The Old Is Better

The Old Is Better

Midnight Mass

Everything about the Incarnate Word stuns us. We can try to imagine what we would do were we to be omnipotent God. But omnipotent God chooses the path the leaves us bewildered. What can we say?

Into a dark world comes the light; into a proud world comes a babe; into a sensual world comes a cross; into a violent world comes meekness; into a rich, self-complacent world comes poverty.

God be praised for the marvellous example He gives us of trampling underfoot all that men hold dear. Had he not done so, we, like all others, would be exhausting ourselves in the pursuit of wind. But he has shown us the path. He has opened a new way, the way of poverty, chastity and obedience.

He has taught us how to embrace our crosses and our humiliations. He has shown us how we are to bear with all the hardships that are inseparable from life in this world, and He has given us the clearcut path to the heavenly kingdom.

He is the model of how we should deal with pagans and how we should be prepared to go without many things, and to suffer persecution. But He also shows us how to endure scorn and humiliation from those who should welcome us with open arms.

In the past months and especially the last week, we who are devoted to the liturgical traditions of our Church have felt ourselves marginalised by the very Church we love. We have been pushed to the peripheries by the “sweet Christ on earth” who told us several years ago that the Church should reach out first and foremost to those peripheries, that they feel welcome in the family of God. We have felt keenly this week what it means to be tolerated for only a time, denied a place in the inn.

The example of Christ Our Lord on this night, along with His holy Mother and St Joseph, gives us great courage and incentive, for those who denied them a place in their homes are the very ones they had every right to look to for support. He came into His own and His own received Him not. We are in our own, in that rich liturgical tradition that has been handed down to us a a most precious family heirloom, and our very own seek to deprive us of it. As we lovingly contemplate the example of the Holy Family on this night, we are comforted, and we remember those words of St Paul that we will hear at the dawn Mass:

We ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, deluded, slaves to various desires and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful ourselves and hating one another. But when the kindness and generous love of God our saviour appeared, not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of his mercy, he saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the holy Spirit, whom he richly poured out on us through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life. (Tit 3:3-7)

We ourselves were once foolish. Yes, let us never forget from where we have come, let us never forget the mercy shown us. We too were far, so very far. And now we have been brought so close through the Saviour’s incarnation. His kindness and generous love have appeared to us. We have seen them in the ancient forms of our sacred liturgy. That humanitas of the Saviour appears to us in all its sweet splendour in the ancient rite of Mass. On this holy night, let us be very attentive, even more than as is customary, to the tender love and care the traditional liturgy gives to the precious body of the Lord, the veneration it has for Him, the humility with which the priest touches, adores, elevates and reposes that most divine and august flesh of God, not on a metal paten, but on the soft linen cloth of the corporal, just as the Virgin will lay Him in swaddling clothes. Let us join with the holy angels as we adore during the silence of the Canon the awesome mystery of Emmanuel, God among us. As we kneel in silent adoration to receive the Lord in Holy Communion, let us join with the Shepherds and the Magi, prostrate and adoring, offering our gifts. Taking our cue from St Ignatius, who celebrated this very same Mass that are privileged to have and to offer, let us make ourselves “poor little unworthy slaves, and as though present, look upon them, contemplate them, and serve them in their needs with all possible homage and reverence” (Sp. Ex, 114), expression which seems to capture the very attitude of the priest at the altar in the ancient rites.

On this night, let us be conscious that we, like Mary and Joseph, are privileged to enter into the mysteries of such venerable ceremonies, not because of any merit of our own, but simply because He is good. Let us learn with Him to recollect ourselves in humble, deep, prolonged prayer. If some speak ill of us, so be it. If some brush us aside, so be it. If some say that we are antiquated and need to get in line, so be it. If some say that we are proud and stubborn, so be it. We can only be who we are, we can only bear witness to what we have seen. We who have tasted the wine, can only repeat, with all the conviction of those who know: “the old is better” (Luke 5:39).