Liturgy of Christmas


             The texts of the Christmas liturgy do not analyze the mystery but contemplate it with a simple and ever new look, expressing it with that simplicity that does not exclude at all the variety and richness of the images and they do so in a lyrical and poetic way in which they willingly use figurative expressions, inspired by the Bible.

Thus, to affirm the reality of the two natures of Christ, the Christmas liturgy frequently plays with antithetical contrasts inspired in Isaiah, 40, 6-8:


All flesh is like grass,

All its glory as the flowers of the field!

The grass withers, the flower fades,

but the word of our God will stand forever.


The word of God that remains forever is Christ considered in his divine nature, is the Son co-eternal to the Father. The human nature that He has assumed is, just like ours, subject to death: all flesh is like the grass, is only fragility, and passes. With respect to the power and immutability of God, the human condition is weak and transient.


The opposition: God-flesh, glory and power of God the Word - weakness and misery of the flesh he has assumed, returns repeatedly in all the Christmas liturgies, both Eastern and Western. Therefore, the hymn of morning prayer begins: "The blessed creator of the world has clothed himself with a slave’s body..." after a few verses, it continues:


He accepted a bed of straw;

did not disdain a manger.

He was fed with a little milk

He who feeds even the birds.


            The Oriental Liturgies particularly give us similar antithetical expressions. The Byzantine liturgy is expressed in these terms in a song of vespers of 26 December:


You who have heaven as your throne, rest in a manger; you who surround the armies of angels have descended among shepherds to save mankind.

How to tell this great mystery? The Incorporeal takes a body; the Word is burdened with flesh, the Invisible manifests itself.


            Of all the Eastern liturgies, the Syrian liturgy is perhaps the one that most frequently touches the contrast between the glory of the Word God and the weakness, sweetness and needs of his infant humanity. It is sufficient to cite a verse from the song of the fraction during the liturgy:


I passed through Bethlehem of Judah and I heard very sweet arias of lullaby. I was taken by admiration: it is the voice of Mary that cradles her Son: "0 My Lord, you are pleased with me and I have become your mother"; who is your Father who has not touched your mother? Order the seraphim to hover in a row and to acclaim you and to cry out to you: "Holy!".


            As can be seen, in all the liturgies the contemplation of the Church at Christmas is expressed through a play of contrasts. It appears that the abyss of humility and lowliness in which the Word appears allows us to better grasp the unfathomable abyss of his divinity. On the other hand, this divinity renders more clearly the lowliness and humility through which the beloved Son wished to approach us.


This article was been written by Fr. Edward McNamarra, L.C., director of Sacerdos Institute, in the Pontifical Atheneum Regina Apostolorum