Christmas Midnight Mass

Many people surf the internet but monks surf the daily Mass Missal! I was looking at the introduction to the Gospel for Christmas and came across this quote: “The church never tires of singing the glory of this night.” Then a quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The virgin today brings into the world the Eternal/ And the earth offers a cave to the inaccessible”. A cave for the inaccessible does not sound like the Catechism to me so I looked it up and sure enough it is from an ancient Greek author named Romanos the Melodist.

The Greek hymn offers two paradoxes: the human (Mary) brings forth the eternal and earth offer a place for the inaccessible. Two mysteries that can slip by us if we get too caught up in the modern crib set or the word picture painted so beautifully by St. Luke. Mary and Joseph, the infant in the manger, the shepherds in adoration, the angles singing the Gloria all these things and others like them take our attention and really bedazzle our mind so that if we are not careful, we forget that all this is expressing the mystery of the Divine becoming human, making the human a locus or place to access the inaccessible. Sounds like a contradiction but it is really the coincident of opposites. Each pole contains something of its opposite. The infant in the manger is very accessible to our love and emotions but how to do we enter into the mystery of his divinity? There are two ways, I believe, mentioned by Luke, indirectly, the liturgy divides his narrative into two sections. One we just heard the other is for the dawn mass. Put together they show us two ways to enter into the mystery of the incarnation.

The first is to follow Mary in pondering the words and events in her heart. We too can contemplate and see with the eyes of our heart and hear the account with the ears of our mind. This means, not so much our grasping the meaning of the event but of us being grasped by it. The word behold is used a lot in this narrative. To behold means not only to look but to be taken in by what you see. “Behold” can mean open the door of your soul; let yourself be overwhelmed, owned, dominated by what you see and hear. Surface knowledge is a way of conquering a subject, a way of gaining control over a subject. Beholding is a way of looking that demands that what you see changes you. In a sense you are being looked at and absorbed by the mystery.

The second way to enter into the mystery of the Divine in the human is to do what the shepherds did when they left the place of the infant, they returned to their fields praising and glorifying God. This reminds me of one of the dismissals at Mass, “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life”. We are leaving the sacredness of the liturgy and entering daily life made sacred by the birth of Jesus. As one author puts it, because of the Incarnation all life is sacred.

Just to be called into existence is a grace. We did not have a choice and yet once we exist we will live forever. In an ancient allegory about our journey through life the pilgrims are crossing the desert and are close to death when they spot a spring off to the East and voice comes from the spring – all you who thirst come to the water. They bend down and drink deeply of the fresh water and stand there dazed by tremendous joy and wonder. Wouldn’t it be nice if while  celebrating this liturgy and pondering the mystery we too could be dazed by tremendous joy and wonder. That is my Christmas wish for each of you that you be dazed with tremendous joy and wonder at your very existence, your Christian vocation, your monastic vocation and with joy and wonder as each day you become what you already are. Behold!