Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Nativity of the Lord Christmas - Midnight


The Nativity of the Lord Christmas
Mass at Midnight

Mass at Dawn

Mass during the day

Readings for Midnight Mass[1][2]

Readings from the Jerusalem Bible
Readings and Commentary:[3]

Reading 1:
Isaiah 9:1-6

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom
a light has shone.
You have brought them abundant joy
and great rejoicing,
as they rejoice before you as at the harvest,
as people make merry when dividing spoils.
For the yoke that burdened them,
the pole on their shoulder,
and the rod of their taskmaster
you have smashed, as on the day of Midian.
For every boot that tramped in battle,
every cloak rolled in blood,
will be burned as fuel for flames.
For a child is born to us, a son is given us;
upon his shoulder dominion rests.
They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero,
Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.
His dominion is vast
and forever peaceful,
from David’s throne, and over his kingdom,
which he confirms and sustains
by judgment and justice,
both now and forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this!
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Commentary on
Is 9:1-6

It is presumed by some scholars that this oracle of Isaiah was developed as a liturgical piece used to celebrate the ascension of a king to the throne of Israel. The Prophet, however, speaks here of the “ideal or ultimate” king, Emmanuel [Immanuel] (see
Isaiah 7:14) not a historical person but a predicted future king (we of course see the Messiah in hindsight). The symbolism describes freedom from enslavement (The image of a yoked beast of burden is commonly used in this context) as the taskmaster (enslaver) is cast off.

The oracle celebrates this future King and Messiah as one who brings Wisdom from God and peace for all times. The passage concludes identifying the source or lineage of this Christ as from David’s line and references his promised succession.

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Responsorial Psalm:
Psalm 96: 1-2, 2-3, 11-12, 13

R. (Lk 2:11) Today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord.

Sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all you lands.
Sing to the LORD; bless his name.
R. Today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord.

Announce his salvation, day after day.
Tell his glory among the nations;
among all peoples, his wondrous deeds.
R. Today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord.

Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice;
let the sea and what fills it resound;
let the plains be joyful and all that is in them!
Then shall all the trees of the forest exult.
R. Today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord.

They shall exult before the LORD, for he comes;
for he comes to rule the earth.
He shall rule the world with justice
and the peoples with his constancy.
R. Today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord.
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Commentary on
Ps 96: 1-2, 2-3, 11-12, 13

Announce his salvation, day after day.” This song of praise to the Lord invites all humanity to participate in God’s salvation. “This psalm has numerous verbal and thematic contacts with
Isaiah Chapters 40-55, as does Psalm 98. Another version of the psalm is 1 Chron 16:23-33.”[4]

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Reading II:
Titus 2:11-14

Beloved:
The grace of God has appeared, saving all
and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires
and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age,
as we await the blessed hope,
the appearance of the glory of our great God
and savior Jesus Christ,
who gave himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness
and to cleanse for himself a people as his own, eager to do what is good.
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Commentary on
Ti 2:11-14

St. Paul gives a summary of Christian behavioral norms under the instruction and influence of the Holy Spirit (“For the grace of God has appeared…”). His language clearly implies that he expects the imminent return of Christ in the Parousia, the final judgment.

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Gospel :
Luke 2:1-14

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus
that the whole world should be enrolled.
This was the first enrollment,
when Quirinius was governor of Syria.
So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town.
And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth
to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem,
because he was of the house and family of David,
to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.
While they were there,
the time came for her to have her child,
and she gave birth to her firstborn son.
She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger,
because there was no room for them in the inn.

Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields
and keeping the night watch over their flock.
The angel of the Lord appeared to them
and the glory of the Lord shone around them,
and they were struck with great fear.
The angel said to them,
“Do not be afraid;
for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy
that will be for all the people.
For today in the city of David
a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.
And this will be a sign for you:
you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes
and lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel,
praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
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Commentary on
Lk 2:1-14

The nativity narrative from St. Luke’s Gospel begins with relating the birth of Jesus to civil rulers in place at the time. Attempts to develop an exact date for the Lord’s birth based upon these references has been problematic since there are inconsistencies (see
NAB footnote on Luke 2:1-2). Of importance is the understanding at the time that Caesar Augustus was known in secular chronicles as “savior and god”. St. Luke contrasts this civil figure with the true Savior and God, Jesus.

What follows in the story provides a number of prophetic fulfillments. The Lord’s birth in Bethlehem was predicted by Isaiah (
Isaiah 44:28-45:1). His humble birth and the virtuous attributes he demonstrated confirmed that his coming was the one predicted by prophets, angels and heavenly heralds. As the angels proclaim emphatically – the coming of the babe in swaddling clothes brings the offer of God’s peace to the world.

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Reflection:

As we listen to the, oh so familiar verses of St. Luke’s Gospel describing the birth of Jesus in the manger of Bethlehem many of us are catapulted back in time to our childhood. That story, supported by our favorite Christmas hymns recalls a time of happiness and joy. We remember our innocent excitement, almost like a racial memory that linked the angels, shepherds, and holy family to the joy of giving and receiving gifts; of being together with family and friends.

The story of the nativity from St. Luke is for most of us synonymous with the joy of Christmas. Because of that relationship with childhood joy, it is also a time of difficult emotions as those of us who are older remember Christmases past and fell the loss of those who are not physically with us to share this wondrous feast. In these difficult economic times it can also be a time of intense stress as parents struggle with difficult financial choices and the customary crowd of presents under the tree that may seem too thin this year.

To those whose emotions want to move toward depression because of the lack of loved ones gone on before us; or finances depleted, remember the joy of the present that is always given, the story that is always told. The present God gave us was not under a Christmas tree with presents spilling out into the room. The present that brings us peace and joy was delivered in the poorest of settings. No matter how “quaint” the manger may seem set up with miniature statues of shepherds and angels, in reality it was a stable – a humble barn. How do you think Joseph felt having his wife deliver her firstborn in such a setting? And look at the gift that came to us without family and friends looking on to give support and comfort.

It is a new Christmas we celebrate this year, one that comes to us in a life full of possibilities. The Christ Child came to bring joy and peace as savior of the world and we all should draw comfort from God’s great love that gave so great a gift. So this holy night, we remember that humble and lonely beginning. We rejoice with the Virgin Mother and her husband at the new life they brought into the world who, through God’s loving spirit, brings life to us all.

Merry Christmas

[1] ALTRE
[2] The picture is “Nativity” by Giuseppe Sammartino, 1780s
[3] Text of Readings is taken from the New American Bible, Copyright © Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Excerpts from the English translation of The Roman Missal © 1973, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved.
[4] See NAB footnote on Psalm 96

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