Christmas Day Mass
In the Day Mass of Christmas we have one of those not so rare instances in which the fare of Sacred Scripture of the ancient Roman Liturgy is richer than in the modern rite. The opening passage of the Epistle to the Hebrews haas been shortened by five verses, which are the following: And to the angels indeed he saith: He that maketh 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 shalt be changed. But thou art the selfsame: and thy years shall not fail. (Heb 1:7-12). In five verses the divinity of the newborn babe is unequivocally affirmed five times. How sad that they are not longer heard in our churches.
As for the Gospel, the prologue of St John which concludes daily the traditional Mass, which means that each day there is a double dose of the Holy Gospel in each Mass, is a passage that is so fundamental that St Augustine expressed the wish that it be carved in letters of gold on the facade of every church. It is also used in the traditional rite of exorcism, as being one of the passages of the Holy Gospel that most makes the demons tremble, for their is affirmed without any possible hesitation or doubt the divinity of the Word made flesh, who established the Church and the priesthood and which, therefore are fortified with all the power of that divinity.
It is true that in an age when the Church pretends to not impose herself on the world but to initiate a dialogue of service, the repetition of the prologue of St John is reminiscent of a so-called age of triumphalism. Yes, the Church is triumphant. She is the bride of the King of kings. Last night at Vespers, the very first antiphon began with the words Rex pacificus magnificatus est – the King of peace is glorified to the utter ends of the earth. On this day, let us renew our devotion to what is called the Last Gospel, only because it is recited at the end of the Mass. True, it is often recited in a subdued voice, sometimes rather quickly. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that it is a solemn proclamation of the faith of the Church in the divinity of Christ whom we have just received in Holy Communion. The genuflexion at the words Et Verbum Caro factum est unites us with the centuries of Christians who also knelt down at those words. They remind us of who we are and what we are for, and to what we are destined, and for what we are prepared to shed our blood. Et Verbum Caro factum est. The Eternal Word took flesh in the Virgin womb, and it is that same Word who continues the incarnation through the awesome mystery of transubstantiation. Such is our faith, and it is our joy to proclaim it each day by both word and action, for we are soul and body, and we need an incarnate liturgy.
And this is perhaps one of the greatest treasures of the ancient rites. When you attend the old Mass and discover it for the first time, you are struck by something indescribable, namely that it is an action, something is happening at the altar, the priest is very busy doing something that requires a lot of attention and devotion. One does not at first perceive, but if one perseveres, one comes to realise that the ancient Roman Mass is simply the most pure product of an incarnate liturgy, and an incarnate liturgy is the liturgy of an incarnate religion, and an incarnate religion is the religion of God who became incarnate in our flesh, and who, from the very moment, transformed everything. Everything is sacred, now that God has become one of us. Everything has a meaning, and those meanings are there, hidden in the ancient Mass like precious gems in a golden chalice.
Let us ask for the grace to die rather than lose that treasure.