Merry Christmas Season and a Happy New Year! On January 1st, 2024, the Catholic Church celebrated the Solemnity of Holy Mary, Mother of God. This solemn feast was not a day of holy obligation this year because it landed on a Monday – much like if it were to land on a Saturday – for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) decided that it would be too much for the faithful to be obliged to attend Mass again immediately after (or before) the Sunday obligation, since every Sunday is always a holy day obligation.
Having many solemn liturgies immediately after a series of solemn liturgies does put some stress on the priests and ministers (lectors, musicians, cantors, servers, etc.) and yet, many of you enjoyed the Masses we celebrated Monday, Jan. 1st although they were scaled down. Still, the music and singing were beautiful, and our Eucharistic Lord was present to bless us with many natural and supernatural blessings as we honored his Mother, Mary in the greatest way possible – the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
This solemnity concluded the Christmas Octave, which is eight (8) days of highlighting the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ and how he has brought the full range of enduring hope, intimate love and a deepening faith into our world, through Mary, the Mother of God. But can the Eternal God really have a “mother”?
There was a great church council in Ephesus (modern day Turkey) in 431 A.D. which was convened to clarify that Mary indeed bore, birthed and mothered the Son of God, and not just his human nature. This Church Council of Ephesus was a response to the Patriarch of Constantinople, Nestorius, who tried to correct a priest who called the Blessed Virgin Mary “God bearer”, in the Greek “Theotokos”, by saying that Mary should only be referred to as “Christotokos”, “Christ-bearer”.
Instead of consulting with sacred tradition and enter-ing into harmony with it, the Patriarch Nestorius was try-ing to develop his own theology, but in a way that contra-dicted divine revelation. For if Mary only bore a nature that was human, and then it became God by baptism or some other way, then we would have a human person, with a human nature, and then the divine nature would some-how be added onto that human nature.
Whereas, our Catholic Christian faith believes that God the Son, the second divine person of the Holy Trinity, truly and substantially took on our human nature in the womb of Mary, and was and will always be God. Thus, we believe that Jesus is a divine person: “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father; through him all things were made. For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven, (At the words that follow, up to and including “and became man”, all bow in reverence) and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.”
This is how our worship aid directs our gestures as we recite the Creed by which, as Catholics, we harmoniously enter into as one body in Christ, as prescribed by the Gen-eral Instruction of the Roman Missal (the official lit-urgy guide promulgated by the Pope), which all Roman Catholic priests are obliged to follow for the most fruitful
celebration of the Mass.
This year in fact, at the Christmas Masses, we were instructed to “kneel” (if physically able) at this point of the Creed in-stead of the usual bow. It might have felt like an awkward pause to some, but it highlighted the fact that Jesus Christ – the Son of God and the Son of Mary – was truly, substantially and really present in the Holy Eucharist reposed in the tabernacle. At that point in recitation of the Creed, we were like the magi, the wise men, who knelt before the King of kings.
Of course, we are accustomed to “kneel” at the consecration when the priest, in persona Christi – in the person of Christ – consecrates the bread and wine into the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ – the Holy Eucharist. The Holy Eucharist continues to look and taste like bread and wine, but it has been transformed into the substance of Jesus Christ – perfect God and perfect Man – and therefore should be worshipped appropriately as God pre-scribes.
This miracle of the Holy Mass is called transubstantiation, since the substance of the bread and wine, truly become Jesus Christ in sacramental form by which Jesus fulfills his promise, “I am with you always, until the end of the age.”Cf. Mt. 28:20. This harmony or parallel between the man Jesus Christ looking like a man, but being substantially God, and the Eucharistic bread looking like bread, but being substantially the Lord in sacramental form, also finds a beautiful note in that the baby just baptized looks and sounds like the same baby, but has been given the divine life of grace making her search for the full gift of heaven, the full range of the choirs of angels.
The beautiful songs of Advent and Christmas have the full range of notes, the eight notes or octave, that express this great mystery, and for which we celebrate the Octave of Christmas. Here’s another expression of the central mystery of our faith written by an anonymous parishioner.
Several years ago, I sat down at the piano and a song came to me (totally Holy Spirit inspired) about the Eucharist. The words are “We enter into His love, we enter into His love; We eat this bread and drink this cup and enter into His love”. The second verse is we enter into his joy and the third verse is we enter into his peace. As difficult as it is to describe receiving the Eucharist in words, that song rather sums it up. It’s entering into and feeling His love, joy, and peace.
Do I experience this every time I receive communion? No, but more often than not an intense sense of one or all of these is present. Why does this happen? Perhaps as I get closer to Jesus through prayer and the sacraments, He gets closer to me. Or maybe now that I have a better understanding of His true presence in the Eucharist, I can experience it more pro foundly. I’m not sure, but I do know that receiving the Eucha-rist is a beautiful and powerful experience and an integral part of my faith.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the beautiful gift of the Eucharistic Lord. Let us continue to enjoy this Christmas Season that ends on Monday, January 8th, the Baptism of the Lord.
Peace in Christ, Fr. Thomas McCabe