Nativity of Our Lord [12/25/16]
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Today we celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ and rejoice that God has seen fit to dwell among us. After the short but beautiful season of Advent, filled with readings of prophesy and preparation, we turn today to the season of Christmas and recall that God has fulfilled His promise. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to ransom those under the Law, so that we might receive adoption.” (Gal. 4:4,5)
The power of the Incarnation is of such magnitude that Holy Mother the Church deems it necessary to provide the faithful with four sets of readings for the Masses celebrated on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Although, most of the laity attend only one Mass on Christmas, the clergy are privileged to experience all the various nuances to this sublime celebration.
“She will bear a son and you are to name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.”
The Vigil Mass of Christmas focuses its attention on the genealogy of Christ. It’s the gospel reading that contains all the names of Jesus’ ancestors going back to Abraham. At first glance, that may seem a tedious exercise, but we are quickly reminded that Jesus was born into a human family. That the mystery of the Incarnation points us to the reality that Jesus became man and His humanity had a connection to the patriarchs of the past. Unlike the myths of the pagans, Jesus Christ is rooted in the history of humanity.
“Glory to God in the highest, and peace to those on whom His favor rests!”
The Mass at Midnight contains the readings that everyone wants to hear for Christmas. The gospel recounts the actual birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. The shepherds and angels make an appearance. This gospel passage selected for the first Mass of Christmas Day recount the actual birth of Jesus Christ and the announcement of the angels to the shepherds. The heavens are torn open and the angelic choir sings the hymn of the Gloria. How beautiful that the Church has taken this proclamation and incorporated into the Order of Mass where the Gloria is [also] sung.
“Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”
The third Mass of Christmas is the Mass at Dawn. This early Mass, as the light is just beginning to rise on Christmas Day, continues where the Mass at Midnight stopped. After the shepherds heard the voices and singing of the angels, they decide to go to Bethlehem to adore the newborn King. They are the very first to recognize that God has fulfilled His promise of old.
“And the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us, and we saw His glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.”
Finally, there is the Mass During the Day. After all that has taken place, the Church turns to the prologue of St. John to theologize what has taken place. In the opening words of the gospel of St. John we find the most beautiful reflection upon the birth of Jesus Christ. This reading is so rich and profound that the Church saw it fit to conclude almost every Mass with a reading from this passage in the Latin Mass or Extraordinary Form.
As you can see from these short examples, the mystery of the Incarnation and birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ, carries a vastness and depth, which require the Church to present these four different themes throughout her celebration of Christmas. This is the only day in the year that the Church proscribes four different readings for the Mass depending on the time they are celebrated. With all four, we are able to draw more deeply into the great mystery of Christmas because we are presented with the human and the divine, the history and the present, the proclamation and the reflection.
Whichever Mass you have chosen to attend, allow the glory of the Lord to make His home in your heart and carry the joy of Christmas throughout the whole year. Jesus indeed has come to us. Let us strive always in our lives to receive Him. May you and your family have a blessed and merry Christmas.
Fourth Sunday of Advent [12/18/16]
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
As we celebrate the Fourth Sunday of Advent, our attention turns to the immediate preparation of the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ. The readings, prayers, and hymns reflect this reality that Christmas is soon upon us.
What joy and excitement fills our hearts, as Christmas is only one week away! I'm sure there is still much to do to prepare for this annual remembrance of the birth of the Savior. Of all the last minute things that will fill our schedule over the next week, let us not forget to care for our spiritual lives. The earthly traditions and gatherings that will soon be upon us are wonderful and should be celebrated with respect and joy. However, at the very center of this season is our faith in the birth of Jesus Christ.
It was that birth that changed the history of the world and brought the promise of eternal life to us. Our response to this great mystery of our faith should be closeness to the living God. Just as Jesus drew near to us in the Incarnation, by the lives we live, we must draw close to Him.
As Advent is not yet brought to a close, there is still time for spiritual and sacramental preparation for Christmas. One of the best ways to prepare is to avail ourselves to the sacrament of Confession. In this sacrament, given to us by Jesus Christ Himself, we are forgiven our sins and infused with the grace and divine life of God. As we approach Confession, God in turn, approaches us. How beautiful and divine this encounter with the mercy of Jesus Christ!
This week there will be many opportunities to go to Confession. The parishes of the area have schedule times for Confession every day leading up to Christmas Eve. Please find below a list of the places and times that the sacrament will be celebrated and make every effort to attend. I know there is a lot to do between today and Christmas, but the most important of all and the most beneficial to our lives of faith is receiving this wonderful gift of mercy and forgiveness.
May God bless you in this final week of Advent and may our spiritual and corporal works bring us the fruits of grace in the celebration of Christmas next week.
Beaver County Deanery Area Confession Schedule
The schedule of Confession offered in area parishes is, as follows:
- Monday, December 19, 2016 at 7:00PM — St. Frances Cabrini, Center
- Tuesday, December 20, 2016 at 7:00PM — Our Lady of Peace, Conway
- Wednesday, December 21, 2016 at 7:00PM — Our Lady of Fatima, Hopewell
- Thursday, December 22, 2016 at 7:00PM — St. Peter and Paul, Beaver
Third Sunday of Advent [12/11/16]
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
We celebrate today the Third Sunday of Advent known as Gaudete Sunday. You will notice the striking resemblance to the season of Lent, as the purple vestments of repentance are replaced with the rose color of rejoicing. This tradition harkens back to the beginning of the celebration of Christmas, which began centuries after the celebration of Easter. When Christmas began to be celebrated, the Church took for her starting point the principle feast of Easter and the season of preparation, Lent. The correlation between Advent and Lent were much stronger in centuries past; of which, there are signs today that point to their closeness in expression.
In the 5th century, Advent was actually forty days long and was a season of fasting. The people would have approached the Advent season in much the same way that we embrace the Lenten season today. There was very little difference between Lent and Advent in those days. However, as the centuries passed, the Church truncated the season of Advent to four weeks and reduced its severity in fasting with simple abstinence.
All of this may come as a shock to the faithful who usually approach the Advent season with joy and celebration. The Church however understands that when a major feast approaches, be it Christmas or Easter, there should be a time of preparation, self-reflection, meditation, confession and atonement. We prepare ourselves for the celebration to come in a profound way; so that when it does arrive, we may be best disposed to embrace it with spiritual joy.
Returning to today, the first word in the Mass is Gaudete—Rejoice! We are called to rejoice because the Lord is close at hand. Each week brings us nearer to the celebration of Christmas, the Nativity of Jesus Christ. Although we are not there yet, we are close. As such, we are exhorted by St. Paul to remain patient. This patience is not so much for the celebration of Christmas, but the coming again of Jesus at the end of time. It is His second coming for which we prepare. Christmas is the yearly reminder that Christ will come again. He has fulfilled His promises of old, made through the prophet Isaiah, as we see in the first reading and the gospel. With trust in the Lord looking to the past fulfillment, we can turn to the future and know that He will fulfill His promise to come again.
Over the past three weeks, the Introit, which is the first antiphon of the Mass, has made this gradual change in the proximity of the Lord. The first Sunday [of Advent] calls us to prepare, the second Sunday says that the Lord is coming, this week says the Lord is near, and next week will be the final Sunday of Advent leading us to Christmas.
May all of us rejoice in the knowledge that the Lord is near and close at hand.
Second Sunday of Advent [12/4/16]
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Today we celebrate the Second Sunday of Advent in our preparation for the Christmas Season. In light of this, you may be asking yourself, "Where are the readings that deal with the birth of Jesus? Why are we talking about St. John the Baptist?" In order to comprehend the wisdom of the Church, we need to understand the three manifestations of Christ, which we have celebrated, and will continue to celebrate through the Christmas Season.
If you recall, just a few weeks ago, the readings presented at Mass for both weekdays and Sundays focused upon the Second Coming of Christ at the end of time. Each week we say in the Creed, "He will come again in glory to judge the living and dead." The final weeks of the liturgical year focuses upon the Second Coming of Christ which will bring an end to the world as we know it and usher in the fullness of His kingdom. At that time, He will make all things new. In contrast to this Day of Wrath, in a few short weeks we will celebrate the First Coming of Christ, born in Bethlehem of the Virgin Mary. "He was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man" as we profess in the Creed.
So again, why all this talk about St. John the Baptist in the first couple of weeks of Advent? The Church uses a learning method in which two celebrations point toward each other and lead us to focus upon what lies between them. Between the First and Second Comings of Jesus is where we find ourselves today, not only liturgically, but also literally. Therefore, this time is of great importance to us.
In reality, it is in the here and now in which we encounter the risen Christ. The celebration of Christmas is the Church remembering the work accomplished by the incarnation of Jesus Christ, born among us, in the past. The final weeks of the liturgical year are where the Church looks in expectation of His return in glory, when Jesus will come to judge the living and dead, and consume the world by fire. The present is where the world finds itself, between these two, and must come to the knowledge of the truth in our Lord Jesus.
St. John the Baptist was the forerunner of Christ who, in his (John's) manifestation to the world, prepared the Lord's way at the beginning of His (Christ's) earthly mission. By extension, we, the faithful, are to continue to prepare the way of the Lord in our own lives and in our society. Once we come to Christ in faith, we are then able to look back with fondness to what God has accomplished in the fulfillment of the prophesies of the Old Testament (i.e. the celebration of Christmas) and look forward to the new world to come and the kingdom of Christ (i.e. the Second Coming). What we do now, in the present, allows us to see the faithfulness of God in the First (Coming of Christ) and the expectation of fulfillment in the Second (Coming of Christ).
How do we grow in faith in order that the two comings of Christ are deepened and made more profound? We listen to the words of John the Baptist and his clarion call: "Repent! The kingdom of heaven is at hand."