3. The Nativity of the Lord
And it came to pass that when they were there, Mary’s days were accomplished that she should be delivered. 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. And there were in the same country shepherds watching and keeping the night watches over their flock. 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. 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: For, this day is born to you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David. And this shall be a sign unto you. You shall find the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army, praising God and saying: Glory to God in the highest: and on earth peace to men of good will. (Luke 2:6-14)
Just as the Sanctus at Holy Mass is akin to a new Annunciation heralding the Savior’s mystical return, we witness with the eyes of faith its fulfillment in the consecration of the Most Holy Eucharist – that which makes present, in a sense, the Nativity of the Risen Lord!
In the Gloria we echo the multitude of the heavenly army, praising God and saying: Glory to God in the highest: and on earth peace to men of good will…
In the Sanctus we join them once again to sing the Lord’s unending hymn of praise: Holy, holy, holy…
The Council Fathers tell us that Holy Mass on earth is nothing less than participation in the liturgy of Heaven itself, (cf SC 8 ) and so it is that in the sacred liturgy the choirs of angels are truly present with us!
St. Leonard of Port Maurice was once moved to ask, “How can anyone be present before the altar of the Lord with a mind that is distracted and a heart that is dissipated at a time when even the holy angels are there, trembling and astonished, at the contemplation of a work so stupendous?”
In other words, shouldn’t we – just like the angels – be filled with a tremendous sense of awe at Holy Mass? Indeed we should!
In the Most Holy Eucharist, the Eternal Son of God who humbled Himself to share in our humanity that He may be slain for our sins only to rise in glory, is present to us at Holy Mass in no less substantial way than He was to the shepherds who knelt before Him in Bethlehem (Hebrew for “House of Bread”).
Unlike the shepherds, however, we are called to enter into holy and intimate communion with the Lord.
When we prepare to welcome the Savior anew in the Most Holy Eucharist, we are moved to examine our conscience; to ponder to what extent He who once found “no room at the inn” will find ample room to rest within us that He might accomplish the work of our Redemption.
Moved by the recognition of our unworthiness, we call upon the Blessed Mother for help:
Accompany me this day, O’ Blessed Virgin, in approaching your Son in the Most Holy Eucharist, that the radiant light of your holiness might disperse the shadows of sin that lurk in my soul, illuminating within me a resting place for the Lord, that He may find room to dwell and to reign within me, both now and forever. Amen.
4. The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple
And after the days of her purification, according to the law of Moses, were accomplished, Mary and Joseph carried him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord: As it is written in the law of the Lord: Every male opening the womb shall be called holy to the Lord: And to offer a sacrifice, according as it is written in the law of the Lord… (Luke 2:22-24)
Those of us who assemble to assist at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass do so not simply as spectators; but rather as a people configured to the Lord through the waters of Baptism – the gateway to liturgical participation – in such way as to exercise a share in the priesthood of Christ in a manner befitting our vocation as lay members of His Body.
As such, we are granted at Holy Mass the great privilege, and indeed the duty, to offer our own sacrifice to the Father, in union with that perfect Sacrifice of the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Pope Pius XII exhorted the faithful to engage in such an offering of self, saying:
It is, therefore, desirable, Venerable Brethren, that all the faithful should be aware that to participate in the Eucharistic sacrifice is their chief duty and supreme dignity, and that not in an inert and negligent fashion, giving way to distractions and day-dreaming, but with such earnestness and concentration that they may be united as closely as possible with the High Priest, according to the Apostle, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” And together with Him and through Him let them make their oblation, and in union with Him let them offer up themselves (Mediator Dei – 80).
As always, our every effort to participate in Holy Mass takes on greater efficacy when we humbly seek the assistance of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and so we turn to our Mother in prayer as the altar is being prepared:
Dearest Mother Mary, carry me in your arms, I pray, as once you carried the child Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem. Place me and all of my intentions upon this Holy Altar of Sacrifice, that I may be joined to your Son and become in Him a sacrifice pleasing and acceptable to God the Almighty Father. Amen.
5. The Finding of Jesus in the Temple
And his parents went every year to Jerusalem, at the solemn day of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they going up into Jerusalem, according to the custom of the feast, and having fulfilled the days, when they returned, the child Jesus remained in Jerusalem. And his parents knew it not. And thinking that he was in the company, they came a day’s journey and sought him among their kinsfolks and acquaintance. And not finding him, they returned into Jerusalem, seeking him. And it came to pass, that, after three days, they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, hearing them and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his wisdom and his answers. And seeing him, they wondered. And his mother said to him: Son, why hast thou done so to us? Behold thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. And he said to them: How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be about my father’s business? And they understood not the word that he spoke unto them. And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was subject to them. And his mother kept all these words in her heart. And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and grace with God and men. (Luke 2:41-52).
According to the custom of the Passover that has been perfected in Christ in the new and everlasting covenant, the faithful assemble as the People of God in the New Jerusalem that is the Church for the solemn feast of freedom from sin and death – the Holy Mass. It is here where we partake of the Lamb of God – He toward whom the unblemished lamb of the Jewish Passover meal simply pointed – to enter into the Sacrifice of our Salvation offered once and for all.
After the priest proclaims, “The Mass is ended,” however, do we, like the Blessed Mother, continue to seek Him? If so, where is He to be found?
How often we fail to truly seek Him in the ordinary course of daily life, choosing instead to wander among “kinsfolk and acquaintances,” contenting ourselves in the ways of this fallen world. Those who have taken the mysteries of the most holy rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary to heart, however, not only know that Jesus must be ever be sought but also where He is to be found in the Temple.
We are compelled, therefore, to ask: Where is thy Temple, O’ Lord, that I might seek You and find You and follow You all the days of my life?
In the Gospel of St. John we read:
Jesus answered and said to them: Destroy this temple; and in three days I will raise it up. The Jews then said: Six and forty years was this temple in building; and wilt thou raise it up in three days? But he spoke of the temple of his body (John 2:19-21).
Yes, the Temple is none other than the Body of Christ, the Church, and so we who seek Jesus know we must follow the guiding hand of the Holy Mother who teaches us in Her doctrines and nurtures us in the Sacraments. If we do, the words of St. Paul will certainly ring true:
Know you not that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? (1 Corinthians 3:16)
To seek and to find the Lord within ourselves, however, is not simply a matter of doing as one pleases; rather, it entails joining with Christ in doing His Father’s business. For it is in building the Kingdom of God on earth in preparation for His glorious return – the true fulfillment of the sacred liturgy – that one finds Christ when “the Mass is ended.”
Even as the Lord in His youth subjected Himself to Mary and Joseph, let us also humbly take our place as children of the Holy Family, seeking the guidance of our Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, in all that we do, so that we too may advance in wisdom and grace with God and with men.
We will continue our reflection next week with a look at the Sorrowful Mysteries.
(© 2011 Louie Verrechio)