The midnight Mass is one of the most well known religious events. It is often televised. I recall watching some of it on different channels.
One channel would air the Pope’s Mass from the Vatican, another would air St. Patrick’s cathedral’s Mass from New York City; others would air Masses from local parishes; some programming was even from our separated brothers and sisters in the Protestant Faith.
Regardless of who was officiating the religious service, all shared the same theme: Christ is born unto us.
This night is important. We are awaiting the birth of Christ the Lord. The Savior that was promised to the Chosen People, has finally arrived. The first reading for Midnight Mass is from Isaiah 9:1-6 which recalls how the ancient Israelites were in darkness, lost, bitter and hopeless. They ‘walked in darkness’ in ‘the land of gloom.’ Then a light was shone upon them. A child was born that would change the downward spiral they were going through.
From this reading, we move into the Responsorial Psalm which reflects the first reading. “Today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord” is the response to each Psalm verse which is taken from Luke 2:11. This child that is born that would change it all for the better is Christ the Lord. Christ is the Messiah, the one who brings us out of darkness and the land of gloom that the first reading speaks of.
The second reading is from Titus 2:11-14 and speaks of Christ being the savior – Grace personified – that will teach humanity the right way so that it can remove itself from lawlessness and other vices that keep us from God and from our true dignified selves.
Finally, we read from the Gospel of Luke 2:1-14 which goes into detail the account of the Birth of this Child Christ the Lord that the first reading promises will come; the psalm answers who He is and the second reading tells us what He will do. In the Gospel, we are told that this Child didn’t come in a chariot of gold. He wasn’t born into nobility or wealth. This child was born in a manger where livestock lives.
Imagine the setting for a moment.
Put yourself there on that cold dark night. There was no modern medicine that we take for granted today; no IV’s, no sedatives, no bandages, running water etc. Instead, there was just a barn like structure with hay, possibly animal waste, unpleasant animal scents, and so on. Here is where the child was born. The God of gods, the Lord of lords; the Savior of the Jews and of the whole world was born in this setting.
We often whine and complain about how and where we live. Our desire to be happy stems from a false delusion that in order to be happy we must have the “best.” Christ says otherwise in His birth. Each of us was born with nothing but our bodies. We were wet, sticky and reeking of the scent of our mother’s bodily fluids. Yet in this condition we have worth. We are human beings made in God’s image. This is why Christ was born in the same manner. He was one of us in all things except sin. (Heb. 4:15) This is why we must protect human life from conception to natural death.
The imagery presented is one of the things that makes the “Christian God” better than any gods man has formulated in an attempt to describe the One God due to ignorance. God became one of us. He did this not to rule over us or demand sacrifices, but to show us love and call us to it. Pope Francis is reminding us of this, especially the clergy. Unfortunately, there are some in the Church who have adopted clericalism. Clericalism is a psychological phenomenon in the Church where an ordained member of the Catholic Church feels he is superior to others “below” his “rank.” He believes that he is unique from the others solely because he has Holy Orders. Religious sisters are not immune to this psychological phenomenon. This way of thinking is an over-zealous attempt at presenting “alter Christus” to the lay faithful. Pope Francis is reminding us that this kind of thinking is not of Christ. If Christ was not born to be “over us” as some superior, what gives a priest a right to feel that he is above others just because of his ministry? This is not of Christ and is vanity.
Christ was born into poverty. He was born into the ‘smell of his sheep,’ to use Pope Francis’ analogy. We are called to imitate Him. Christ is the Child who was born unto us, the people lost in the land of gloom and doom; of where am I going and woe is me. He is the light that shines the way. Normally stars are what light up the dark skies, but when Christ was born, He lighted them. The Star pointed to Christ who is the true light.
May Christ continue to be born in our hearts not just tonight or on Christmas day; but every second of our lives. Amen