By Father John P. Cush
A PRIEST WHO is a friend of mine was the celebrant of Mass on Christmas Day in his parish and proclaimed the Gospel with which we are presented this Sunday, the Solemnity of the Lord’s Nativity. There are several Masses of Christmas, each with its own set of readings. The Mass for Christmas Day is titled “Mass During the Day,” and has the Prologue of the Gospel of John as its Gospel.
A parishioner was angered, enraged that the deacon at Mass read this prologue, rather than what he had come to hear, what he had expected to hear, namely the Gospel account of Christ’s birth, taken from the Gospel of Luke. The pastor explained that there are several readings that could be done for the Masses of Christmas and that, if he stopped to think about it, isn’t this particular pericope from the Gospel of John, with its prologue speaking of the eternal Word becoming incarnate, really what Christmas is all about, anyway? The parishioner did not agree and sadly left, aggrieved.
No, although we might wish to hear the story of the long-awaited Messiah’s humble birth in Bethlehem, with its angels and shepherds, and we might wish to see the Nativity pageant played out in our midst by youngsters, it is good that, in her wisdom, Mother Church offers us the prologue of John’s Gospel for our reflection on Christmas Day.
Reminded to Be Like Christ
In the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, this Gospel is read, not just at Christmas Mass, but indeed at the conclusion of every Mass. Why? I believe it was for one reason: to remind us, who have just received the Body of Christ, to become in our words and in our deeds He whom we have just received.
We are called to make incarnate, to make flesh, the Eternal Word who was from the beginning, allowing Him to live in us, just as He did in the spotless, immaculate womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The philosopher, Msgr. Robert Sokolowski, in his book “Christian Faith and Human Understanding: Studies on the Eucharist, Trinity, and the Human Person” (2006), suggests that we use the words of this preface when we make a prayer of thanksgiving after Mass, not just together as a common liturgical experience when the Extraordinary Form of the Mass is offered, but also at every Mass in the Ordinary Form that is celebrated in every parish and chapel daily.
This private thanksgiving prayer of the Catholic, reflecting deeply on the mystery of Christ, who is living inside him or her after the reception of Holy Communion is an essential aspect of the Mass and is sadly, often forgotten in parishes today.
What do I mean by an act of thanksgiving after Communion? How can the Prologue of John’s Gospel help?
Use the time of silence, which is an essential part of the Mass, the time between the ending of Communion Antiphon (or Communion Hymn) and the praying of the Collect After Communion by the priest who is celebrating the Mass, to kneel down, if we can, or sit quietly in the realization of what exactly has just occurred to us at that moment of the Mass. This can also be done, and beautifully so, when we take some time after Mass is concluded to remain in the church or chapel and prayerfully reflect.
At that moment, with the Lord living in us, we are as close to Heaven as we are ever going to be on this earthly plane of existence. The ultimate gift, the one we should receive not only at Christmas, but also on every Sunday and Solemnity, has been given to us. The Word, who was from the beginning, the One through whom all things were made, the One who is Life, Jesus, is living inside of us.
Father Jean-Jacques Olier, S.S., founder of the Sulpicians, a group of priests who are missioned to seminary work, expresses this sentiment beautifully. He writes:
“O Jesus, living in Mary, come and live in your servants, in the spirit of holiness, in the fullness of your power, in the perfection of your ways, in the truth of your virtues, in the communion of your mysteries. Rule over every adverse power, in your Spirit, for the glory of the Father. Amen.”
Praying the words of the Prologue powerfully reminds us of the reality of what is occurring spiritually – and indeed, even physically – to us. Praying the words can also, in the midst of our troubled world, give us hope. “And this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1: 4-5).
There are problems, there are difficulties, there are fears and anxieties, but the Lord is right there with us, our food for the journey.
Praying the words of the Prologue can remind us that, just as the Eternal, Incarnate Word came to His own, and was rejected, so too, even by our own families and friends, we will be rejected when we try to become He whom we receive. Yet, we have confident assurance that the Lord is right there in our midst.
“But to those who did accept him, he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision, but of God” (John 1: 12-13).
This Prologue of John’s Gospel may not be what we expect to hear at Mass on Christmas Day, but it is perhaps exactly what we need to hear, reminding us that, in the Eucharist we receive, we become living tabernacles of the Most High God. We gain the ability – through reception of Holy Communion – to see Christ in and to be Christ to one another.
What better gift could we get for Christmas!
Readings for the Nativity of the Lord (Mass During the Day)
Isaiah 52: 7-10
Psalm 98: 1, 2-3, 3-4, 5-6
Hebrews 1: 1-6
John 1: 1-18 or John 1: 1-5, 9-14
Father John P. Cush, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn, serves as academic dean of the Pontifical North American College, Vatican City-State and as an assistant professor of theology and U.S. Church history.