22 December 2021

'Now little children barely know / About Midnight Mass and mistletoe . . .' Sunday Reflections, Christmas Day 2021


Adoration of the Shepherds

Christmas Day, Years ABC

The Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord has four different Mass formularies, each with its own prayers and readings. Any of the four fulfils our obligation to attend Mass. These are:

Vigil Mass, celebrated 'either before or after First Vespers (Evening Prayer) of the Nativity'; that means starting between 5pm and 7pm.

Mass During the Night, known before as 'Midnight Mass'.

Mass at Dawn. 

Mass During the Day.

The readings from the Jerusalem Bible for the four Masses are all on one page but with links to each individual Mass. When you click on 'Readings' below from the New American Bible you will find links to the readings for each of the four Masses.


Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel (Mass During the Night) Luke 2:1-14 (English Standard Version Anglicised: India)  

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” 

Léachtaí i nGaeilge

Linus's Speech from A Charlie Brown Christmas

 Linus quotes Luke 2:8-14 (Authorized [King James] Version):

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Charlie Brown finds satisfaction in Linus’ answer. He is made joyful. So why is this television special so enduring? Linus’ answer is the perfect Advent message for Christians awaiting the birth of Christ during a time taken over by commercialism. That’s what Christians who watch this special take away from it [emphasis added]

The above is a quotation from an article by Clemente Lisi, Why 'A Charlie Brown Christmas' Remains Beloved by both Christians and Non-believers. A very perceptive comment on the article reads: I watched the original airing of the show in 1965 as an 8-year-old. Many, many times since then. It just occurred to me as I read your story that one of the main reasons for the profundity of Linus' speech is the silence before and after he quotes Luke. No piano, no laughter, no groaning. Just silence. It sets in our minds the importance of what is about to be said and subsequently what was said [emphasis added].

Adoration of the Shepherds
Rembrandt [Web Gallery of Art]

In his book Jesus of Nazareth, The Infancy Narratives, Pope Benedict XVI writes on pages 66-67 as follows [emphases added].

'And while they were there [Bethlehem], the time came for her to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn (Luke 2:6-7, RSV).

'Let us begin our exegesis with the concluding words of this passage: there was no room for them in the inn. Prayerful reflection over these words has highlighted an inner parallel between this saying and the profoundly moving  verse from St John's Prologue (read in the Mass During the Day)He came to his own home, and his own people received him not (1:11). For the Saviour of the World, for him in whom all things were created (cf Col 1:16), there was no room. Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head (Mt 8:20). He who was crucified outside the city (cf Heb 13:12) also came into the world outside the city.

'This should cause us to reflect - it points toward the reversal of values found in the figure of Jesus Christ and his message. From the moment of his birth, he belongs outside the realms of what is important and powerful in worldly terms. Yet it is this unimportant and powerless child that proves  to be the truly powerful one, the one on whom ultimately everything depends. So one aspect of becoming a Christian is having to leave behind what everyone else thinks and wants, the prevailing standards, in order to enter the light of the truth of our being, and aided by that light to find the right path.'


Both Rembrandt's painting above and Murillo's at the top beautifully show this unimportant and powerless child to be truly the light of the truth of our being.

The last two years have been dark for all people throughout the world and very dark for many. Most of us have felt powerless at times, in varying degrees. May the words of St John's Gospel be a beacon of hope for all of us:

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5).

Agus tá an solas ag taitneamh sa dorchadas, ach níor ghabh an dorchadas é (Eoin 1:5).

Alternative Santa
Written and read by Roger McGough

Roger McGough, from Liverpool, is a poet of the people. This poem, written before Covid-19 hit us, whimsically captures some of the realities of modern life that have since become part of our Covid experience, online shopping in particular. But there is a poignancy in the closing lines of the poem below that describe what we in the Western world have largely lost as social beings and as people of Christian faith in modern times, perhaps accelerated by the pandemic. 

And that was years and years ago / Now little children barely know / About Midnight Mass and mistletoe / Christmas carols and candle glow / Sleigh bells ringing across the snow / And  Santa singing Yo ho ho /  For that was years and years ago / For that was years and years ago.

Note: In the opening lines of the poem Roger McGough refers to 'Father Christmas', a name for Santa Claus used in England, though with different origins from St Nicholas. It has come into the Irish language as Daidí na Nollag.

Sung by Leontyne Price
Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Herbert von Karajan

At the risk of 'overloading' I've included this. The voice of Leontyne Price is for me a proof of both the existence and the beauty of a loving God and that we are made in God's image.

A Blessed Christmas to All!

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