Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Christmas Midnight Mass: Christ the Priest, the Victim, the Bread of Life

DECEMBER 25, 2017

Jesus, I trust in you!

Our Parish Belen for 2017
Tonight we return to Bethlehem as Joseph and Mary did as they sought to comply with the worldwide census declared by Augustus Caesar. They had to return to the city of David because Joseph was of the House of David. It was necessary for the Messiah to be born in the city of David because he is Son of David, the legitimate heir to the throne of his royal ancestor. But there is another reason for the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. The name “Bethlehem” means “house of bread.” Bethlehem is the fitting birth place for Jesus who is the Bread of Life. In fact the sign which the angels gave the shepherds was that of a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and laying on a manger. The manger is the receptacle of animal food. On it is placed the hay for the feeding of the ox and the donkey and even of the sheep. The new-born baby of Mary was laid on a manger not because the hay was soft but because Mary’s child is our food: “I am the Bread of Life. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood will have eternal life. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. The food that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

It is rather remarkable that we celebrate today the birth of the Son of God in the flesh. And later on, he shall give his flesh as food for the life of the world. We cannot deny the Eucharistic character of this Holy Day that we are celebrating tonight. It is called “Christmas” and its name is derived from two words: Christ and Mass. The Church, even from ancient times, has understood the mystery of Christ’s Incarnation in the mystery of the Eucharist. In fact, St. John Paul II himself said that the Eucharist is the continuation of the mystery of the Incarnation to our times.

And it is in this light that we have a renewed appreciation of the mystery of the Priesthood. We are celebrating this Christmas in the Year of the Clergy and the Consecrated People. As Mary brought forth the birth in the flesh of God the Son, so also the priest, by the power of the Holy Spirit and the authority of the words of Christ, brings about the transubstantiation of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus. The Mass, presided by the priest, is not only our encounter with the Paschal Mystery. It is also our encounter with the mystery of the Incarnation: And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us. The Incarnation took place in Mary’s womb. The Transubstantiation takes place in the hands of the priest. The priest may not be as pure and sinless as the Virgin Mary. But nevertheless, the Son of God humbles himself to take flesh in the bread and wine offered on the altar during Mass.

In fact, we cannot miss the fact that the angels appeared to shepherds who were keeping watch over their flock at night. The sheep they were tending were the Awassi sheep, the only breed of sheep that is indigenous in Israel. The Awassi sheep breed in the summer and drop lambs in the winter. Thus, in Israel, the principal lambing season runs from December to January. These shepherds to whom the angels appeared were Levitical shepherds who were tasked to keep watch over the temple flock. The reason why the shepherds kept watch at night was that they were attending to the dropping of the lambs. Once a lamb is dropped, they bring it into the cave where it is wrapped in swaddling clothes to keep it from being injured at birth. The lambs they watch over were destined to be the Passover lambs that are supposed to be unblemished. Thus, the shepherds understood what the angel’s message meant: the one born on this night is the unblemished Lamb of God who would be sacrificed on Passover. Christ born today is not only the Bread of Life. He is also the Paschal Lamb, the Victim who would render God the most perfect and the highest act of worship. This Lamb of God is also the High Priest of the new covenant. Being the first-born of creation, he is the head of the household who offers the sacrifice of the family of humankind. He will offer not the blood of animals or of other human beings. He will offer his own flesh and his own blood for the redemption of the world.

As we celebrate the birth of Jesus, let us not look at him simply as a cute new-born infant. The one who rests on the manger is the Bread of Life. The one who is wrapped in swaddling clothes is the unblemished Lamb of God. The first-born of Mary is the first-born of creation, the High Priest of the new covenant. This great mystery is renewed every day during Mass. In the Mass, the priest acts in the person of Christ the High Priest. In his hands the incarnation takes place so that the Lamb of God may be offered to the Father and he be returned to us as the Bread of Life that we must eat to enter into communion with God and so receive access to the Divine Life. Truly, this is Christ’s Mass where Jesus comes both as Priest and Victim. Come, let us adore him.   

O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!

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