CHESHIRE, England, December 24, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – When musing on what to write for a LifeSiteNews Christmas reflection, it was all too easy for me to fall onto the ‘big’ topics of the year, because in them, there is near endless material upon which to build a reflection. My pessimistic, grumpy side would have had a field day; Christmas cheer would probably have been hard to find.
Yet, this is Christmas – perhaps the most beautiful time of year, and I do not wish to give the devil even the momentary triumph of referring back to the events of this past year, (which I firmly believe are an all out attack upon the family, the Church, and God) at the when all creation stands still before the new-born Son of God.
Thus in honour of this Christmas-tide, I want to dwell on the most beautiful parts of Christmas, those precious moments which emblazon themselves in my memory every year as being so special and wondrous.
Christmas, for me, is summed up in midnight Mass. Whether it is in serving Mass, or more recently singing in the choir loft, there is nothing more profound and beautiful than the ever old, yet ever new beauty of midnight Mass.
Allow me to paint the scene a little. The church is placed in darkness, lit only by candles dotted around the nave, along the altar rails, and amassed upon the altar. Shadows are cast over the altar. Resplendent floral displays await the casting off of the sombre tones of Advent.
Looking over the low rails on the choir loft, one can just discern the pews to be full and almost overflowing. Even at this late hour, for midnight Mass is properly at midnight, children far outnumber their elders in the congregational ratio, and when the sacristy bells tolls, their eager eyes follow the procession in which the figure of the Christ child is brought to the manger.
Peering down, one can discern the gleam of golden vestments catching the candle light, as the flames dart around, and the choir and organ burst into sound to welcome the Infant King as He is brought in solemn splendour and laid in the manger. The glorious organ fanfare and the thick cloud of incense, swiftly transport to heaven the happy soul who sees such things, as the clock strikes midnight on Christmas morning.
The Mass continues, still illumined only by candlelight, and as the happy chorus of familiar Christmas motets and favourite carols ring out, my heart glows with happiness. Outside in the secular world, people are frantically preparing for ‘the big day’, methodically working through the plans for a perfect celebration of a secular festivity. Yet these people will always remain somewhat empty and unfulfilled in their Christmas, because their meticulous plans leave out the Child in the manger Himself. No matter the heavily laden table with all manner of comestibles, or the laughs which are had in the course of the day, there is no joy which compares with that found at the awe inspiring splendour of midnight Mass.
It is somewhat in knowledge of this, that the children flock to the manger after Mass, crowding round amongst the straw, the animals, and the shepherds, in order to offer a prayer before the Child who is to give His life on the cross on Good Friday. To see the simple, yet simultaneously profound, devotion which these little ones have before the Child, is moving and inspiring. Often it is the case that the children before the manger have a sibling, who is not much older or bigger than the Infant before them, and this I am sure, lends a something special to their prayer.
For me, Christmas IS midnight Mass. To be able to welcome in that happy morn with chorus, incense, organ and chant, is a joy which one cannot find elsewhere.
This, for me then, is Christmas, and it is why, despite my great love of all the other familial aspects of the day itself, there is nothing more beautiful, more perfect, or more sublime, than midnight Mass. When I am inside the church at such a liturgical celebration, the evil and chaos of the world, seems for a short time to be so very far away. In the great pomp of the first Mass of Christmas, followed by the calm silence of private prayer before the manger, the Christ child seems to truly impart the graces of the feast in a manner quite unique.
Certainly, I enjoy many other aspects of Christmas Day and Christmas itself, yet if I had to put thoughts on a postcard and describe Christmas to someone, I would turn instantly to a description of midnight Mass.
Kneeling on straw before the crib between oxen and shepherd, smelling both fir trees and incense, is a very Catholic joy. Particularly now after the year that has been, and in anticipation of the trials of the year ahead, I long for those precious moments of calm once more. As the year progresses and the weather becomes ever more bleak, (which is a slight boon for one who loves the cold, like me), it is easy to lose resolve in all manner of important areas in life, particularly in spiritual matters. But when kneeling before the Infant King after having truly given Him the most perfect of all gifts, the holy Mass, one can almost feel a spiritual renewing occurring. The pains and sufferings of the previous year seem to disappear, and contemplating that humble image, of God born amidst cattle in a manger, one finds a reinvigorated zeal with which to enter the next year in the service of God.
Now, I am no poet nor a great story-teller, but I hope that these few rambling lines so affect any readers, so as to make that encounter with the Christ child this Christmas somewhat more peaceful and prayerful.
One of the most beautiful carols which I turn to on Christmas day, is the Coventry carol, recalling the massacre of the Holy Innocents. The serenity and harmony found in its verses, combined with the solemn subject, somehow capture the beauty of Christmas time. I heartily recommend this arrangement to you all, as a choral gift on Christmas Day.
We hail the conquering King this Christmas time, whose arrival is found not in temporal splendour, but in quiet, calm, and prayerful vigil, surrounded by hosts of angels, St. Joseph most chaste and Our Lady, the terror of demons.
A very Blessed and Happy Christmas to you all!