Christmas Midnight Mass (B), December 25, 2011 Audio Homily

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Anthony of Padua Parish, New Bedford, MA
Christmas 2011
Vigil: Is 62:1-5; Acts 13:16-17,22-25; Mt 1:18-25
Midnight: Is 9:1-6; Tit2:11-14; Lk 2:1-14
Dawn: Is 62:11-12; Tit3:4-7; Lk 2:15-20
Day: Is 52:7-10; Heb1:1-6; Jn1:1-18

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click at the bottom of the page. The following text guided this homily:

POWER TO BECOME CHILDREN OF GOD

  • Our beautiful Church was dedicated on Thanksgiving Day, November 28, 1912. Less than a month later, our spiritual ancestors celebrated Christmas in this magnificent upper Church for the first time. For ten years they had waited for the Church to be completed and able to be used for the worship of God. What joy they must have felt as they sang Adeste Fideles for the first time, as they heard the recently dedicated organ augment their voices praising and thanking God the Father for loving us so much that he sent his own Son to become one of us, to share our life and redeem it, so that we might not perish but have eternal life. That Christmas joy has continued unabated every year since, and we are elated that today we have the special privilege to celebrate the birth of Christ for the 100th time in this beautiful temple dedicated to God.
  • This Church was built to be a palpable reminder of the mystery of Christmas.
  • In the famous vision of St. Anthony above the high altar, we see how in 1231, as St. Anthony was praying before a huge crucifix, the statue of Jesus on the Cross came to life, took flesh, and at the same time, transformed into a small baby so that Anthony could embrace him; this evokes how the Son of God when he came into the world in Bethlehem likewise took flesh as a little baby so that we could all embrace him in love.
  • The 4,000 decorative lights in the Church, an engineering and visual marvel when the Church was built and something that people even today travel hours to see, is meant to convey to us what the Prophet Isaiah foretold in the first reading of Midnight Mass, that the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them light has shone.” That light is precisely the “child born for us.” This extraordinary manifestation of light is a powerful reflection of that child, born the Light of the World, the one whom St. John will tell us in the Gospel for Christmas Mass during the day is “the true light, who enlightens everyone, who was coming into the world.”
  • But perhaps the most evocative Christmas reminder of all in this Church is the depiction of the presence of so many angels. Over the course of the last 100 years, many kids in St. Anthony’s school, scores of parishioners and others, have undertaken to number them. When I got here, people were telling me there were 147, including representations of all nine choirs of angels mentioned in the Old Testament. Fr. Nick counted two years ago and identified 197 of them. As I was recently reviewing his numbers for a photo book on our Church, I think the number might actually be 16 higher than what he came up with, or 213. Regardless of what the number turns out to be, the overall impression of one coming into this Church is to be surrounded everywhere by the presence of God’s holy angels. It’s impossible for me in beholding them not to remember the important role God gave the angels at the birth of Christ.
  • The angel appeared to Mary with God’s message at the annunciation asking her to become the mother of the Son of God.
  • The angel appeared to Joseph, as we see in the Gospel for the Vigil Mass, telling him not to be afraid to receive Mary his wife into his home, that it was through the Holy Spirit that the child was conceived in her, and that he was to name the child Jesus because he would save his people from their sins.
  • The angel appeared to the shepherds keeping watch at night over their flocks, telling them likewise not to be afraid, and announcing to them “good news of great joy … for all the people.” Then the angel got to the heart of his message, “For today in the city of David, a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.” The angel was then suddenly surrounded by a multitude of the heavenly host, doubtless 213 or more, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
  • Over the course of the centuries, the Christian people have justly focused much of their attention on the role of these angels at Christmas. We have sung with gusto, as we will again tonight, “Hark! The herald angels sing, glory to the newborn King.” We ponder anew their message: “Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.” They help us to penetrate the mystery of the incarnation: “Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see; hail th’incarnate Deity, pleased with us in flesh to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel.” They communicate the purpose of his presence: “Mild he lays his glory by, born that we no more may die, born to raise us from the earth, born to give us second birth.” And we receive from them a mission, “Joyful, all ye nations rise, join the triumph of the skies, with the angelic hosts proclaim, Christ is born in Bethlehem!” All of these truths, which they announced 2,000 years ago, they continue to proclaim to us powerfully in this Church every liturgical celebration of Christmas.
  • But if all of these statues could come alive tonight and we could hear their message, it would not be focused merely or mainly on the unbelievable events that took place in the middle east when Caesar Augustus was Roman emperor and Quirinius was governor of Syria. They would want us to concentrate on the just as incredible happening occurring right now. They would tell us to pay particular attention to the “tense” of the verbs that are being used in the readings tonight and not miss their meaning. The angels would continue to proclaim, as they said in the Gospel, “TODAY … a savior is born for you who is Christ and Lord.” They would tell us to listen to Isaiah, who likewise continues to say, “For a child IS — not was — born to us, a son IS — not was — given to us.” They would urge us to reflect on the significance of the refrain for the responsorial psalm for the Midnight Mass, which they sang [will sing] with us repeatedly, “Today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord.” They would point us to the second reading for the Mass during the day, when God the Father says to Jesus, “You are my Son; this day I have begotten you” and then to the angels, “let all the angels of God worship him.” The angels continue to follow that command, worshipping the Son who is born TODAY. In chorus, they would become us to join them in that adoration.
  • This focus on Jesus Christ being born for us today, not just 2000 years ago, was taken up very powerfully by Pope Benedict this Wednesday during his general audience with Catholics from around the world. His words help us not only to understand the meaning of Christmas but the meaning of the Christmas Mass that we’re now praying together.
    “With the Christmas liturgy,” Pope Benedict says, “the Church introduces us to the great Mystery of the Incarnation. Christmas, in fact, is not a mere anniversary of Jesus’ birth; it is more: … it is the celebration of a mystery that has marked and continues to mark mankind’s history — God Himself came to dwell among us (cf. John 1:14), He made Himself one of us; … a mystery that we experience concretely in the liturgical celebrations, especially in the Holy Mass.…
  • “During the Holy Mass on Christmas Night, we will repeat as a refrain to the responsorial psalm, these words: ‘Today a Savior is born for us.’ This adverb of time ‘Today,’ which is used repeatedly throughout the Christmas celebrations, refers to the event of Jesus’ birth and to the salvation that the incarnation of the Son of God comes to bring.…
  • “In indicating that Jesus is born today,’ the liturgy does not use a meaningless phrase, but underscores that this birth affects and permeates the whole of history — even today, it remains a reality to which we may attain, precisely in the liturgy. For believers, the celebration of Christmas renews our certainty that God is really present with us, still ‘flesh’ and not only far away: though also with the Father, He is close to us. In that Child born in Bethlehem, God drew near to man: we can encounter Him now — in a ‘today’ whose sun knows no setting”
  • “I would like to stress this point,” Pope Benedict continues, “because modern man … finds it increasingly more difficult to open his horizons and enter the world of God. The Redemption of mankind certainly took place at a precise and identifiable moment in history: in the event of Jesus of Nazareth. But Jesus is the Son of God. He is God Himself, who not only spoke to man, showed him wondrous signs and guided him throughout the history of salvation, but became man and remains man. The Eternal entered into the limits of time and space, in order to make possible an encounter with Him ‘today.’ …
  • When, within liturgical celebrations, we hear or proclaim this ‘Today a Savior is born for us,’ we are not employing an empty, conventional expression; rather, we mean that God offers us ‘today,’ now, to me, to each one of us, the possibility of acknowledging and receiving Him like the shepherds in Bethlehem, so that He might be born in our lives and renew them, illumine them, transform them by His grace, by His Presence.…
  • “Dear brothers and sisters,” concludes the Pope, “let us joyously live the feast of Christmas.… Let us live this wondrous event: The Son of God again is born ‘today’; God is truly close to each one of us, and He wants to meet us — He wants to bring us to Himself. … Let us live the Lord’s birth by contemplating the path of God’s immense love. … Above all, let us contemplate and live this Mystery in the celebration of the Eucharist, the heart of Christmas; there, Jesus makes Himself really present — as the true Bread come down from heaven, as the true Lamb sacrificed for our salvation.”
  • So the Pope tells us that the celebration of Christmas is not supposed to be merely a memory of a past event but a mystery and a presence of Christ today. The incarnation of Jesus that began at the annunciation and was announced to the world on Christmas didn’t end at Jesus’ ascension, but continues still, as he keeps his valedictory promise, “I will always be with you until the end of the world.” God-with-us is still with us.
  • The light that began to shine in Bethelehem — of which all of these lights reminds us — has never been extinguished. It continues to shine around us tonight. It continues to reach those who walk in darkness, the shadow of sin, fear, depression, broken hearts, fractured families, hunger, unemployment, and homelessness. That light continues to reach us because the same child who 2000 years ago was adored by the shepherds in a cave in Bethlehem, never stops visiting us in our daily life. He continues to be born for us ‘today’, and for that reason fills each today of our life with hope. Jesus Christ is truly Emmanuel, God-with-us now, God-with-us today, and that’s why we have nothing to fear. He has entered the world and never left. And this is true most especially in the gift of his real abiding presence in the Holy Eucharist. Every day at the altar, this same child is born for us, this same son is given to us. Every day here at Mass God says, “You are my Son. This day I have begotten you.” Every day the Word of God becomes flesh and dwells among us.
  • That’s why with the words of the great hymn “Angels we have heard on high,” the Angels tell us anew, pointing to not so much backwards in time, not so much to a statue in a manger but to a Child represented by that statue come to life on the altar, “Come, adore on bended knee, Christ, the Lord, the new born king.” That’s why we exultantly proclaim in “O Holy Night,” “Fall on your knees, O hear the angels’ voices! O night divine, O night when Christ is born!
  • After the shepherds heard the angel’s words, they said “Let us go to Bethlehem” and “went in haste,” — ran — to adore the Lord in the middle of the night. Likewise we have come here at night to adore the same Lord born for us. After the shepherds adored Christ in Bethlehem, they returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had seen and heard. They became, in effect, a new wave of angels, of heavenly messengers, proclaiming with the angelic hosts Christ’s presence, raising sweet hymns of praise in grateful chorus, with all with them praising his Holy Name, and proclaiming forevermore his power and glory. Tonight, for the 100th time, we’re called — all 213 of us and more — to imitate their transformation and not keep our singing of the “sweet hymn of joy in grateful chorus raising” within these walls, but helped by these celestial messengers and intercessors, to go to everyone we meet and announce that same good news of great joy that is just as actual for us in 2011 in New Bedford as it was 2011 years ago in Bethlehem. Let us, with the shepherds, with the angels, with the Catholics of the past 100 years, with Christians throughout the world, burst forth together, “Joy to the world! The Lord is come! Let earth receive her King. Let every heart prepare him room.” Christ is born for us today! Gloria in excelsis! Come let us adore him! Amen!

The readings for today’s Mass were:

Reading 1 IS 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!

Responsorial Psalm PS 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.

Reading 2 TI 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.

Alleluia LK 2:10-11

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
I proclaim to you good news of great joy:
today a Savior is born for us,
Christ the Lord.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel LK 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.”