, by the Master of Salzburg
The four weeks of our preparation are over -- they were the image of the four thousand years which preceded the great coming -- and we have reached the twenty-fifth day of the month of December, as a long desired place of sweetest rest. But why is it that the celebration of our Saviour's Birth should be the perpetual privilege of this one fixed day; whilst the whole liturgical Cycle has, every year, to be changed and remodelled in order to yield to that ever-varying day which is to be the feast of his Resurrection -- Easter Sunday?

The question is a very natural one, and we find it proposed and answered as far back as the fourth century; and that, too, by St. Augustine, in his celebrated Epistle to Januarius. The holy Doctor offers this explanation: We solemnise the day of our Saviour's Birth, in order that we may honour that Birth, which was for our salvation; but the precise day of the week on which he was born, is void of any mystical signification. Sunday, on the contrary, the day of our Lord's Resurrection, is the day marked in the Creator's designs, to express a mystery which was to be commemorated for all ages. St. Isidore of Seville, and the ancient Interpreter of Sacred Rites who, for a long time, was supposed to be the learned Alcuin, have also adopted this explanation of the Bishop of Hippo; and our readers may see their words interpreted by Durandus, in his Rationale.

These writers, then, observe that as, according to a sacred tradition, the creation of man took place on a Friday, and our Saviour suffered death also on a Friday for the redemption of man; that as, moreover, the Resurrection of our Lord was on the third day after his death, that is, on a Sunday, which is the day on which the Light was created, as welearn from the Book of Genesis -- 'the two Solemnities of Jesus' Passion and Resurrection,' says St. Augustine, 'do not only remind us of those divine facts; but they moreover represent and signify some other mysterious and holy thing.'

And yet we are not to suppose that because the Feast of Jesus' Birth is not fixed to any particular day of the week, there is no mystery expressed by its always being on the twenty-fifth of December. For firstly we may observe, with the old Liturgists, that the Feast of Christmas is kept by turns on each of the days of the week, that thus its holiness may cleanse and rid them of the curse which Adam's sin had put upon them. But secondly, the great mystery of the twenty-fifth of December, being the Feast of our Saviour's Birth, has reference, not to the division of time marked out by God Himself, but to the course of that great Luminary which gives life to the world, because it gives light and warmth. Jesus, our Saviour, the Light of the World, was born when the night of idolatry and crime was at its darkest; and the day of his Birth, the twenty-fifth of December, is that on which the material sun begins to gain his ascendancy over the reign of gloomy night, and show to the world his triumph of brightness.

In our Advent, we showed after the Holy Fathers, that the diminution of physical light may be considered as emblematic of those dismal times which preceded the Incarnation. We joined our prayers with those of the people of the Old Testament; and with our holy mother the Church we cried out to the Divine Orient, the Sun of Justice, that he would deign to come and deliver us from the twofold death of body and soul. God has heard our prayers; and it is on the day of the Winter Solstice -- which the Pagans of old made so much of by their fears and rejoicings -- that He gives us both the increase of the natural light, and him who is the Light of our souls.

St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Ambrose, St. Maximus of Turin, St. Leo, St. Bernard, and the principal liturgists, dwell with complacency on this profound mystery, which the Creator of the universe has willed should mark both the natural and the supernatural world. We shall find the Church also making continual allusion to it during this season of Christmas, as she did in that of Advent.

'On this the Day which the Lord hath made,' says St. Gregory of Nyssa, 'darkness decreases, light increases, and Night is driven back again. No, brethren, it is not by chance, nor by any created will, that this natural change begins on the day when he shows himself in the brightness of his coming, which is the spiritual Life of the world. It is Nature revealing, under this symbol, a secreet to them whose eye is quick enough to see it; to them, I mean, who are able to appreciate this circumstance of our Savious's coming. Nature seems to me to say: Know, O Man! that under the things which I show thee Mysteries lie concealed. Hast thou not seen the night, that had grown so long, suddenly checked? Learn hence, that the black night of Sin, which had reached its height by the accumulation of every guilty device, is this day stopped in its course. Yes, from this day forward its duration shall be shortened, until at length there shall be naught but Light. Look, I pray thee, on the Sun; and see how his rays are stronger, and his position higher in the heavens: learn from that how the other Light, the Light of the Gospel, is now shedding itself over the whole earth.'

'Let us, my Brethren, rejoice,' cries out St. Augustine, 'this day is sacred, not because of the visible sun, but because of the Birth of him who is the invisible Creator of the sun... He chose this day whereon to be born, as he chose the Mother of whom to be born, and he bade borh the day and the Mother. The day he chose was that on which the light begins to increase, and it typifies the work of Christ, who renews our interior man day by day. For the eternal Creator having willed to be born in time, his Birthday would necessarily be in harmony with the rest of his creation.'

The same holy Father, in another sermon for the same Feast, gives us the interpretation of a mysterious expression of St. John the Baptist, which admirably confirms the tradition of the Church. The great Precursor said on one occasion, when speaking of Christ: He must increase, but I must decrease. These prophetic words signify, in their literal sense, that the Baptist's mission was at its close, because Jesus was entering upon his. But they convey, as St. Augustine assures us, a second meaning: 'John came into this world at the season of the year when the length of the day decreases; Jesus was born in the season when the length of the day increases. Thus there is mystery both in the rising of that glorious Star, the Baptist, at the summer solstice; and in the rising of our Divine Sun in the dark season of winter.'

There have been men who dared to scoff at Christianity as superstition, because they discovered that the ancient Pagans used to keep a feast of the sun on the winter solstice. In their shallow erudition they concluded that a Religion could not be divinely instituted, which had certain rites or customs originating in an analogy to certain phenomena of this world: in other words, these writers denied what Revelation asserts, namely, that God only created this world for the sake of his Christ and his Church. The very facts which these enemies to the true Faith are, to us Catholics, additional proof of its being worthy of our most devoted love.

Thus, then, have we explained the fundamental Mystery of these Forty Days of Christmas, by having shown the grand secret hidden in the choice made by God's eternal decree, that the twenty-fifth day of December should be the Birthday of God upon this earth. Let us now respectfully study another mystery: that which is involved in the place where this Birth happened.

This place is Bethlehem. Out of Bethlehem, says the Prophet, shall he come forth that is to be the Ruler in Israel. The Jewish Priets are well aware of the prophecy, and a few days hence will tell it to Herod. But why was this insignifant town chosen in preference to every other to be the birth-place of Jesus? Be attentive, Christians, to the mystery! The name of this City of David signifies the House of Bread: therefore did he, who is the living Bread come down from Heaven, choose it for his first visible home. Our Fathers did eat manna in the desert and are dead, but lo! here is the Saviour of the world, come to give life to his creature Man by means of his own divine Flesh, which is meat indeed. Up to this time the Creator and the creature had been separated from each other; henceforth they shall abide together in the closest union. The Ark of the Covenant, containing the manna which fed but the body, is now replaced by the Ark of a New Covenant, purer and more incorruptible than the other: the incomparable Virgin Mary, who gives us Jesus, the Bread of Angels, the nourishment which will give us a divine transformation; for this Jesus himself has said: He that eateth my flesh abideth in me, and I in him.

It was for this divine transformation that the world was in expectation for four thousand years, and for which the Church has prepared herself by the four weeks of Advent. It has come at last, and Jesus is about to enter within us, if we will but receive him. He asks to be united with each one of us in particular, just as he is united by his Incarnation to the whole human race; and for this end, he wishes to become our Bread, our spiritual nourishment. His coming into the souls of men at this mystic season has no other aim than this union. He comes not to judge the world, but that the world may be saved by him, and that all may have life, and may have it more abundantly. This divine Lover of our souls will not be satisfied, therefore, until he have substituted himself in our place, so that we may live not we ourselves, but he in us; and in order that this mystery may be effected in a sweeter way, it is under the form on an Infant that this Beautiful Fruit of Bethlehem wishes first to enter into us, there to grow afterwards in wisdom and age before God and men.

And when, having thus visited us by his grace and nourished us in his love, he shall have changed us into himself, there shall be accomplished in us a still further mystery. Having become one in spirit and heart with Jesus, the Son of the heavenly Father, we shall also become sons of this same God our Father. The Beloved Disciple, speaking of this our dignity, cries out: Behold! what manner of charity the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we  should be called, and should be the Sons of God? We will not now stay to consider this immense happiness of the Christian soul, as we shall have a more fitting occasion, farther on, to speak of it, and show by what means it is to be maintained and increased.

There is another subject, too, which we regret being obliged to notice only in a passing way. It is, that, from the day itself of our Saviour's Birth even to the day of our Lady's Purification, there is, in the Calendar, an extraordinary richness of Saints' Feasts, doing homage to the master feast of Bethlehem, and clustering in adoring love round the Crib of the Infant-God. To say nothing of the four great Stars which shine so brightly near our Divine Sun, from whom they borrow all their own grand beauty -- St. Stephen, St. John the Evangelist, the Holy Innocents, and our own St. Thomas of Canterbury: what other portion of the Liturgical Year is there that can show within the same number of days so brilliant a constellation? The Apostolic College contributes its two grand luminaries, St. Peter and St. Paul: the first in his Chair of Rome; the second in the miracle of his Conversion. The Martyr-host sends us the splendid champions of Christ, Timothy, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp, Vincent, and Sebastian. The radiant line of Roman Pontiffs lends us four of its glorious links, named Sylvester, Telesphorus, Hyginus and Marcellus. The sublime school of holy Doctors offers us Hilary, John Chrysostom, and Ildephonsus; and in their company stands a fourth Bishop -- the amiable Francis de Sales. The Confessor-kingdom is represented by Paul the Hermit, Anthony the conqueror of Satan, Maurus the Apostle of the Cloister, Peter Nolasco the deliverer of captives, and Raymond of Pennafort, the oracle of Canon Law and guide of the consciences of men. The army of defenders of the Church deputes the pious King Canute, who died in defence of our Holy Mother, and Charlemagne, who loved to sign himself 'the humble champion of the Church.' The choir of holy Virgins gives us the sweet Agnes, the generous Emerentiana, the invincible Martina. And lastly, from the saintly ranks which stand below the Virgins -- the holy Widow -- we have Paula, the enthusiastic lover of Jesus' Crib. Truly, our Christmastide is a glorious festive season! What magnificence in its Calendar! What a banquet for us in its Liturgy!

A word upon the symbolism of the colours used by the Church during this season. White is her Christmas Vestment; and she employs this colour at every service from Christmas Day to the Octave of the Epiphany. To honour her two Martyrs, Stephen and Thomas of Canterbury, she vests in red; and to condole with Rachel wailing her murdered Innocents, she puts on purple; but these are the only exceptions. On every other day of the twenty she expresses, by her white robes, the gladness to which the Angels invited the world, the beauty of our Divine Sun that has risen in Bethlehem, the spotless purity of the Virgin-Mother, and the clean-heartedness which they should have who come to worship at the mystic Crib.

During the remaining twenty days, the Church vests in accordance with the Feast she keeps; she varies the colour so as to harmonize either with the red Roses which wreathe a Martyr, or with the white Amaranths which grace her Bishops and her Confessors, or again, with the spotless Lilies which crown her Virgins. On the Sundays which come during this time -- unless there occur a Feast requiring red or white or, unless Septuagesima has begun its three mournful weeks of preparation for Lent -- the colour of the Vestments is green. This, say the interpreters of the Liturgy, is to teach us that in the Birth of Jesus, who is the flower of the fields, we first received the hope of salvation, and that after the bleak winter of heathendom and the Synagogue, there opened the verdant spring-time of grace.

With this we must close our mystical interpretation of those rites which belong to Christmas in general. Our readers will have observed that there are many other sacred and symbolical usages, to which we have not even alluded; but as the mysteries to which they belong are peculiar to certain days, and are not, so to speak, common to this portion of the Liturgical Year, we intend to treat fully of them all, as we meet with them on their proper Feasts.
---

Merry Christmas, don't forget to keep the Mass in Christmas, and live well!

No comments:

Post a Comment