Christmas is a poignant moment for evangelization, for challenge, and encouragement. Pastors of souls have tried numerous approaches to the loosely-affiliated, the C&Es, whatever sort of label one might smack on them (don't forget the label "child of God" or "disciple"!); but, on the whole, the results seem to be (predictably?) paltry.
There we go, staking our efforts on results again--lapsing, just like many a churchgoer, into an old and unproductive habit! Perhaps, in our quieter moments, we may discover, as Hopkins did, that "the appealing of the Passion is tenderer in prayer apart" (Wreck of the Deutschland, st. 27). That is, by referring casual Catholics to the Crucified Lord in our intercessory prayer, we might approach them in a better spirit and lead them back to the altar.If you are attending Mass on the Vigil or Day of Christmas, these words apply to you:
God's family is the better, richer, fuller for your presence!
I recognize that not all of you attend our parish throughout the year. Many people are traveling to rejoin their relatives for the Holy Days; others are coming home from college. Still others practice (or are at least affiliated with) another religion and are joining us for the sake of unity and good will. Thank you for joining us.
To those who are registered parishioners but who attend Mass sporadically, or only on major Holy Days like this: we are nonetheless delighted to see you, as well; and we certainly would rejoice in your regular return. Through an honest and thorough self-disclosure in the sacrament of Penance, we will gladly aid your restoration to the Communion of the Catholic Church. (If Confession is not a current option for you in light of an irregular marital situation, we can talk about that soon. Call the rectory for an appointment.) If Confession has preceded your Christmas Communion, then keep coming back!
My first edition of this post neglected to recognize the very people who don't tend to seek recognition, viz., the faithful who attend Mass every Lord's Day and Holy Day of Obligation. I thank you for your joyful fidelity to the Holy Mysteries, and beg your tolerance and patience during the Christmas celebrations. Join me in thanking the Christ Child for everyone who will be worshipping alongside you. I know I don't have to tell you this, but here goes: when you come to Mass, take note of someone near you whom you don't recognize, and introduce yourself. At the very least, offer an inviting smile and handshake. Your witness to them will be more convincing than mine.
In any case, when we look out from the Celebrant's chair, we will not be presiding upon a throne of contempt. But we do not shrink from the commandment of God to "keep holy the Sabbath day" (Ex 20:8-11; Dt 5:12-15); nor from the exhortation in Hebrews: "We should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some, but encourage one another, and this all the more as you see the day drawing near" (10:25).
In Scripture, the "day" normally refers to the "Day of the Lord," the consummation of all things, the ushering-in of God's Kingdom, the visitation of His judgment. Recent threats of this day have passed without delivery, but our personal "day" likely will come first; and this is no threat! Kinder, gentler motives for returning to Mass may be out there, but it's too late at night for me to search them out. Perhaps you would be moved, for the moment, by the final movement of Ralph Vaughan Williams' Hodie. This link provides the words; a university chorus provides the performance.
Let a famous English poet and English composer speak of the Wedding Feast of the Lamb into which we are mystically inserted at every offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
- But when of old the sons of morning sung,
- While the Creator great
- His constellations set,
- And the well-balanced world on hinges hung,
- And cast the dark foundations deep,
- And bid the weltering waves their oozy channel keep.
- Yea, truth and justice then
- Will down return to men,
- Orbed in a rainbow; and, like glories wearing,
- Mercy will sit between,
- Throned in celestial sheen,
- With radiant feet the tissued clouds down steering;
- And heaven, as at some festival,
- Will open wide the gates of her high palace hall.
- (Adaptation taken from "On the Morning of Christ's Nativity," by John Milton)