Today we hear the familiar story of the Annunciation. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) in a homily “In Praise of the Virgin Mother,” imagined the whole world awaiting Mary’s reply to the angel’s announcement that she was to bear a son, “the price of our salvation.” He says: “Tearful Adam with his sorrowing family begs this of you, O loving Virgin, in their exile from Paradise. Abraham begs it, David begs it. All the other holy patriarchs, your ancestors, ask it of you, as they dwell in the country of the shadow of death. This is what the whole earth waits for, prostrate at your feet.”
On behalf of all of humanity, Bernard expresses our hope: “Answer quickly, O Virgin. Reply in haste to the angel, or rather through the angel to the Lord. Answer with a word, receive the Word of God. Speak your own word, conceive the divine Word. Breathe a passing word, embrace the eternal Word.”
He imagines all of humanity holding its collective breath, when he says: “This is no time for virginal simplicity to forget prudence. In this matter alone, O prudent Virgin, do not fear to be presumptuous. Though modest silence is pleasing, dutiful speech is now more necessary. Open your heart to faith, O blessed Virgin, your lips to praise, your womb to the Creator.” The universe seems to emit a collective sigh of relief as she responds: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”
In a similar vein the ancient announcement of Christ’s birth found in the Roman Martyrology and proclaimed at the beginning of the Midnight Mass focuses both religious and secular history on the birth of Christ. Its text follows.
THE ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE SAVIOR’S BIRTH
Today, the twenty-fifth day of December, when ages beyond number had run their course from the creation of the world, when God in the beginning created heaven and earth, and formed man in his own likeness; when century upon century had passed since the Almighty set his bow in the clouds after the Great Flood, as a sign of covenant and peace; in the twenty-first century since Abraham, our father in faith, came out of Ur of the Chaldees; in the thirteenth century since the People of Israel were led by Moses in the Exodus from Egypt; around the thousandth year since David was anointed King; in the sixty-fifth week of the prophecy of Daniel; in the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad; in the year seven hundred and fifty-two since the foundation of the City of Rome; in the forty-second year of the reign of Caesar Octavian Augustus, the whole world being at peace, JESUS CHRIST, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to consecrate the world by his most loving presence, was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and when nine months had passed since his conception, was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem of Judah, and was made man. The Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.
If you would like to celebrate the last Mass of Advent, come to St. Charles on Thursday morning, December 24, for the 8:30 Mass. Later that morning Father Hokamp and I will hear confessions from 10:30 until noon: Father Hokamp at St. Charles and I at St. Peter.
Friday is Christmas. With the angels the Church proclaims the hymn, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will.” I find the hymns of the Christmas season to be among the most theologically profound of the entire year. They are so full of scriptural references and images. Their melodies, too, evoke the deepest emotions. Enjoy the music of this season and pay attention to the words! They are a catechism on the mystery of the incarnation and of our salvation.
Thanks for your generosity to the poor of our community through your donations to local food pantries, volunteering at Agnes Table and Sojourner House, donations to the Spirit of Christmas and Casa Hogar Juan Pablo II, and so much more. Thanks to all who cleaned and decorated our churches, who put up the outdoor decorations and nativity scenes, and who are preparing for the Christmas liturgies as ministers and musicians.
While family gatherings may be limited this year, let us at least pray for one another. On behalf of Father Ethan Hokamp, Deacon Daniel Rider, our parish staff and me, I assure you of our prayers and best wishes for a blessed and joyful Christmas.
May God bless us all this Christmas and always.