Contemplating the Christmas Triptych

by Napa Institute
Published In December 15, 2016

“Jesus, Who is born tonight, is born thrice. He is born of the Blessed Virgin, in the stable of Bethlehem; he is born by grace, in the hearts of the shepherds, who are the first fruits of the Christian Church; and He is born from all eternity in the bosom of the Father, in the brightness of the saints: to this triple birth, therefore, let there be the homage of a triple Sacrifice!” (Dom Gueranger, The Liturgical Year, Vol. II).

Each Sunday Catholics have a choice of Masses to attend, i.e. the Vigil Mass on Saturday evening, or one of the Masses offered on Sunday, including a Sunday evening Mass.  For our personal convenience and as a practical way of accommodating the many parishioners, the Mass of the current Sunday with its specified readings is offered at different times.

Christmas Mass, however, is presented to us as a triptych: the Mass at Midnight, the Mass at Dawn, and the Mass during the Day. Each one is different. Each one has a different focus on the birth of Christ. The first of the three Masses is celebrated at Midnight, an ancient Church custom of profound significance. Tradition holds that Christ was born at midnight and the Midnight Mass highlights the fact that Christ, the light of the world dispelled the darkness. The Mass at Dawn is known as the Shepherds’ Mass. The theme of light is held up in this Mass. Outside the church dawn is breaking. The texts emphasize light. The Mass during the day emphasizes Christ’s divinity. The readings are different at these three Masses.

This Christmas triptych evokes deep contemplation. We are moved interiorly to take one aspect of the Christmas mystery and absorb it as deeply as possible. Every year brings fresh insights and deeper understanding.  Contemplation doesn’t need words. Kneel silently before the crèche, gaze at the mystery, and allow God’s grace to work within you. That is enough.

Each Christmas we renew this encounter with the Lord and after we leave the silence of the crèche and go about our daily routine, more and more we begin to mirror the Blessed Mother in carrying His light into the world.

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