Christmas Mass | Notes from the Subdeacon | Orthodox Christmas
Notes from the Subdeacon
Christmas Midnight Mass
In this past Advent season we have learned how badly we have strayed from the paths of our covenant with God, both as a race and as individuals. We learned how God, ever a merciful Father, worked to raise us up from the depths into which we fell by sin again and again. The mercy of God is so great that He labors to help us learn how to live righteously. We have learned the almost unimaginable harm that sin has brought to us and have heard God promise repeatedly to forgive us if we turn to Him. The Father still loves us so that He is not merely going to “give us a break” by ignoring our sins as a human judge might do. He has promised a Saviour Whose coming shall destroy sin and all its evil effects, starting with death itself. He will forgive our sins, remove them and, even more importantly, heal us forever so that we will again be able to freely choose to love Him as we were created to do. This Coming of the Saviour is the great Mystery which we have been taught throughout Advent to long for. Finally, He is here with us and we are joined to Him by the great sacramental mysteries of the Church.
November 9, 2014
The Introit. Ps. ii. (Dominus dixit) The Lord said unto me: Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee. Ps. Ibid. Why do the heathen so furiously rage together, and why do the people imagine a vain thing?
In commenting on this Psalm, St. Augustine points out that two related meanings to this verse. It prophetically points towards the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in the flesh at His birth in Bethlehem. The past tense (“the Lord said unto me…”) is used because in eternity there is nothing past as if it had ceased to be or future as if were not yet, but present only, since whatever is eternal always is. In addition, the specific use of “this day” with the past tense indicates theologically something happening immediately and presently. This, St. Augustine, tells us. is the eternal generation of the power and Wisdom of God, the only-begotten Son of God. So this Psalm is used for the Introit because in a very few words it teaches us the great mystery of the Incarnation: very God and very man in the one Person of Jesus Christ.
Gradual & Alleluia. Ps. cx. In the day of thy power shall the people offer thee freewill offerings with an holy worship: the dew of thy birth is of the womb of the morning. The Lord said unto my Lord: Sit thou on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool. Alleluia, alleluia. Ps. ii. The Lord said unto me: Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee. Alleluia.
Psalm cx which provides the verses for the Gradual today is, like Psalm ii, a promise of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the Gospels we read of Jesus Himself using it to show the Jews how the Saviour is to be the Son of God and the son of David. David the writer of the Psalm speaks in the role of the son of David and tells how God the Father (“the Lord”) says to him, the son of David, that he is indeed the Son, the Only-Begotten of the Father. From the earliest days of the Church, the Psalms ii and cx have been understood to teach that Jesus Christ is true God and true man. This is why at this Christmas mass both the Introit and the Gradual and Alleluia are drawn from them. The Gradual verse here as, among other things, a meditation on the Epistle in which we heart that “the grace of God which bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men.”
Offertory. Ps. xcvi. Let the heavens rejoice and let the earth be glad before the Lord, for he is come.
Psalm xcvi from which this Offertory is taken is a great hymn of praise to God for His blessings. In it David speaks not only for all mankind but for all of creation and bids us to rejoice. The reason for our rejoicing is that the Lord has come! Once again David is speaking prophetically of the Incarnation. Recall that the past tense (“is come”) in the psalms frequently points to eternal truth which is beyond time. This particular verse is used here because the gifts are being prepared and offered on the altar. As members of the Church, the Body of Christ, we are able sacramentally to join in the eternal offering of Christ Himself by Himself to the Father in this greatest of acts of thanksgiving, the Holy Eucharist.
Communion. Ps cx. With an holy worship, the dew of thy birth is of the womb of the morning.
In this verse David sets before us the Father speaking to the Son of His Birth as Son of God and son of man. “The womb of the morning” is used both figuratively and literally, and was fulfilled in the Birth at Bethlehem. As St. Augustine says,
The Lord was born at night from the womb of the Virgin Mary; the testimony of the shepherds doth assert this, who were “keeping watch over their flock.”’ So David: O Thou, my Lord, who sittest at the right hand of my Lord, whence art Thou my Son, except because, “From the womb before the morning star I have begotten thee”?
Thus “the womb of the morning star” means literally the actual birth of Christ. Figuratively, “morning star” means all of the heavens and earth. The morning star, which appears first stands for all stars and stars themselves stand for all of creation. So “before the morning star “ again refers to the eternal generation of the Son by the Father.
Therefore, as we kneel in awe before the Holy Babe in the manger, we must remember how great a Gift we have been given. We sinners have been given Salvation Himself; humanity has been taken up into Divinity and with all the heavenly host we sing: Glory to God in the Highest!