The Nativity of the Lord – Mass During the Night
First Reading: Isaiah 9:1-6
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 96:1-3, 11-13
Second Reading: Letter of St. Paul to Titus 2:11-14
Gospel: According to St. Luke 2:1-14
“When I was a little boy, the lights of the Christmas tree, the music of the Midnight Mass, the tenderness of smiling faces, used to make up, so, the radiance of the gifts I received.”
With these words, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry expresses one of the great themes of his masterpiece The Little Prince, but more than that, he puts into words all that makes Christmas so magical – especially for children.
There are four different liturgical settings for the celebration of the Nativity, or birth of Christ, yet the Mass During the Night – Midnight Mass – is such that anyone who has ever experienced it knows exactly why Saint-Exupéry included it in his description of what makes life special.
Just as the author looked back to his childhood to find “the radiance of the gifts” received at Christmas, so do people of every generation. To be a child of five when A Charlie Brown Christmas first aired in December 1965 was to be transported to the epicenter of Christmas magic. It is impossible for me to see the show today and not be reminded of that sense of wonder that filled the heart of a little first grader in Parma, Ohio - and that was even with watching it on black-and-white television.
In later years, I realized just how different this show was in relation to all of the other shows and movies that play upon the Christmas theme. It would be hard to find another example of Christmastime entertainment that has even a tangential relationship to the celebration of the birth of, to use the words of Isaiah from Midnight Mass, the “Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.”
As much as I love Elf, A Christmas Story, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Snowman, and even The Polar Express, none of those movies are about Christmas. They are all akin to doing a version of King Kong without the ape. Not that such a movie couldn’t be interesting and enjoyable or even a classic, but it just wouldn’t be enough.
That’s why when I hear the reading from Luke’s Gospel during Midnight Mass, I can’t help but be drawn to an older translation, that of the King James Bible, and I can’t help but hear it in the voice of a little boy holding a blanket:
“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘fear not, for behold, I bring you tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you. Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in the manger.’ And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, good will toward men.’”
No matter what good feelings we get when we watch our favorite Christmas shows and movies, we are being called back to the source of those feelings, just as Saint-Exupéry was when he included Midnight Mass and not just the lights on the Christmas tree and the tenderness of smiling faces when he recounted his childhood feelings.
In that moment, we should remember that what prompted Linus’s truly magical oration was an emotional plea by an exasperated Charlie Brown: “Isn’t there anyone who understands what Christmas is all about?” And after listening to St. Luke’s world-changing Good News, we can confidently respond just as Linus did:
“That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
From all of us here at Dolly Madison Snack Cake: we wish you a happy and holy Christmas.