By God’s mercy we are to say three Masses today.
~ Pope St. Gregory the Great, Anglican Breviary, Lesson vii, p. C58.
At this first Mass of Christmas we have returned to the Basilica of St. Mary Major at the Crib. This is the same station at which we began the first Sunday in Advent. We have come full circle. As Anglican Catholics we still cannot avoid our filial relationship with Rome. Not only is it nonsensical for Anglican Catholics to adopt anti-Roman sentiment it is self-defeating. Our very liturgy teaches us that our Anglican Catholicism is born from Roman Catholicism. In other words we are not two Churches but one (even if we may – mutually – not like it). We set out to find the King at a great Palace (the Basilica) and have found Him in a crib which is that same Palace. There is a mystery here! A humble throne the crib may be but the eye of faith see the Basilica with its High Altar.The introit sets the theme for the Mass. This hymn (the introit is the ancient “Hymn of Entrance”) accompanied us as we begin the movement into Christmas. It is dark outside. As the procession enters the ancient Church we hear the Father say of the Child born this night:
Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee …
~ Anglican Missal, 1st Mass of Christmas, Introit, p. A18.
The Child born to us this day is from another day. He is born from the Father on the day that has no beginning and no end. As the great teacher Origen taught us … This Son is “eternally generated” and has neither beginning nor end. But the Son born as man also, in time, in a day that had a beginning and an end. What a great mystery the Church sets before us! Jesus Christ is eternally born from the Father and because today He is also born in time from the Blessed Virgin Mary “we joyfully receive him for our Saviour (Anglican Missal, 1st Mass of Christmas, Collect, p. C18).” The deep darkness in which we have lived is suddenly lit up. The dark of night is no longer full of death – it has been sanctified for “God has enlightened this most holy night with the beam of His one true light (Anglican Missal, 1st Christmas Mass, Ancient Collect, p. C18).” There is nothing more to fear in this darkness. This dark turns out not to be a grave, but a womb. Not the end of life in death, rather the end of death in life.
As we joyfully chant the Alleluia we are again reminded that the Son is eternally born from the Father “this have I begotten thee.”
The Gospel poetically – almost – deepens the connection between the Son’s divine and human birth:
And she [Mary] brought forth her firstborn Son, …
~ Anglican Missal, 1st Mass of Christmas, Gospel, p. C19.
Mary’s first born (her first and only) is the Father’s first born (and only). The harmony between the Introit and the Gospel does not miss a beat. The correspondence is full of meaning and of great beauty. The Creator of heaven and earth whom the heavens of heavens cannot contain and who is always born without beginning or end, is born into our world this day. The Timeless One has entered to live in time with us – and what is more – for us. This new life changes …. everything!
Before the Eucharistic elements have been consecrated we pray that this “holy Communion” may transform us into “likeness of him in whom our substance is united unto God (Anglican Missal, 1st Mass of Christmas, Secret, p. C19).” In this Child human and Divine natures have united. Jesus Christ is the “place” where we meet and know God. Another place like this does not – and will not – exist.
Having received holy Communion, toward the end of the Mass, we pray in thankfulness of heart that we have:
…in a mystery drawn near with gladness u to the Birth of Jesus Christ our Lord …
~ Anglican Missal, 1st Mass of Christmas, Postcommunion, p. C20.
And this birth is the Eternal One entering the temporal, the Sinless One a world lost in guilt, Life has destroyed death from the inside out. This is a mystery for sure. It brings to mind our own baptism where we received and infant seed of life withing – sanctifying grace – which is meant to grow and reach adulthood in the fullness of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the dark waters of baptism we are born again (of water and Spirit) and this sanctifying grace is none other but the life of the Father which is in the Son and given to us. For that is what it means that our human nature is now united to the One who is eternally generated by the Father and therefore Himself: God from eternity.
The Nicene “consubstantial” (homoousion) is not a vague theological speculation but a one word summary of the Gospel. For the oneness of Father and Son parallels the oneness of Mother and Son. Mary did not “know a man” so that the humanity of God is received from one, just like His Divinity is received from One. In this is our salvation that God – the Consubstantial Trinity – has undone death in the flesh because One of the Trinity became man.
Gregory Wassen +