INSTRUCTIONS FOR CHRISTMAS DAY
by Leonard Goffine, 1871
What is Christmas Day?INSTRUCTION ON THE FIRST MASS
This the day on which Christ Jesus, our Redeemer and our Joy, was born of the Blessed Virgin in a stable at Bethlehem.
Why is this festival called "the Holy Night?"
Because this night has been especially blessed and sanctified by the holy, mysterious birth of the Redeemer of the world.
Why are there three Masses said on this day?
In commemoration of the threefold birth of the Redeemer: of His birth from all eternity in the bosom of His Heavenly Father; of His birth in the fulness of time; and of His spiritual birth in the hearts of the pious who, by lively faith in Him, receive the power to become children of God. (John i. 2.)
Why is the first Mass said at midnight?
Because Christ, the true light which came into the world to enlighten those who stood in darkness and the shadow of death, that is, of unbelief and of sin (Luke i. 79.), was born at night, and because the divine birth is incomprehensible to us.
Why is the next Mass said at daybreak, and the third in broad daylight?
To signify that the birth of Christ, expelling the darkness of ignorance and infidelity, brought us the clear daylight of the knowledge of God, and that the spiritual birth of Christ can take place at any time in the pure soul.
When does this spiritual birth take place?
It takes place when the soul, having been cleansed from all sin, makes the firm, unalterable resolution to die to the world and all carnal desires, and arouses in itself the ardent desire henceforth to live only for Christ, and, by His grace, to practise all the virtues.
The Introit of this Mass speaks of the eternal birth of Christ, the Lord. The Lord hath said to me: "Thou art my Son, this day (that is, from all eternity) I have begotten thee!" (Ps. ii. 7.) Why have the gentiles raged, and the people devised vain things? (Ps. ii. 1.) Glory be to the Father &c.INSTRUCTION ON THE SECOND MASS
PRAYER OF THE CHURCH. O God, who hast illumined this most blessed night with the splendor of the true light, grant that we may enjoy the happiness of that light in heaven, whose mysterious apparition we have recognized on earth. Through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, who livest &e.
EPISTLE. (Titus ii. 11 - 14.) Dearly Beloved! The grace of God our Saviour hath appeared to all men, instructing us that, denying ungodliness and worldly desires, we should live soberly, and justly, and godly in this world, looking for the blessed hope, and coming of the glory of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and might cleanse to himself a people acceptable, a pursuer of good works.
In what special manner has the grace and goodness of God been manifested to us?
In the incarnation and birth of Christ, His Son, whom, in His infinite love, He has made like unto us, our brother and our teacher, by whom we have become children of God, and coheirs of His kingdom.
What does Christ by His incarnation especially desire to teach us?
That we should put aside all unrighteousness, all infidelity and injustice, and strive to become like Him, who, except in sin, has become altogether like unto us. But especially that we repress the desires of lust, wealth, and honor, and not rest until we nave uprooted them from our heart.
How do we live soberly, justly, arid godly?
We live soberly, when we fulfil all duties towards, ourselves: justly, when we fulfil all duties to our neighbor; and godly, when we fulfil all duties to God: or when we seek only our own salvation, the honor and glory of God, and do to our neighbors as we would have done to ourselves.
ASPIRATION. Blessed art Thou, O newborn Saviour who hast descended from on high to teach me the ways of justice, hast become man and equal to me. In return for this goodness of Thine, I renounce all evil, all sinful desires, words, and deeds. In return for Thy love, I will ever uproot from my heart all carnal desires, and, live always soberly, justly, and godly; and do Thou by Thy grace strengthen me in this resolve.
GOSPEL. (Luke xi. 1 - 14.) And it came to pass that in those days there went out a decree from Cesar Augustus, that the whole world should be enrolled. This enrolling was first made by Cyrinus, the governor of Syria. And all went to be enrolled, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee out of the city of Nazareth into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his espoused wife, who was with child. And it came to pass that when they were there, her days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her first-born son, and wrapped him up in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds watching, and keeping the nightwatch over their flock. And behold an angel of the Lord stood by them, and the brightness of God shone round about them, and they feared with a great fear. And the angel said to them: Fear not: for behold I bring you tidings of great joy, that shall be to all the people; for this day is born to you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David. And this shall be a sign unto you: you shall find the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes,and laid in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army, praising God, and saying: Glory to God in the highest: and on earth peace to men of good will.
Why, at the time of Augustus, were all the Roman subjects enrolled?
This was by special order of God, that Mary and Joseph should thus be obliged to go to Bethlehem, and it be made known to all the world, that Jesus was really born in Bethlehem, of the tribe of Juda and the house of David, that the predictions of the prophets were fulfilled, and that He was the Messiah. (Mich. v. 2.) Let us learn from this how the providence of God directs all things according to His will, and consider the obedience which Mary rendered to the command of a heathen emperor, or to God who caused the command.
Why is Christ called the "first bom" of Mary?
Because she gave birth to no child before Him; and as she had none after Him, He was the only Son of Mary as He was the only begotten Son of the Heavenly Father.
Why was Christ so poor born in a stable, and laid in a manger?
To teach, not by words, but by example, that which He afterwards so often preached, and so forcibly taught: the love of poverty, humility, patience, and contempt of the world; and to put to shame by this manner of His birth the foolish wisdom of the world which aims only for honor, pleasures, and riches.
Why was the birth of Christ announced to poor shepherds, and not to King Herod and the chief priests, &c.?
That it might be known that God loves to dwell with poor, simple, pious, faithful people, such as the shepherds were, and reveals Himself to those who are small in their own eyes; while He despises the proud and hands them over to their own spiritual blindness. (Matt. xi. 25.)
Let us learn from this to acquire simplicity and humility, and despise pride and cunning, that God may reveal Himself to us by His interior inspirations.
What is meant by the angelic song of praise: "Glory be to God on high"?
By this song of praise which the priests usually say in the holy Mass, the angels meant, that the greatest praise and the most heartfelt thanks are due to God, for He had sent His Son into the world; and that those who now had the good will to glorify God by all their actions, would receive peace, that is, all happiness, blessings, and salvation.
Rejoice thou also with the angels over the birth of the Saviour; give thanks to Him, and honor to Him alone, so thou also wilt be given peace: peace with God, peace with thyself, peace with all men. Learn also from the angels, who rejoiced in the graces which man would receive from the birth of Christ, to rejoice and thank God for the favors which He gives thy neighbor, and by rejoicing participate in them.
In the Introit of this Mass the Church avails herself of the Prophet Isaias: This day a light shall spread over us, because the Lord is born to us; He shall be called Wonderful, God, the Prince of Peace, the Father of the world to come, of whose kingdom there shall be no end (Isai. ix.6.). The Lord hath reigned; he is clothed with beauty; the Lord is clothed with strength, and hath girded himself. (Ps. xcii. 1.)INSTRUCTION ON THE THIRD MASS
PRAYER OF THE CHURCH. Grant us, Almighty God, that the new light of Thy word, made flesh, may shine upon us in its fulness, and that the faith which illumines our minds, may be resplendent in our works.
EPISTLE. (Titus iii. 4 -7.) But when the goodness and kindness of God our Saviour appeared: not by the works of justice, which we have done, but according to his mercy, he saved us, by the laver of regeneration, and renovation of the Holy Ghost, whom he hath poured forth upon us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour: that being justified by his grace, we may be heirs, according to hope of life everlasting.
To whom do we owe our salvation?
Not to ourselves and any good works we may have performed, but entirely to the mercy of God alone, who from all eternity decreed our redemption, and sent His only begotten Son into this world to accomplish it; which redemption is bestowed upon us in baptism, where we are washed from the stain of sin, and by the rich infusion of the Holy Ghost are born again, heirs of eternal life.
Why, then, had God no mercy on the fallen angels?
To this question St. John of Damascus replies: "We must know here that the fall was to the angels, what death is to man; for the angels there was no repentance after the fall, as for man there is no repentance after death". (De fid. orthod. lib. 2. c. 4.) In eternity there is no available contrition and penance, so God showed no mercy to the fallen angels. Let us learn from this, while there is yet time, to make ourselves by contrition and penance participators in the mercy of God.
GOSPEL. (Luke ii. 15 - 20.) And it came to pass, after the angels departed from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another: Let us go over to Bethlehem, and let us see this word that has come to pass which the Lord hath shewed to us. And they came with haste: and they found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. And seeing, they understood of the word which had been spoken to them concerning this child. And all that heard wondered: and at those things that were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these words, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.
INSTRUCTION. I. The shepherds follow at once the voice of God which calls them to the manger; they exhort one another to do so; they seek the Redeemer and happily find Him; they make Him known to others, and tenderly thank God for the grace given them.
Let us follow the inspirations of God with ready obedience let us exhort one another to virtue by our good example and edifying conversation; let us make good use of the knowledge given us by God, give it to others, and praise God for it.
II. Mary kept all these words, spoken about her Son, and pondered them in her heart. Let us learn from her to make food for our souls by careful meditation of the divine truths that are made known to us: so that we may be preserved and strengthened in spiritual life.
The Introit of this Mass reminds us of the spiritual birth of Christ, by which He is spiritually born in us: A child is born to us; and a son is given to us; and the government is upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, (Isai ix. 6.) Sing ye to the Lord a new canticle; because he hath done wonderful things. (Ps. xcvii. 1.) Glory be to the Father, &c.
PRAYER OF THE CHURCH. Grant, we beseech Thee, Almighty God, that we who are bound in the old servitude, bearing the yoke of sin, may by the incarnation of Christ Thy Son, which we celebrate to day, be freed from our bondage, through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, &c.
EPISTLE. (Hebr. i. 1-12.) God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets, last of all, in these days hath spoken to us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the world; who being the brightness of his glory, and the figure of his substance, and upholding all things by the word of his power, making purgation of sin, sitteth on the right hand of Majesty on high: being made so much better than the angels as he hath inherited a more excellent name than they. For to which of the angels hath he said at any time, Thou art my son, today have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. And again when he bringeth in the first begotten into the world, he saith: And let all the angels of God adore him. And to the angels indeed he saith: He that maketh his angels, spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire. But to the son: Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever; a sceptre of justice is the sceptre of thy kingdom. Thou hast loved justice and hated iniquity; therefore, God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows. And, Thou, in the beginning, O Lord, didst found the earth, and the works of thy hands are the heavens. They shall perish, but thou shalt continue: and they shall all grow old as a garment. And as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed: but thou art the selfsame and thy years shall not fail".
INSTRUCTION. The greatness of Christ Jesus, the dignity of His divinity and humanity, the love and goodness of His Heavenly Father, who has given Him to us as our teacher, could not be more gloriously described than in this epistle. Learn from it how much you are obliged, because of this, to serve God, to be grateful to Him, and to follow after Christ who governs heaven and earth, and whom the angels serve.
ASPIRATION. I thank Thee, a thousand times, O Heavenly Father, that Thou hast deigned to speak to us through Thy only begotten Son, in whom Thou hast Thine only pleasure. With my whole heart, O Father of Mercy, will I listen to Him, and be obedient to all His instructions.
GOSPEL. (Johni. 1 -14.) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him: and without him was made nothing that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men: and the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. There was a man sent from heaven whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to give testimony of the light, that all men might believe through him. He was not the light, but was to give testimony of the light. That was the true light, which enlighteneth every man that cometh into this world. He was in the world,and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, he gave them power to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in his name. Who are born not of the blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us (and we saw his glory, the glory as it were of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth.
What does St. John mean by the expression the Word?
That the Son of God, who was begotten and brought forth like a word of the mouth from the Father, but in a manner incomprehensible and inscrutable to us, is one with the Father in the divine nature, but different from Him in person; He is also called the Word of the Father, because through Him the Father has spoken and made known the divine will. (Hebr. i. 2.; Matt. xvii. 5.)
What is meant by: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God?
That the Son of God already was, when all things had their beginning, not made or created, but born of the Father from eternity, with whom and in whom He therefore existed from all eternity. St. John here teaches the divinity, the eternity, and the equality of Christ with the Father.
What is meant by: All things were made by Him?
That the Son of God, true God with the Father and the Holy Ghost, has made all things from the angels to the smallest worm. (Comp. Coloss. i. 16.)
What is meant by: In Him was the life?
It means: The Son of God is the origin and fountain of all the spiritual life of our soul upon earth, and of the glorious life in eternity. To give this true life to us, he became man, whereby we are born again, newly created, as it were, from the death of sin to the life of grace and righteousness.
Why is this life the light of men?
Because this true life of the soul which Christ has obtained for us and given us, consists in the ever increasing knowledge of God and His salvation, which knowledge also comes from Christ, either externally through holy words and examples, or inwardly by divine inspiration.
How did the light shine in darkness?
In this manner, that the Son of God has always given, in different ways, the light of true knowledge to all men, even to the wicked, and to infidels, and especially so, by His example and His doctrines, since His incarnation. But the wicked closed their eyes to the light and perished. And now He gives the necessary light of knowledge to all men, especially by the preaching of His holy word, but the hardened sinners throw it from them, because they wish not to hear of faith, penance, and repentance.
How did St. John the Baptist give testimony of the light?
By announcing the Saviour to the world, and when He appeared, even pointing Him out.
Who receive Christ?
Those who walk in the light of His grace, cooperate with it, and so become the children of God.
How are we to understand: The Word was made flesh?
This is not to be understood to mean that the Word, that is, the Son of God, was changed into human nature, but to mean that He took upon Himself flesh from the Virgin Mary, and became man, having therefore two natures inseparably united in Himself: the divine and the human. So Christ is true God, and at the same time true man, therefore God-Man. From this it follows, that Christ in His humanity is less than His Father (John xiv. 28.), but in His divinity is equal to the Father (John x. 30.), and that there were in Christ two wills, the human and the divine. His humanity filled Him with a natural terror of His sufferings, but His divinity was perfectly united with the will of His Heavenly Father, and could pray: Not my will, but thine be done.
ASPIRATION. O God, our Heavenly Father, who hast given us, Thy lost people, this night in the form of a child from the immaculate womb of Mary. Thine only begotten Son as our mediator and joygiver, we give Thee thanks with heart and lips, and humbly beseech Thee that Thou wilt never permit us to forget such a grace, and that we may sustain ourselves by it in all temptations; that we may be ever grateful to Thee for it, and until death praise, honor, and serve Thee in sanctity. Amen.
Whence comies the custom of putting cribs in our Churches and houses at this time? This custom originated with St. Francis of Assisi who especially loved and contemplated the poor, newborn child Jesus, and further to increase his love, was accustomed to represent to himself in this way the stable and manger at Bethlehem; and as this pious practice is calculated to assist exceedingly in the instruction of the unlearned, especially of children, it was introduced into many Churches.