"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012
The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
I'm afraid I am a bit unwell and have been ordered to bed with my feet higher than my head. This makes writing my blog impossible; so I looked through the internet to find a blog post for the feast of the Mother of God that will say all I want to say in one short copy and paste operation. This article says it all, everything worth saying about the Blessed Virgin in our common tradition. May God bless those who wrote and produced it. Dom David Bird
Pope Francis: 1st Vespers and Te Deum
at the end of the year
THE HOLY THEOTOKOS AND THE CHURCH
[Source: "The Life of the Virgin Mary the Theotokos," published by the Holy Apostles Convent and Dormition Skete, Buena Vista, CO.]
The Holy Virgin Mary is more than an example of piety. She is more than a Saint. She is All-Holy, Ever-Virgin and Mother of God. She is the Church's Greatest Theologian. She is the one human--body and soul resurrected, united and complete--and now deified person who is "more honourable than the Cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim. In her, the whole mystery of the Divine economy is personified, writes Saint John of Damascus (c. 676-750).
As we have seen, the Scriptures say more about the Theotokos than most people perceive, albeit, in a hidden manner, revealed only to the faithful through Holy Tradition and the writings of the Holy Fathers. If there was general silence about her in the early Church it was intentional to avoid comparisons with the pagan religions which provide anti-typical divine, mother and child similarities, such as the Egyptian Isis and Serapis or the Oriental Cybele and Attis. Only later, during the 4th and 5th centuries, did circumstances demand an elucidation of the Virgin Mary's role in the plan of salvation.
Since Mary Theotokos is one flesh with her Divine Son, she is, therefore, necessarily the Mother of those baptized, into His body, the Church. Not without purpose does Saint Epiphanios of Cyprus (c. 315-493) write that she is "the holy Jerusalem, Virgin of Christ, His Bride," for what is granted spiritually to the Church. Let us see how, in the writings of the Holy Fathers, the Theotokos is, among other things, portrayed as the Church; for as Saint Andrew of Crete (c. 660-740) chants, she is the "living city of the King and God, in which Christ hast dwelt, and worked our salvation."
Saint Cyril of Alexandria (+444), in his famous litany of praise spoken after the Council at Ephesus, where he was dominant figure, ends with these words: "Let us give glory to Mary, Ever-Virgin, that is to the holy Church, and her Son and Immaculate Spouse; to Him be glory forever and ever."
Saint Clement of Alexandria (d. before 215) points to the Mary-Church parallel, saying, "O mysterious wonder! There is only one Father of all, only one Logos/Word of all, and the Holy Spirit is also one and He is everywhere. There is but one Virgin Mother. I like to call her the Church...she is both Virgin and Mother--immaculate as a Virgin and loving as a Mother. She calls her children and feeds them with holy milk; the Logos/Word, a child."
Therefore, in giving birth to the body of Christ, Mary gave birth to the Church, the unity of all that are incorporated into Christ. She is the progenitress of the Christian race, that is, the historical Church that is forever united to divinity.
Saint Ildefonsus (+667), Archbishop of Toledo, affirms that "the form of our Mother the Church is according to the form of the Lord's Mother". The mysteries of the Virgin's life are daily renewed in the Church; for, as one wedded, she is at the same time immaculate. As a Virgin, she conceives us by the Spirit, yet brings us forth without pain, so the Venerable Bede (c. 673-735) was to write. The influence of Saint Ambrose (339-397) is also evident here. "Mary is truly espoused but a Virgin, because she is a type of the Church which is immaculate but wedded." And, "What was prophesied of Mary was as a type of the Church." In another place, he writes: "How beautiful are those things which have been prophesied of Mary under the figure of the Church." In other words, she is the Church because she is the Mother of Christ, even as she is Mother to all Orthodox Christians, His "brethren."
Since Mary Theotokos is the Church, the "perpetual virginity" of Mary also signifies the "perpetual virginity" of the Church, that is, her inviolate fidelity to Christ. Deny the one, and one must deny the other: the Church and the Theotokos (Mother of God) stand together; ecclesiology and Mariology safeguard each other. Thus, too, the Orthodox Church insists upon the "All-Holiness" of the Virgin Mary, for the same reason that she speaks of the Church as "Holy". She is Panagia or All-Holy, because she is the Church.
The types of the Virgin are everywhere associated with the types of the Church. It may seem strange that she, the Virgin, is sometimes cast in the role of the Mother, Sister, Daughter, Bride and Child of Christ, but those are the relationships found in old Israel between God and His people. This explains why the Church (the Virgin), the New Israel, is depicted as the "Bride of Christ" while, at the same time, His body.
Saint Paulinus (353-431), Bishop of Nola (near Naples) writes: "What a great martyr was this, by which the Church became wedded to Christ and became at once the Lord's Bride and His Sister! The Bride with the status of Souse is a Sister...So she continues as Mother through the seed of the Eternal Logos/Word, alike conceiving and bringing forth nations. She is Sister and Spouse because Her intercourse is not physical but mental, and her Husband is not man but God. The children of this Mother comprise equally old and infants; this offspring has no age or sex. For this is the blessed progeny of God which springs from no human seed but from a heavenly race."
He continues: "This is why the teacher Paul says that 'there is neither male nor female, for ye are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28) and 'there is one body and one Spirit, even as ye are called on one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Ephesians 4-5). 'For all of us who acknowledge Christ as Head of our body' (Col. 1:18) are one body and are all Christ's limbs' (1 Cor. 12:27). Because we have now all put on Christ and stripped off Adam, we are at once advancing towards the shape of Angels. Hence for all born in baptism, there is the one task; both sexes must incorporate the perfect man, and Christ as all in all' (Eph. 4:13) must be our common Head, our King Who hands over His limbs to the Father in the Kingdom. Once all are endowed with immortal bodies, the frail condition of human lives forgoes marriage between men and women" (St. Matthew 22:30). (Orthodox Heritage)
Erasmus was the dominant figure of the early humanist movement. Neither a radical nor an apologist, he remains one of early Renaissance controversial figures.
Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam was one of Europe's most famous and influential scholars. A man of great intellect who rose from meager beginnings to become one of Europe's greatest thinkers, he defined the humanist movement in Northern Europe. His translation to Greek of the New Testament brought on a theological revolution, and his views on the Reformation tempered its more radical elements.
Erasmus rose from obscure beginnings to become one of the leading intellectual figures of the early Northern Renaissance. Most historians believe that he was born Gerard Gerardson in 1466 (with many noting his probable birthdate as October 27) in Rotterdam, Holland. His father, believed to be Roger Gerard, was a priest, and his mother was named Margaret, the daughter of a physician. He was christened with the name "Erasmus," meaning "beloved."
Erasmus began his education at the age of 4, attending a school in Gouda, a town near Rotterdam. When he was 9 years old, his father sent him to a prestigious Latin grammar school, where his natural academic ability blossomed. After his parents died in 1483 from the plague, Erasmus was put into the care of guardians, who were adamant about him becoming a monk. While he gained a personal relationship with God, he rejected the harsh rules and strict methods of the religious teachers of the time.
A Brief Stint in the Priesthood
In 1492, poverty forced Erasmus into monastery life and he was ordained a Catholic priest, but it seems that he never actively worked as a cleric. There is some evidence, during this time, of a relationship with a fellow male student, but scholars are not in agreement as to its extent. Erasmus's life changed dramatically when he became secretary for Henry de Bergen, bishop of Chambray, who was impressed with his skill in Latin. The bishop enabled Erasmus to travel to Paris, France, to study classical literature and Latin, and it was there that he was introduced to Renaissance humanism.
Life as a Professional Scholar
While in Paris, Erasmus became known as an excellent scholar and lecturer. One of his pupils, William Blunt, Lord Montjoy, established a pension for Erasmus, allowing him to adopt a life of an independent scholar moving from city to city tutoring, lecturing and corresponding with some of the most brilliant thinkers of Europe. In 1499, he traveled to England and met Thomas More and John Colet, both of whom would have a great influence on him. Over the next 10 years, Erasmus divided his time between France, the Netherlands and England, writing some of his best works.
In the early 1500s, Erasmus was persuaded to teach at Cambridge and lecture in theology. It was during this time that he wrote The Praise of Folly, a satirical examination of society in general and the various abuses of the Church. Another influential publication was his translation of the New Testament into Greek in 1516. This was a turning point in theology and the interpretation of scripture, and posed a serious challenge to theological thinking that had dominated universities since the 13th century. In these writings, Erasmus promoted the spread of Classical knowledge to encourage a better morality and greater understanding between people.
The Protestant Reformation erupted with the publication of Martin Luther's Ninety-five Theses in 1517. For the next 10 years, Erasmus would be embroiled in an intellectual debate over human nature, free will and religion. Though Erasmus supported Protestant ideals, he was against the radicalism of some of its leaders, and, in 1523, he condemned Luther's methods in his work De libero arbitrio.
On July 12, 1536, during preparations for a move to the Netherlands, Erasmus fell ill and died from an attack of dysentery. Though he remained loyal to the Church of Rome, he did not receive last rites, and there is no evidence that he asked for a priest. This seems to reflect his view that what mattered most was a believer's direct relationship with God.
Erasmus has published volumes more full of wisdom than any which Europe has seen for ages.
It is significant and symbolic that Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517. There is a sense in which such a date is a portal into what follows in the Christian liturgical year: All Saints and All Souls. Luther, by choosing such a date and seeing himself as a reformer, raised the question of who are the real saints of the historic Church—certainly not the establishment Roman Catholics who had led the Church to Babylon. There is a type of Protestant hubris, though, in thinking that Luther was the real reformer of the Church, and 1517 should be lauded and celebrated. Erasmus and many others had been toiling for reform from within the Church from the late 15th century.
Erasmus had, decades before Luther, been at the forefront of challenging the misdeeds and misbehaviour within the Western Church.
Colet, More, and Erasmus (Oxford-London Reformers), prophet-like, clarified in poignant depth and detail the immense gap and chasm between the ideals of the Church and its toxic and questionable behaviour at the highest levels. Erasmus was also acutely aware, with the fall of Constantinople in 1453, that many from the Eastern Church were migrating westward. The tragedy of such a situation for the Orthodox cannot be missed, but the positive ripple effect was that many in the West (including Erasmus), increasingly so, had greater access to the Orthodox Fathers, their commentaries, and their language.
The issue of church unity and concord became more and more central to Erasmus in the latter decades of his life. The split between the Orthodox East and Roman Catholic West, and the schism between various types of Protestantism and Roman Catholicism, deeply troubled Erasmus. He became in many ways the herald of a sort of classical and patristic church unity vision in the mid to late 1520s-1530s. How did he do this? Let me lightly touch on three essential ways this was done.
First, Erasmus was concerned that, as the Church developed, all sorts of additions were added to the essence of the faith. He was convinced that the Apostles’ Creed summed up, in the most succinct and compact manner, what the universal Church shared in common. There could be a variety of debates about all sorts of layered and nuanced theological and exegetical issues, but the Apostles’ Creed was foundational. This is why, in some ways, Erasmus’ fictional dialogue with Luther in March 1524, “An Examination Concerning Faith,” focused on the Apostles’ Creed. Did Luther truly need to split the Church over his reading of Romans and Galatians, and his questionable opposition between Grace-Law and Divine Sovereignty-Human Freedom? If Luther was willing to split the church over an adiaphoric issue, Erasmus had to part paths with him.
Second, did the historic Church universally agree with the filioque clause in the Nicaeo-Constantinopolitan Creed? If not, why was it added to the Creed? The Orthodox and Roman Catholics parted paths over such an addition. Erasmus took the position, yet again, that the classical and patristic phase of church history was void of a strict definition of the economy of Father-Son-Spirit. In short, there was a mystery within the dynamic life of the eternal Trinity that could not be reduced to a formula. The addition of the filioque clause was yet another adiaphoric move and manoeuver—this time it was the Roman Catholic Church that had inappropriately added to the esse of the faith. Again, it was Erasmus’ commitment to church unity, grounded in the classical credal and theological era of the Fathers, that opposed the position of the Roman Catholic Church on the need to add the filioque clause to the Creed.
Third, just as Erasmus was, without much doubt, one of the finest linguists in both Latin and Greek in the early decades of the 16th century, and one of the best exegetes and annotators of the New Testament, he was also front and centre in the recovery of the Fathers, Western and Eastern. The more Erasmus worked with the Orthodox Fathers and the Western Fathers, the greater the sense of unity he had for the Church West and East. The commonality the Fathers shared made it clear that post-patristic additions to historic Creeds (that fragmented the church) needed to be questioned—such additions were the very thing that led to greater fragmentation, as did the many Protestant confessions of the 16th and 17th centuries. The Apostles’ Creed, yet once again, became the alpha and the omega of church unity for Erasmus. It is significant that one of Erasmus’ final books, An Explanation of the Apostles’ Creed (1533), delves much deeper into the Creed and ponders its significance from a variety of angles (Collected Works of Erasmus: Volume 70). This was Erasmus, yet again, turning to the esse of the Church rather than being derailed into a commitment to a multiplicity of adiaphora. It was the Apostles’ Creed that, in many ways, was the bene esse that illuminated and clarified the esse of the historic Church East and West.
Both Luther’s additions to the faith and the Roman Catholic filioque were the very things that divided the Church. Erasmus questioned such additions by heeding and hearing the wisdom of the Fathers Western and Eastern.
There has been, in the 20th century, an ecumenical desire and longing to reunite the divided Church. The underlying problem with such an approach is that the deeper unity and concord that many so desire is thwarted by the fact that it is not grounded in a classical vision as embodied in the historic Church. Erasmus, more than most then and now, knew that if real unity was ever to occur, a sustained immersion in the life and thought of the Fathers East and West was foundational. Those who add to the esse of the Fathers inevitably divide the Church.
Those who heed and hear what the historic and classical Church shared in common are in a place and position to reclaim and rebuild, with one mind and soul, the vision and reality of one Church, the true body of Christ in this world. The wisdom of Erasmus, if mined, can still offer us a mother lode. This is why his name will never perish, and his wisdom will never fail.
Ron Dart holds a PhD from McMaster University and teaches as an associate professor in the Department of Political Science, Philosophy & Religious Studies at University of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford BC. In the past he worked with Amnesty International. He has published more than 35 books, of which the most recent, Erasmus: Wild Bird, appeared earlier this month. A member of the Anglican Church, he has an abiding interest in the Eastern and Western Fathers, the layered turn to the Fathers in the 16th century, and the relationship between the Fathers and the modern and postmodern ethos. He has extensive experience collaborating with Orthodox representatives in various ecumenical endeavours.
Then watch this version of Robert Bolt's play
Thomas More, "Man for All Seasons"
St Thomas More who, together with St John Fisher, John Colet and Erasmus, showed another way forward.
Today’s reading of the gospel calls to mind the beginning of our redemption,
for the passage tells us how God sent an angel from heaven to a virgin. He was to proclaim the new birth, the incarnation of God’s Son, who would take away our age-old guilt; through him, it would be possible to be made new and numbered among the children of God. And so, if we are to deserve the gifts of the promised salvation, we must listen attentively to the account of its beginning.
The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. What is said of the house of David applies not only to Joseph but also to Mary. It was a precept of the law that each man should marry a wife from his own tribe and kindred. St Paul also bears testimony to this when he writes to Timothy: Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descended from David, as preached in my Gospel. Our Lord is truly descended from David since his spotless mother took her ancestry from David’s line.
The angel came to her and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David.’ The angel refers to the kingdom of the Israelite nation as the throne of David because in his time, by the Lord’s command and assistance, David governed it with a spirit of faithful service. The Lord God gave to our Redeemer the throne of his father David when he decreed that he should take flesh from the lineage of David. As David had once ruled the people with temporal authority, so Christ would now
lead them to the eternal kingdom by his spiritual grace. Of this kingdom the Apostle said: He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever. The house of Jacob here refers to the universal Church which, through its faith in and witness to Christ shares the heritage of the patriarchs. This may apply either to those who are physical descendants of the patriarchal families or to those who
come from gentile nations and are reborn in Christ by the waters of baptism. In this house, Christ shall reign forever, and of his kingdom, there will be no end. During this present life, Christ rules in the Church. By faith and
love, he dwells in the hearts of his elect and guides them by his unceasing care toward their heavenly reward. In the life to come, when their period of exile on earth is ended, he will exercise his kingship by leading the faithful to their heavenly country. There, forever inspired by the vision of his presence, their one delight will be to praise and glorify him.
Christ is born, glorify Him. Christ from heaven, go out to meet Him. Christ on earth, be exalted. Sing to the Lord all the whole earth; and that I may join both in one word, let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad, for Him who is of heaven and then of earth. Christ in the flesh, rejoice with trembling and with joy; with trembling because of your sins, with joy because of your hope. Again, the darkness is past; again Light is made; again Egypt is punished with darkness; again Israel is enlightened by a pillar. The people who sat in the darkness of ignorance, let them see the great Light full of knowledge. Old things have passed away, behold all things have become new. The letter gives way, the Spirit comes to the front. The shadows flee away, the truth comes in on them. Melchizedek is concluded. He who was without Mother becomes without Father (without mother of His former state, without father of His second). The laws of nature are upset; the world above must be filled. Christ commands it, let us not set ourselves against Him. O clap your hands together all you people, because unto us a Child is born, and a Son is given unto us, whose government is upon His shoulder (for with the cross it is raised up), and His name is called The Angel of the Great Counsel of the Father. Let John cry, prepare the way of the Lord; I too will cry the power of this Day. He who is not carnal is Incarnate; the Son of God becomes the Son of Man, Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever. Let the Jews be offended, let the Greeks deride; let heretics talk until their tongues ache. Then shall they believe, when they see Him ascending into heaven; and if not then, yet when they see Him coming out of heaven and sitting as Judge. This is our present Festival; it is this which we are celebrating today, the Coming of God to Man, that we might go forth, or rather (for this is the more proper expression) that we might go back to God – that putting off of the old man, we might put on the new; and that as we died in Adam, so we might live in Christ, being born with Christ and crucified with Him and buried with Him and rising with Him. For I must undergo the beautiful conversion, and as the painful succeeded the more blissful, so must the more blissful come out of the painful. For where sin abounded grace did much more abound; and if a taste condemned us, how much more does the passion of Christ justify us? Therefore let us keep the Feast, not after the manner of a heathen festival, but after a godly sort; not after the way of the world, but in a fashion above the world; not as our own, but as belonging to Him who is ours, or rather as our master’s; not as of weakness, but as of healing; not as of creation, but of re-creation. St Gregory the Theologian
FEAST OF CHRISTMAS
Abbot Paul at Midnight Mass
Christmas Eve 2017
We have just heard the Christmas story, St Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus. We’ve heard it so many times that we no longer listen. St Luke writes so beautifully that it makes for easy reading, even when the story told is hard to grasp and difficult to understand. Take, for example, the sentence, “She wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn.”
What are these swaddling clothes? In Israel at the time, when a child was born, the umbilical cord was cut and tied, then the baby was washed, rubbed with salt and oil, and wrapped with strips of cloth. These strips kept the newborn child warm and also ensured that the child's limbs would grow straight. Mary must have done that for her newborn son. Did she do it all alone or were there other women present, women who witnessed the birth of Jesus, just as later they would witness his death and resurrection? Perhaps they were the same women, who prepared Jesus for burial, dressing him in a funeral shroud. It’s strange that no other women are mentioned but Mary and that we never see another woman in the crib. What the story does show us is how brave Mary was and how powerful her trust in God. When she said to the angel, “Be it done unto me according to thy word,” she accepted her part in the Mystery of the Incarnation with all its terrible consequences. So we can ask ourselves tonight, what are we willing to do for God? Can we even begin to follow in the footsteps of Mary?
The child was “laid in a manger,” a feeding trough for cattle, found in every stable. No doubt it was comfortable and warm, what with the hay and the swaddling clothes, and very practical. But there’s more to it than that. Mangers were made of wood, as was the cross on which Jesus was laid for crucifixion. Mangers were shaped like an open coffin, reminding us of the tomb in which he lay dead as he awaited the resurrection. Cattle gather around a manger to feed, just as we gather round the altar for Mass, when Jesus feeds us with his Body and Blood. We are used to seeing paintings and statues of the Madonna and Child with Mary looking lovingly at the child in her arms, but in the stable at Bethlehem, the House of Bread, the Holy Infant lies alone in the manger wrapped in swaddling bands. The question for us tonight is this: if God became incarnate, that I might eat the Bread of Life and so share in his life, what sacrifice am I willing to make so that Christ might live in me and I in him? What does the Mass mean to me? How do I prepare to receive Holy Communion?
“There was no room for them in the inn.” Just a short phrase, this, to explain why Mary and Joseph ended up in a stable. The town was crowded for the census, all available space was fully occupied and, in any case, no woman was allowed to give birth where others were living. Labour and childbearing must take place in private and in seclusion. But there’s more to it than that. Jesus came as an outsider, a stranger, the God who lives as a man among men: his home was in heaven. St John writes, “He came to his own home, and his own people did not accept him.” He came to be rejected, to face trial and humiliation and to die on a cross. Rejection began even before he was born, hence the stable. But what if Mary and Joseph had come to my door? What if they turn up tonight? Will I let them in? Will I make them welcome? Or will I simply turn them away? How often have I turned my back on Jesus and how often, even now, do I turn him away, when he comes to me and asks for my help in the person of the poor and the homeless, those made outcast and despised by others, immigrants and foreigners, and those who are just different from the rest of us? Is there still no room in the inn, even today?
On behalf of Fr Prior and the Monastic Community, I wish you and your loved ones a very Happy Christmas.
Everything is a 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 so, for it admirably embodies the whole of the great portent that 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, it 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.
Why the 25th of December?
The four weeks of our preparation are over. They were the image of the 4,000 years that preceded the great coming, and we have reached the 25th day of the month of December as a long desired place of sweetest rest. But, why is it that the celebration of our Savior's Birth should be the perpetual privilege of this one fixed day, while the whole liturgical cycle has to be changed and remodelled every year in order to yield to that ever-varying day which is to be the feast of His Resurrection, Easter Sunday?
Adoring Christ on December 25
The question is a very natural one, and we find it proposed and answered as far back as the fourth century by St. Augustine in his celebrated Epistle to Januarius. The holy Doctor offers this explanation: We solemnize the day of our Savior's Birth so 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. … We should not suppose, however, 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 25th of December.
First, 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 that Adam's sin had put upon them.
Second, the great mystery of the 25th of December being the Feast of our Savior's Birth refers not to the division of time marked out by God himself, but to the course of that great luminary that gives life to the world, because it gives light and warmth. Jesus, our Savior, the Light of the World, was born when the night of idolatry and crime was at its darkest. The day of His Birth, the 25th of December is the time when the material sun begins to gain its ascendancy over the reign of the gloomy night and show to the world its triumph of brightness.
In our Advent, we showed, following 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 the One 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.
‘Darkness decreases, light increases’
“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 secret to those whose eye is quick enough to see it, that is, to those who are able to appreciate this circumstance of our Savior's coming.
light in darkness winter
A light appears in the darkness of winter
“Nature seems to me to say: ‘Know, O man! that under the things that 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 nought 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 rejoice, my Brethren,” cries out St. Augustine. “This day is sacred not because of the visible sun, but because of the Birth of He 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 both 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 St. Augustine, 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.”
Christ, who is the Light of the world
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 that 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 25th day of December should be the Birthday of God upon this earth.
Midnight Mass: Introit
Proclamation of the Christmas feast and Mass at midnight
For this purpose, then, the incorporeal and incorruptible and immaterial Word of God entered our world. In one sense, indeed, He was not far from it before, for no part of creation had ever been without Him Who, while ever abiding in union with the Father, yet fills all things that are.. But now He entered the world in a new way, stooping to our level in His love and Self-revealing to us. He saw the reasonable race, the race of men that, like Himself, expressed the Father's Mind, wasting out of existence, and death reigning over all in corruption. He saw that corruption held us all the closer, because it was the penalty for the Transgression; He saw, too, how unthinkable it would be for the law to be repealed before it was fulfilled. He saw how unseemly it was that the very things of which He Himself was the Artificer should be disappearing. He saw how the surpassing wickedness of men was mounting up against them ; He saw also their universal liability to death. All this He saw and, pitying our race, moved with compassion for our limitation, unable to endure that death should have the mastery, rather than that His creatures should perish and the work of His Father for us men come to nought, He took to Himself a body, a human body even as our own. Nor did He will merely to become embodied or merely to appear; had that been so, He could have revealed His. divine majesty in some other and better way. No, He took our body, and not only so, but He took it directly from a spotless, stainless virgin, without the agency of human father-a pure body, untainted by intercourse with man. He, the Mighty One, the Artificer of all, Himself prepared this body in the virgin as a temple for Himself, and took it for His very own, as the instrument through which He was known and in which He dwelt. Thus, taking a body like our own, because all our bodies were liable to the corruption of death, He surrendered His body to death instead of all, and offered it to the Father. This He did out of sheer love for us, so that in His death all might die, and the law of death thereby be abolished because, having fulfilled in His body that for which it was appointed, it was thereafter voided of its power for men. This He did that He might turn again to incorruption men who had turned back to corruption, and make them alive through death by the appropriation of His body and by .the grace of His resurrection. Thus He would make death to disappear from them as utterly as straw from fire.
THE BIRTHDAY OF our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, on which Truth sprang forth from the earth and the procession of day from day extending even unto our time began, has, with the return of its anniversary, dawned upon us today as deserving of special celebration. 'Let us be glad and rejoice therein,' for the faith of Christians holds fast to the joy which the lowliness of such sublimity has offered to us, a joy far removed from the hearts of the wicked, since God has hidden these things from the wise and prudent and has revealed them to the little ones. Therefore, let the lowly hold fast to the lowliness of God so that, by means of this great help as by a beast of burden supporting their infirmity, they may come to the mountain of God. The wise and prudent, however, while they aim at the heights of God, do not put their trust in lowly things, but pass them by, and hence they fail to reach the heights. Vain and worthless, puffed up and elated, they have halted, as it were, on the wind-swept middle plain between heaven and earth. Wise and prudent in the rating of this world, they fall short of the standards set by Him who made this world. For, if they possessed the true wisdom which is of God and which is God, they would understand that flesh could have been assumed by God without the possibility of His having been changed into flesh; that He took upon Himself what He was not and remained what He was; that He came to us in the form of man and yet did not depart from His Father; that He preserved His divine nature while He appeared to us in our human nature; and, finally, that power derived from no earthly source was bestowed upon an infant's body. The whole world is His work as He remains in the bosom of His Father; the miraculous child-bearing of a virgin is His work when He comes to us. In fact, His Virgin Mother has given testimony to His majesty in that she, a virgin before His conception, remained a virgin after childbirth; found with child, she was not made so by man; pregnant with man without man's co-operation, she was more blessed and marvelous in that her fecundity was granted without loss of integrity. People prefer to consider so tremendous a miracle as fictional rather than factual. Hence, in regard to Christ, the God-Man, since they cannot believe His human attributes, they despise them; since they cannot despise His divine attributes, they do not believe them. However, in proportion as the body of the God-Man in His humiliation is the more abject in their estimation, to that same degree it becomes more pleasing to us; and in proportion as the fruitfulness of a virgin in the birth of a child is more impossible in their eyes, in ours it becomes the more divine.
(2) Hence, let us celebrate the birthday of the Lord with a joyous gathering and appropriate festivity. Let men and women alike rejoice, for Christ, the Man, was born and He was born of a woman; thus, each sex was honoured. Now let the honour accorded to the first man before his condemnation passes over to this second Man. A woman brought death upon us; a woman has now brought forth life. The likeness of our sinful flesh was born so that this sinful flesh might be cleansed. Let not the flesh be blamed, but let it die to sin so that it may live by its real nature; let him who was in sin be born again in Him who was born without sin. Exult, you holy youths, who, having chosen Christ as a model eminently worthy of imitation, have not sought marriage. He whom you have thus esteemed did not come to you through marriage, so that He might bestow upon you the grace to despise the means through which you came into the world. For you came into existence through carnal union, without which He came to spiritual nuptials; and to you, whom He has called in a special way to spiritual nuptials, He has granted the grace to scorn earthly ones. Therefore, you have not sought joys from the source whence you derived existence because you, more than others, have loved Him who did not come into the world in that manner. Exult, you holy virgins. A Virgin has brought forth for you One whom you may wed without defilement, and you can lose the One whom you love neither by conceiving nor by bringing forth children. Exult, you who are just; it is the birthday of the Justifier. Exult, you who are weak and ill; it is the birthday of the Saviour. Exult, you who are captives; it is the birthday of the Redeemer. Exult, you who are slaves; it is the birthday of the Ruler. Exult, you who are free; it is the birthday of the Liberator. Exult, all Christians; it is the birthday of Christ.
(3) This child, born of the Father, created all ages; now, born of a mother, He has commended this day. That first nativity could not possibly have had a mother, nor did the second one call for any man as a father. In a word, Christ was born of both a father and a mother, and He was born without a father and without a mother; for as God He was born of the Father and as Man He was born of a mother; as God He was born without a mother and as Man He was born without a father. Therefore, 'Who shall declare his generation?' whether we consider His generation without the limits of time or that without seed; the one without a beginning or that without precedent; the; the one which has no end or that which has its beginning there where it has its end.
Rightly, then, did the Prophets announce that He would be born; truly did the heavens and angels announce that He had been born. He who sustains the world lay in a manger, a wordless Child, yet the Word of God. Him whom the heavens do not contain the bosom of one woman bore. She ruled our King; she carried Him in whom we exist; she fed our Bread. O manifest weakness and marvellous humility in which all divinity lay hid! By His power, He ruled the mother to whom His infancy was subject, and He nourished with truth her whose breasts suckled Him. May He who did not despise our lowly beginnings perfect His work in us, and may He who wished on account of us to become the Son of Man make us the sons of God.
Our Saviour, dearly-beloved, was born today: let us be glad. For there is no proper place for sadness when we keep the birthday of the Life, which destroys the fear of mortality and brings to us the joy of promised eternity. No one is kept from sharing in this happiness. There is for all one common measure of joy, because as our Lord the destroyer of sin and death finds none free of charge, so is He come to free us all. Let the saint exult in that he draws near to victory. Let the sinner be glad in that he is invited to pardon. Let the gentile take courage in that he is called to life. For the Son of God in the fullness of time which the inscrutable depth of the Divine counsel has determined, has taken on him the nature of man, thereby to reconcile it to its Author: in order that the inventor of death, the devil, might be conquered through that (nature) which he had conquered. And in this conflict undertaken for us, the fight was fought on great and wondrous principles of fairness; for the Almighty Lord enters the lists with His savage foe not in His own majesty but in our humility, opposing him with the same form and the same nature, which shares indeed our mortality, though it is free from all sin. Truly foreign to this nativity is that which we read of all others, no one is clean from stain, not even the infant who has lived but one day upon earth Job 19: 4. Nothing therefore of the lust of the flesh has passed into that peerless nativity, nothing of the law of sin has entered. A royal Virgin of the stem of David is chosen, to be impregnated with the sacred seed and to conceive the Divinely-human offspring in mind first and then in body. And lest in ignorance of the heavenly counsel she should tremble at so strange a result, she learns from converse with the angel that what is to be wrought in her is of the Holy Ghost. Nor does she believe it a loss of honour that she is soon to be the Mother of God. For why should she be in despair over the novelty of such conception, to whom the power of the most High has promised to effect it. Her implicit faith is confirmed also by the attestation of a precursory miracle, and Elizabeth receives unexpected fertility: in order that there might be no doubt that He who had given conception to the barren, would give it even to a virgin.
II. The mystery of the Incarnation is a fitting theme for joy both to angels and to men
Therefore the Word of God, Himself God, the Son of God who in the beginning was with God, through whom all things were made and without whom was nothing made John 1:1-3, with the purpose of delivering man from eternal death, became man: so bending Himself to take on Him our humility without decrease in His own majesty, that remaining what He was and assuming what He was not, He might unite the true form of a slave to that form in which He is equal to God the Father, and join both natures together by such a compact that the lower should not be swallowed up in its exaltation nor the higher impaired by its new associate. Without detriment therefore to the properties of either substance which then came together in one person, majesty took on humility, strength weakness, eternity mortality: and for the paying off of the debt, belonging to our condition, inviolable nature was united with passible nature, and true God and true man were combined to form one Lord, so that, as suited the needs of our case, one and the same Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, could both die with the one and rise again with the other.
Rightly therefore did the birth of our Salvation impart no corruption to the Virgin's purity, because the bearing of the Truth was the keeping of honour. Such then beloved was the nativity which became the Power of God and the Wisdom of God even Christ, whereby He might be one with us in manhood and surpass us in Godhead. For unless He were true God, He would not bring us a remedy, unless He were true Man, He would not give us an example. Therefore the exulting angel's song when the Lord was born is this, Glory to God in the Highest, and their message, peace on earth to men of good will Luke 2:14 . For they see that the heavenly Jerusalem is being built up out of all the nations of the world: and over that indescribable work of the Divine love, how ought the humbleness of men to rejoice, when the joy of the lofty angels is so great?
III. Christians then must live worthily of Christ their Head
Let us then, dearly beloved, give thanks to God the Father, through His Son, in the Holy Spirit , Who for His great mercy, wherewith He has loved us, has had pity on us: and when we were dead in sins, has quickened us together in Christ Ephesians 2:4-5, that we might be in Him a new creation and a new production. Let us put off then the old man with his deeds: and having obtained a share in the birth of Christ let us renounce the works of the flesh. Christian, acknowledge your dignity, and becoming a partner in the Divine nature, refuse to return to the old baseness by degenerate conduct. Remember the Head and the Body of which you are a member. Recollect that you were rescued from the power of darkness and brought out into God's light and kingdom. By the mystery of Baptism you were made the temple of the Holy Ghost: do not put such a denizen to flight from you by base acts, and subject yourself once more to the devil's thraldom: because your purchase money is the blood of Christ, because He shall judge you in truth Who ransomed you in mercy, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit reigns for ever and ever. Amen.
I think God must have said to Himself: Man does not love Me because he does not see Me; I will show Myself to him and thus make him love Me. God’s love for man was very great and had been great from all eternity, but this love had not yet become visible…Then, it really appeared; the Son of God let Himself be seen as a tiny Babe in a stable, lying on a little straw. — St. Alphonsus Liguori, quoted by Fr. Gabriel in Divine Intimacy, p. 83.
May these poignant words of St. Alphonsus help us to grasp more fully the meaning of Christmas. Jesus’ birth isn’t simply a historical event from long ago, which we may feel is too distant and remote from us. It does involve us, in a deeply personal way, for the Eternal Son of God became a man with each one of us in mind. The Lord thought of every human being that has ever existed and ever will exist. Loving us with a personal love, He acted to save us from our sins and restore us to His friendship. This same Jesus, Who humbled Himself to come as a vulnerable infant, continues to come to us – preeminently in the Eucharist. When fashioning the entire arc of salvation history, God carved out our own special place within His design. We belong to this divine love story, if we would only accept Our Lord’s invitation. One of the great figures of the 20th century Liturgical Movement, Pius Parsch, expressed it thus:
In the night of eternity, you were chosen by the Father; in the holy night of our Savior’s birth, you were remembered in the heart of God’s newborn Son and made His brother and sister; and now the Father draws you to His loving heart: With My Son, born in the stable, you have become My dearest child. With Jesus, you are celebrating a birthday, reborn unto God in the holiest of nights.
HOMILY BY ABBOT PAUL ON CHRISTMAS DAY
“From his fullness, we have all received grace in return for grace, for grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ.”
This morning we come together to thank God for the birth of his Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ, begotten of the Father before time began, born of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, a man like us in all things but sin. We have prepared for Christmas by faithfully keeping Advent, the season of hope and consolation. We have heard the message of the prophets. We have prayed earnestly for his Second Coming. We have longed to celebrate the feast of his Nativity, praying that he prepare in our hearts a crib in which to lie and there fill our lives with grace and truth. Today we see lying in the manger “the radiant light of God’s glory, the perfect copy of his nature,” that’s how the letter to the Hebrews puts it, he who “sustains the universe by his powerful command,” who having “destroyed sin, has gone to take his place in heaven at the Father’s right hand.”
The new-born babe we kneel to adore is God made man, in the words of Charles Wesley’s hymn, “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; hail the incarnate Deity, pleased as Man with man to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel.” In Jesus, God is with us in a new and unexpected way. St Irenaeus wrote, "The Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, did, through His transcendent love, become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He Himself is." God’s plan for us is far greater than we can hope for or imagine. It’s totally mind-blowing. That God should become what we are in order that we might become what he is, shows us the unfathomable riches of God’s love. In the Incarnation, God opens his heart to us and Jesus reveals the naked truth about God: that He is love and that his love for us is absolute and unconditional.
At this season, of course, what with cards and cribs, Nativity plays and carol services, it’s easy to get sidetracked into a romantic haze about Christmas without any real theological or historical depth. This is not a criticism, for such things do contain elements of truth. The real poverty of the Child in the manger, for example, has little to do with the picturesque circumstances surrounding his birth. Rather it is the fact that this Child is God, God who lays aside his divinity to take upon himself the condition of sinful humanity, the Lord who becomes a servant, the Creator who enters fully into the fragility of creation and throughout his life on earth experiences the vulnerability and precariousness of human life, from being a foetus in his mother’s womb and a new-born baby in swaddling bands to being taken prisoner, tried, scourged and condemned to death, crucified and buried in a tomb. All this he did for love of us, to save us from eternal damnation; to reconcile us with himself; to open for us the gates of the Kingdom of Heaven; to wrap us eternally in his embrace. Such is the loving mercy of God. In 2nd Corinthians St Paul writes, “Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.”
This morning we join Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and the angels, indeed the whole of creation, in worshipping and adoring the Christ Child, recognizing him to be our God and Saviour, the Word through whom all things were made, the Light that darkness cannot overpower, the Source of grace and truth.
On behalf of Fr Prior and the Monastic Community, I wish you and your loved ones a very happy Christmas.
Christmas Day 2017
The Queen's Christmas message
to the Commonwealth
Bishop R. Barron on Christmas
Christmas according to St Luke
Christmas according to St John
Libera wishes us a happy Christmas
The Vienna Boys Choir at Christmas
Handel's Messiah (best performance)
Gregorian Chant monks of Silos
Brother Roger of Taize & a little boy "No greater love..."