UNDERSTANDING YOUR FAITH:
By Vic Scaravilli
The Christmas season is the beginning of our Liturgical or Church year. Instead of our calendar marking times of the year, we celebrate the major events of Christ’s life in our yearly observance of sacred time. Since the coming of Christ is the fulfillment of God’s plan of salvation, this event marks the start of the liturgical year.
Advent begins the new church year with the first Sunday of Advent and goes through December 24. During these four weeks, we prepare for the coming of Christ by re-enacting the time and events that led up to the birth of Jesus.
Throughout the four weeks of Advent, the readings reflect the anticipation of the coming of the promised Messiah. This year all of the Old Testament readings are taken from the prophet, Isaiah who prophesized about the glory in the coming of the Lord. The New Testament readings are from Matthew’s Gospel and tell of how the people were prepared for the birth of Christ.
Advent is a time of spiritual darkness as we wait for the Light of the World to arrive. We use an advent wreath symbolize darkness changing into light. As one more candle is lit each week, the light becomes brighter and when the fourth is lit, we know Christmas is near. The celebration of Christmas is the reward of moving through Advent. By waiting and anticipating for Christmas makes the actual event so special.
Christmas gets its name from the central act of Catholic worship, the Mass. Christmas means “Christ’s Mass” and is the way this event was originally celebrated to commemorate the birth of Christ.
The celebration of Christmas was not observed until approximately the 4th century. As the early centuries passed by, Christians began to wish to celebrate Christ’s birth. Since the exact date of Jesus’ birth was unknown, Christians were free to choose a meaningful date. The date of December 25 was chosen to replace the pagan observance of a solar feast celebrating the shining of the sun for longer periods of time after the winter solstice. Since Jesus is called the Light of the World who could cause light to shine out of darkness and was able to provide life over death, this date was chosen to signify the coming of the light to the world.
In the darkest night of the year, the Church recalls the birth of Jesus. This is done by celebrating the Eucharist three times – at midnight, dawn, and during the day, each time with different readings, prayers, and praises.
Midnight mass commemorates the light of Christ coming into a darkened world. The first reading from Isaiah says, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shown.” The Epistle from Paul to Titus: “The grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men.” Luke’s Gospel proclaims, “For today in the City of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ the Lord.”
Mass at dawn continues the theme of Christ’s birth. Isaiah prophesizes “Your savior comes!” and Paul in the Epistle to Titus teaches the kindness and generous love of God appeared to us in Jesus because of His mercy. In Luke’s Gospel, after being told by angels, shepherds come and witness Christ’s glorious birth.
The daytime Mass is the real festival Mass of Christmas. This mass proclaims the eternal birth of Jesus and who He is. Isaiah proclaims, “Your God is King.” Paul in his epistle to the Hebrews says God has spoken to us in these last days through the Son. John’s Gospel is used to proclaim the eternal existence of Jesus, “In the beginning was the Word (Jesus), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
For non-believers, December 25 is just a mid-winter holiday. But for believers, it is wonderful time to reflect on the birth of God’s greatest gift to us for our salvation- Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.