On Christmas Day we celebrate the moment when God came to us in human flesh. The mystery and event of the Incarnation made possible the sanctification of the physical world which is our home. The Holy Land is truly holy because it contains the stones that were trodden on by the feet of the Word made flesh. Its trees lent Him shade and its waters quenched His thirst.
The remains of an ancient feeding trough from Bethlehem are venerated as a precious relic in Rome because they formed part of the holy manger in which the Blessed Virgin laid her infant Child. When He was an adult the touch of the hem of His garments would stem the flow of blood, and He would consecrate simple substances of water, bread and wine to be used as instruments of healing and salvation.
As far as we know, planet Earth itself has a unique status in the material universe as a magnificent monstrance which radiates glory into the distant reaches of the cosmos. This is because the Church’s mission has ensured that the Word made flesh Who comes to us on the altar at every celebration of Holy Mass is reserved day and night in tabernacles around the globe.
The nativity of the Incarnate Word 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem also facilitated the sanctification of time. Perhaps Christmas is that season of the year when many of us become most acutely aware of the passing of time. When we were children, the countdown to December 25 was so agonisingly slow that it seemed to take forever. As we grow older, each Christmas Day arrives more rapidly than the last, and is over so quickly that we can easily neglect to reflect on its significance. If this is the case then it means that we need to make some adjustment in our life, because we have allowed time to become our enemy rather than a friend.
The Church’s “liturgical time” is designed to save us from such spiritual and temporal impoverishment. If the skeletons of Christmas trees that start appearing on pavements on Boxing Day are a sign that for many of our neighbours Christmas has been and gone, for Catholics it has really just begun. The “octave” granted to Christmas in the liturgical calendar extends the beautiful celebration of Our Lord’s Nativity over a full eight days. In the Roman Canon of the Mass we continue to praise God for “that day when Mary without loss of Her virginity gave the world its Saviour” every day from Christmas Eve until January 1.
The Christmas Octave is also rich in feasts. If we understand them properly, they do not distract from our celebration of the season but rather illuminate the Mystery of the Nativity and its significance for the Christian life. Boxing Day is the feast of St Stephen, whose martyrdom reminds us that Christ’s message of salvation is not always welcomed in the world, but that there is a great reward in heaven for those who suffer for the faith. Before being stoned, Stephen sees the heavens open and “the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God”.
How to continue reading…
This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week
The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection