Dear Brothers and Sisters,
We have just heard in the Gospel the message given by the angels to the shepherds during that Holy Night, a message which the Church now proclaims to us: "To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger" (Lk 2:11-12). Nothing miraculous, nothing extraordinary, nothing magnificent is given to the shepherds as a sign. All they will see is a child wrapped in swaddling clothes, one who, like all children, needs a mother’s care; a child born in a stable, who therefore lies not in a cradle but in a manger. God’s sign is the baby in need of help and in poverty. Only in their hearts will the shepherds be able to see that this baby fulfils the promise of the prophet Isaiah, which we heard in the first reading: "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder" (Is 9:5). Exactly the same sign has been given to us. We too are invited by the angel of God, through the message of the Gospel, to set out in our hearts to see the child lying in the manger.
God’s sign is simplicity. God’s sign is the baby. God’s sign is that he makes himself small for us. This is how he reigns. He does not come with power and outward splendour. He comes as a baby – defenceless and in need of our help. He does not want to overwhelm us with his strength. He takes away our fear of his greatness. He asks for our love: so he makes himself a child. He wants nothing other from us than our love, through which we spontaneously learn to enter into his feelings, his thoughts and his will – we learn to live with him and to practise with him that humility of renunciation that belongs to the very essence of love. God made himself small so that we could understand him, welcome him, and love him. […] The Son himself is the Word, the Logos; the eternal Word became small – small enough to fit into a manger. He became a child, so that the Word could be grasped by us. In this way God teaches us to love the little ones. In this way he teaches us to love the weak. In this way he teaches us respect for children. The child of Bethlehem directs our gaze towards all children who suffer and are abused in the world, the born and the unborn. Towards children who are placed as soldiers in a violent world; towards children who have to beg; towards children who suffer deprivation and hunger; towards children who are unloved. In all of these it is the Child of Bethlehem who is crying out to us; it is the God who has become small who appeals to us. Let us pray this night that the brightness of God’s love may enfold all these children. Let us ask God to help us do our part so that the dignity of children may be respected. May they all experience the light of love, which mankind needs so much more than the material necessities of life. […]
All this is conveyed by the sign that was given to the shepherds and is given also to us: the child born for us, the child in whom God became small for us. Let us ask the Lord to grant us the grace of looking upon the crib this night with the simplicity of the shepherds, so as to receive the joy with which they returned home (cf. Lk 2:20). Let us ask him to give us the humility and the faith with which Saint Joseph looked upon the child that Mary had conceived by the Holy Spirit. Let us ask the Lord to let us look upon him with that same love with which Mary saw him. And let us pray that in this way the light that the shepherds saw will shine upon us too, and that what the angels sang that night will be accomplished throughout the world: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased." Amen!
An abridged version of the homily given by Pope Benedict XVI at the Christmas Midnight Mass 2006 in St. Peter’s Basilica.
Liturgy is just exhilarating! What could give you more of a spiritual rush than a thirty minute homily being read straight from the page, a cantor who sings with the voice of an angelic chicken, an altar server who must be awakened from her mid-Mass nap to bring the Missal to the altar, and a lector who proclaims the Word of God with monotone gusto and the speed of a snail?
Okay, yes, liturgy on the surface can be quite unexciting. We can often leave Mass unnourished, and critiquing everything that left us unsatisfied. Yet, everything that we critique, everything that leaves us unsatisfied, is what is essential to liturgy itself. Liturgy is a reflection of us, the faithful. So, perhaps, we are quite unexciting; however, I don’t believe this is the case. I think liturgy takes on a different type of excitement, an excitement that fulfills us in a way that nothing of this world can compare to.
There are many times when I’m having a bad day, and I hope and pray that a large McDonald’s chocolate shake will give me the nourishment and comfort that I need to continue on. As I sit in the drive-thru line, I’m excited about my chocolate shake to the point where I can even taste it! Ten minutes later, after consuming 22 fl oz. of ice cream goodness, I find myself sick and even more unnourished than before.
The excitement of the chocolate shake is an excitement of this world that will never last. It does not even come close to the nourishment and excitement that the Eucharist brings to those who believe. Everything we do flows from liturgy. Sacrosanctum Concilium (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy) says that “the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the church is directed; it is also the font from which all her power flows” (SC 10). Just as we bring bread and wine to the Altar to be transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ, when we come forward to receive Christ, we bring our very selves to the Altar of God to be transformed and commissioned to Christ’s ministry on earth.
This has been the purpose of Eucharistic liturgy since the beginning of the Church. In the second century, Justin Martyr defended the Eucharistic practices of the Church by stating the following: “through the word of prayer that comes from God, the food over which the Eucharist has been spoken becomes the flesh and blood of the incarnate Jesus, in order to nourish and transform our flesh and blood” (Apologia I, 65-66). We are unable to do Christ’s ministry here on earth without the fruits of our liturgical worship. Every time we celebrate Mass, we are coming to the source, the origin, of all life and ministry. How exciting is that? If we truly understand that our Eucharistic celebration is where it all begins, then no boring homily, no awful cantor, no napping server, and no monotone lector can ever lesson the excitement that abounds beneath the surface of liturgy. No matter what liturgical experience we may have on the surface, the excitement of liturgy should pour forth into our lives, helping us to engage in the ministry that Jesus established for us on earth.
As I mentioned, liturgy is a reflection of us, the faithful. It is us doing the work of God, on behalf of God and for God’s people. Because we are only human, liturgy may not live up to the idea of excitement that we are used to. However, liturgy is home to a different excitement, a lasting excitement, an excitement that will always be present. It’s just a question of whether we’ve come to Mass open to this excitement. Have we come to Mass for a chocolate shake, or have we come to be sent forth to proclaim the Gospel of the Lord?
Stephen Schad is working towards his MA in Liturgical Studies from the University of Notre Dame, and is currently the Director of Liturgy and Music at Saint Maximilian Kolbe Catholic Community in Houston, TX.
As a Catholic school student in the fifth grade, I learned about the “cult of the saints.” I remember being extremely confused at the time, as I had no idea what the phrase meant, and I don’t think it was ever actually explained to us. In preparation for All Saints Day, we were tasked with choosing a saint and writing an essay about them. After wide consultation amongst family members, I chose St. Jude Thaddeus, the patron saint of hopeless cases. Perhaps this was my family’s way of saying that I was a hopeless case at the age of 10, but I digress.
A dozen or so of us lucky students who wrote superb essays were chosen not only to present our essays in front of the classroom, but also to dress up like our sainted friend and read the essay at the conclusion of All Saints Day Mass at the parish church. I set off to find out what St. Jude looked like. Flowing robes and lots of green fabric. Without asking my mother to dig out the old photo albums, let’s just say that it happened, and that the experience got me hooked on the “cult of the saints.”
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints. This celebration includes the many saints and blessed “who have gone before us with the sign of faith” (Roman Canon), in addition to both the ordinary and extraordinary who intercede for us daily in Heaven but who have not officially risen to the “dignity of the altar.” These holy women and men serve as examples of how to live, love, and serve the world around us. We are all called to love, and we are all called to be saints. As a priest said during a homily while I was on vacation this summer, “To become a saint isn’t to become a statue. It is to become real.” Through living out the love that Christ showed us on the cross and by emulating those who have gone before us, we all assist in building up the Body of Christ.
In Pope Benedict XVI’s homily on All Saints Day in 2006, he said, “Holiness demands a constant effort, but it is possible for everyone because, rather than a human effort, it is first and foremost a gift of God, thrice Holy.” If holiness is a gift from God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – it is our responsibility to strive for holiness in order to be, as the priest prays during the Roman Canon, “counted among the flock of those [God] has chosen.”
As an Anglophile and lover of English hymnody, I leave you with this. Enjoy, and blessed Solemnity of All Saints!
Alex R. Boucher is the Program & Operations Coordinator for the Catholic Apostolate Center. Follow Alex on Twitter at @AlexBoucher.