And the Word became fleshBy: Bishop Edward M. Rice
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life.” —John 3:16
As we enter into the Christmas Season, this verse from the Gospel of John provides us with the essence of Christmas.
During the days of Christmas, we are invited time-after-time to ponder the mystery of the Incarnation, “the Word made flesh.” In the wisdom and beauty of our liturgical cycle, Christmas is not just a one-day celebration. The mystery of the Incarnation is so deep and so beyond our comprehension, the Church gives us eight days, an “Octave,” by which we celebrate Christmas.
The world has no concept of lingering to ponder this great mystery. It is sad that for many, the day after Christmas has become the day to return unwanted items from the Christmas gift exchange. The Christmas tree is soon discarded and the world moves quickly on to anticipate New Year’s Eve. But not the Church! We are invited to share in the mystery and further ponder the various facets and consequences of now having “God with Us.”
Octave of Christmas
During the eight days of Christmas, from Dec. 25 to Jan. 1, we celebrate beautiful liturgical feasts that add a deeper and richer understanding of Christmas. December 26, the Feast of St. Stephen, the First Martyr (proto-martyr), wakes us up from any sentimentality regarding the birth of Our Savior. There are consequences to believing in Jesus as our Savior and St. Stephen paid the ultimate price. So did the children Herod executed as he pursued the “newborn king.” The Feast of the Holy Innocents, celebrated on Dec. 28, has a natural pro-life lesson that should not be overlooked in our country, where, due to abortion, we have a continual slaughter of innocent children. Of course, my favorite is the day before on Dec. 27, the Feast of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist. This is the John who sat next to our Lord at the Last Supper, the “beloved disciple.” He also stood with Mary at the foot of the Cross. His mystical experiences while exiled, outlined in the Book of Revelation, offer beautiful parallels to the celebration of Holy Mass. Saint Thomas Becket, Dec. 29, defended the rights of the Church against King Henry II. Just as then, there continues to be consequences today for the Church as we continue the fight for religious freedom. And if we gloss over St. Sylvester, Dec. 31, we do him a great disfavor. He was the one who expanded so much of the Church after the Peace of Constantine when the Church was finally able to cast off the years of persecution and the darkness of the catacombs and step out into the light of day!
There is still more! The Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, is also Dec. 31. On that day, we ponder the love that existed in their home and take it as a challenge for those whith whom we live. Finally, we ponder the mystical heart of Mary on Jan. 1. As we bring the Octave to a close with the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, Mary shows us how to face the upcoming year: “And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (Lk 2:19).
The Feast of Epiphany, Jan. 7 in the coming year, celebrates when the Three Kings, representing the known world, recognize Christ as the savior for all peoples, His light shining for all to see. Then, at the Baptism of the Lord, Jan. 8, Jesus begins his public ministry as he is pointed out by John the Baptist as the Lamb of God—a rather haunting foreshadowing to His sacrifice on Calvary.
You see, we Catholics are different, and that difference makes all the difference! After Dec. 25, the world will move on to the next money-making holiday on the calendar, while we continue to relish in the mystery of the “Word made flesh.”
In light of all the wonderful feasts after Christmas Day, I encourage you to look for opportunities to attend Mass during the Octave. Enter into the major feasts throughout the Christmas Season and don’t hesitate to say, “Merry Christmas,” even after Dec. 25!
It is my privilege to pray every day for the good people of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau! In my daily Mass, rosary, and praying the Divine Office, I continually lift up all of you, asking Almighty God to bless and keep you. My three special intentions are always in my heart: for our priests and religious, that they may be clothed in holiness and inspire vocations; the renewal of marriage and family life; and for the youth of our diocese, that they draw close to Christ and His Church.
Be assured of my prayers for all of you during the days of the Christmas Season. Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year.