OFFICE FOR LITURGY

of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Salford

THE NATIVITY OF THE LORD (Vigil Mass)

The Vigil Mass of Christmas has a particular “feel” to it, which is perhaps best revealed by looking at the Alleluia verse: “Tomorrow there will be an end to the sin of the world, and the saviour of the world will be our king !” That word “tomorrow” is the key. To keep vigil is to watch and wait for something, in joyful hope. Understanding this will help in understanding what the readings of this evening are doing. They are about Israel, the people that were watching and waiting for the coming of the promised Messiah: this is why we hear words like “Zion”, “Jerusalem”, “the land”, “covenant”, “David”, and why we listen to the long genealogy at the beginning of Matthew’s gospel. Tonight we are somehow to enter into the longing of Israel, as they wait for the One who was to come. But we wait in the knowledge that “tomorrow” will be the day of salvation, when we rejoice at the birth of the Messiah.

Notes for Readers

First Reading: Isaiah 62:1-5
 
This reading is a prophecy of the restoration of the fortunes of Jerusalem, the Holy City and chosen dwelling place of God. It is great poetry, and should be read as such - pausing after each line and using the colour of the words to create a picture of promise and glory. It starts with a very emphatic line: “About Jerusalem I will not be silent.” there should be a glowing hope in the reader’s voice throughout this, a barely subdued excitement at what is coming, what is going to happen to the Holy City. Enjoy especially the line: “for the Lord takes delight in you...” and the wonderful image of the wedding feast which comes after it. Even though this reading doesn’t actually mention the Messiah, or the Nativity, it still leads us to that mystery, if read as a light of hope coming into the darkness of our night.
 
Second Reading: Acts 13:16-17.22-25
 
Paul stands up before the crowd and sums up the history of Israel: their being chosen by God, David becoming King, the promise and raising up of Jesus, heralded by John. This is the Christmas story, not in terms of a cave in Bethlehem, but in terms of last Sunday’s second reading - the hidden mystery of God now revealed in Jesus Christ. The first paragraph is a matter of fact introduction: then, when Paul begins to speak, your tone should change also. You are telling a story, using Paul’s words. It leads us into the Christmas message from the point of view of the “Men of Israel” Paul is addressing. Imagine how Paul held his listeners’ attention when speaking in Antioch, and try to hold your congregation the same way: imagine Paul almost bursting with the news he wanted to share with them - the Good News, the news of salvation. Look again at the Alleluia verse to get the tone of this reading: Paul is speaking to the crowd so that they can share in the Christmas message: “tomorrow there will be an end to the sin of the world !”
John Singleton Copley "The Nativity"

From the Catechism

“Why did the Word become flesh?”
CCC 456-460, 566
 
458 "The Word became flesh so that thus we might know God's love: "In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him." "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."
459 "The Word became flesh to be our model of holiness: "Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me." "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me." On the mountain of the Transfiguration, the Father commands: "Listen to him!" Jesus is the model for the Beatitudes and the norm of the new law: "Love one another as I have loved you." This love implies an effective offering of oneself, after his example.
460 "The Word became flesh to make us "partakers of the divine nature": "For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God." "For the Son of God became man so that we might become God." "The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods."
 
The Incarnation
CCC 461-463, 470-478
 
The Christmas mystery
CCC 437, 525-526
 
525 Jesus was born in a humble stable, into a poor family. Simple shepherds were the first witnesses to this event. In this poverty heaven's glory was made manifest. The Church never tires of singing the glory of this night:
"The Virgin today brings into the world the Eternal
And the earth offers a cave to the Inaccessible.
The angels and shepherds praise him
And the magi advance with the star,
For you are born for us,
Little Child, God eternal!"
526 To become a child in relation to God is the condition for entering the kingdom. For this, we must humble ourselves and become little. Even more: to become "children of God" we must be "born from above" or "born of God". Only when Christ is formed in us will the mystery of Christmas be fulfilled in us. Christmas is the mystery of this "marvelous exchange":
O marvelous exchange! Man's Creator has become man, born of the Virgin. We have been made sharers in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share our humanity.
 
Jesus is the Son of David
CCC 439, 496, 559, 2616
 
God has said everything in his Word
CCC 65, 102
 
The incarnate Christ worshipped by the angels
CCC 333
 
333 "From the Incarnation to the Ascension, the life of the Word incarnate is surrounded by the adoration and service of angels. When God "brings the firstborn into the world, he says: 'Let all God's angels worship him.'" Their song of praise at the birth of Christ has not ceased resounding in the Church's praise: "Glory to God in the highest!" They protect Jesus in his infancy, serve him in the desert, strengthen him in his agony in the garden, when he could have been saved by them from the hands of his enemies as Israel had been. Again, it is the angels who "evangelize" by proclaiming the Good News of Christ's Incarnation and Resurrection. They will be present at Christ's return, which they will announce, to serve at his judgment."
 
The Incarnation and images of Christ
CCC 1159-1162, 2131, 2502

(Midnight Mass)

There’s a wonderful way in which the Christmas message emerges from out of the midnight darkness as we gather for this Mass: the first words of Scripture we hear tonight are like the beaming of a star through the blackness of night: “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light.” The mystery of Christmas is this - a great revelation: a light in the darkness, a star through the night, the birth of the Sun of Justice; the showing to the whole world of the love of God, made visible in Jesus. No wonder there is a great throng of the heavenly host shattering the darkness of the cold night on the hillside outside Bethlehem - because the invisible night of sin and sadness is shattered by the light of the Saviour’s birth. Christmas is a very emotive and (in a sense) romantic feast: many of the congregation this evening will come with childhood memories and their own idea of what Christmas is about. It is important that the reader is aware of this, so that you can allow the deepest wonder of this night to penetrate through what sometimes are rather shallow thoughts about the mystery. Remember it is not about “then” - this is about “now” and our salvation.

Notes for Readers

First Reading: Isaiah 9:1-7
 
In a sense this reading is so obvious that comments here are unnecessary. But with a familiar reading, such as this, the reader has to be on guard not to let familiarity blunt the message. This is a reading of great joy. Take your time with it: grasp the sense of the darkness of Israel - “the yoke, the bar, the rod”, and the looming and threatening reference to war. This will allow the message of peace to speak out even more clearly - peace that has no end, justice and integrity. If the reader can realise why there is joy in this reading, it will be read all the more convincingly.
 
Second Reading: Titus 2:11-14
 
The obvious link with our feast comes in the first words: “God’s grace has been revealed...” Allow these to be heard, by pausing after announcing the reading. Then we look at the other, less obvious aspects of the feast: as He has come, he will come again, and our celebration of his first coming is itself a looking forward to the second. Finally we make an important but possibly obscure reference: to the sacrifice of Christ. It could be thought that this refers to Easter, rather than Christmas, but think about it for a moment. All of Christ’s life was a sacrifice - even giving up the eternal glory of his place at the Father’s right hand to be born as one of us is a great act of loving sacrifice. So there is a link between Christmas and Easter, which hides away in this short and simple reading. Don’t miss or ignore it !

(Dawn Mass)

Notes for Readers

First Reading: Isaiah 62:11-12
 
A short and to the point reading: the prophet proclaims the words of the Lord to  his people: a very simple message, summed up in the line: “Look, your Saviour comes.” Read with a simple sense of joy and urgency, calling people to be aware of the Good News of the feast. Be careful with the names in inverted commas: there should be a tiny pause before each name, so that people know you are reading something in inverted commas. Otherwise, this part of the reading comes across as gibberish! Always try to be aware of what people who cannot see the words will get out of your reading of them.
 
Second Reading: Titus 3:4-7.
 
Again, as with last night’s reading, we see a link between Christmas and Easter - here specifically Baptism. The birth of the Saviour is about salvation, which is completed by the cross and resurrection, and in which we share through baptism. Kindness and love are revealed at Christmas, as they are on Good Friday and in Baptism.

Gospel Wordsearch

(Day Mass)

Click on the box to the left to get this week's Gospel based Wordsearch. Feel free to copy and paste it into your parish publications.

Notes for Readers

First Reading: Isaiah 52:7-10
 
A reading filled with joy and gladness, welcoming the one who restores the fortunes of Jerusalem.As the reader, ask yourself a question: What does Christmas, and the Birth of the Saviour, bring to us? As you think about this, look through this reading: here is the answer: peace, happiness and salvation. Imagine the joy of the watchmen on the ramparts of the city as they see the Lord coming with these gifts, and read accordingly. Also remember to emphasise the last two lines, which are very significant (and which will become more so as we go through the Christmas Season): so far we have looked at the birth of the Saviour as something awaited by the people of Israel. Now it is opened up to be something seen by “all the ends of the earth.”
 
Second Reading: Hebrews 1:1-6.
In many ways, this is the Christmas reading par excellence: everything is here. First we have the past, God speaking to Israel through the prophets; the we have the sending of the Son, the ultimate revelation of the Father’s love. The “why?” of the Nativity is answered here, as we see that the sending of the First-born was the completion of God’s long and hidden plan. We also have the sense of light and glory surrounding this holy birth, but also the majesty and glory of the Easter Mystery, as he ascends to take his place again. You should read this carefully, and joyfully, as a synthesis of the whole Christmas story: contrast “through the prophets” with “through his Son”. Use words like “radiant”, “glory” and “powerful” to create a sense of awe. The last sentence should resonate in the minds of the congregation: “Let all the angels of God worship him.” People may come to Church at Christmas to hear a story of a baby in a crib: while that is true, there is a deeper truth of God’s love revealed which you proclaim here.