Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve: joyous anticipation

"Christmas Eve is unique among all vigils. Joyous anticipation fills the hearts of both child and adult, and all the Christian world has tried to express this sentiment in a superabundance of images, customs and traditions. It would be impossible to consider all of them. Not only nations but even individual families have devised splendid little customs to celebrate Christmas. Let us first of all outline briefly the spiritual foundation for these customs as it is found in the Mass, Office and Martyrology of Christmas Eve.

The entire liturgy of Christmas Eve is consecrated to the anticipation of the certain and sure arrival of the Saviour: "Today you shall know that the Lord shall come and tomorrow you shall see His glory" (Invitatory of Matins for the Vigil of the Nativity). Throughout Advent we have seen how the preparation for Jesus' coming became more and more precise. Isaias, John the Baptist and the Virgin Mother appeared throughout the season announcing and foretelling the coming of the King. We learn today that Christ according to His human nature is born at Bethlehem of the House of David of the Virgin Mary, and that according to His divine nature He is conceived of the Spirit of holiness, the Son of God and the Second Person of the Trinity.

The certitude of His coming is made clear in two images. The first is that of the closed gate of paradise. Since our first parents were cast forth from the earthly paradise the gate has been closed and a cherubim stands guard with flaming sword. The Redeemer alone is able to open this door and enter in. On Christmas Eve we stand before the gate of paradise, and it is for this reason that psalm 23 is the theme of the vigil:

"Lift up your gates, O princes,
Open wide, eternal gates,
That the King of Glory may enter in...."

The Introit, Offertory, and Communion of the Mass are entirely consecrated to this image. The second image is that of the Blessed Mother. The last historical development of the season of Advent is expressed in the Gospel of today. The great suffering and doubt of St. Joseph concerning his spouse is allayed by the reassurance of an angel. He who is to be born is not of Joseph but truly of the Holy Spirit: "She shall conceive a child and you shall give Him the name of Jesus (Saviour), for He shall ransom His people of their sins.""

-- True Christmas Spirit by Rev Edward J Sutfin

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