Brothers and sisters, this morning we welcome Jaclyn Lam, a cradle Catholic seeking to deepen her relationship with God and to encounter Him every day in everyone around her. Though it usually feels as if she stumbles one well-intentioned step forward only to flounder two emotional steps back, her faith has been strengthened by key events which include a Cenacle Sisters Ignatian retreat introducing her to stillness and contemplation (and the challenge of creating space for it amid daily routines) and her parish working adults faith formation group, which has helped her really appreciate the role of community (and food) as we search for, and carry out our vocations together. One of these vocations is her role as an only child trying to take care of elderly parents, while another is her job, which she perpetually wonders if she should change. Her pastimes in which she has continually found respite in are reading, creative writing and journaling.
Dec 25 – Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord
The name ‘Christmas’ was derived from Old English: ‘Cristes Maesse’ — Christ’s Mass. It is a celebration of the anniversary of the birth of our Lord. In the earliest days of the Church, there was no such feast; the Saviour’s birth was commemorated with the Epiphany by the Greek and other Eastern Churches.
The first mention of the feast, then kept on May 20, was made by Clement of Alexandria in the year 200. The Latin Church began in the year 300 to observe it on Dec 25, though there is no certainty that our Lord was born on that day.
Priests have, on this day, the privilege of saying three Masses — at midnight; daybreak, and morning. This was originally reserved for the pope alone; beginning about the fourth century, he celebrated a midnight Mass in the Lateran Basilica (in which according to tradition, the manger of Bethlehem is preserved), a second in the church of St. Anastasia, whose feast comes on Dec 25, and a third at the Vatican Basilica.
Many peculiar customs of the day are the outcome of the pagan celebrations of the January calends. The Christmas tree, of which the first known mention was made in 1605 at Strasbourg, was introduced into France and England in 1840. The feast is a holy day of obligation, preceded by the preparatory season of Advent and by a special vigil; should it fall on a Friday, it abrogates the law of abstinence.
- Patron Saint Index
Christmas Day — Midnight Mass
The people that walked in darkness has seen a great light; on those who live in a land of deep shadow a light has shone.
One of the practices I had tried to cultivate this year (in an attempt to fill the unexpectedly large void left by the lack of Mass) was to recite the Liturgy of the Hours, particularly the Morning Prayer and the Night Prayer. Both these prayers contain Canticles, or short hymns, which touch on the promise of light in darkness. In the Morning Prayer, Zechariah tells of how his son John will prepare the path for Jesus who will ‘give light to those who walk in darkness’ and in the Night Prayer, Simeon gives praise for how he has seen the baby Jesus, ‘a light to bring the Gentiles from darkness’. When I read the above line from Isaiah, I was struck by how this refrain had echoed from the Old Testament to the New Testament, as well as a sense of awe at the enormity and generosity of God’s plans for us.
But the past year has been an extremely unexpected and challenging one for everyone, and there have been times I wondered if there really was a light strong enough to dispel the darkness of the ongoing pandemic and the deep suffering it has exposed or worsened. Although I have been fortunate enough to experience moments of support and community, the strength and reassurance they bring somehow seem to be quickly snuffed out by the overall sense of loss and anxiety, helplessness and uncertainty.
Then again, perhaps things were not very different during Jesus’ time. Despite the divine events taking place in their midst — the birth of our Saviour in a stable; the appearance of a host of angels; the surprise of a shining star — the people of Bethlehem, and later on Nazareth, more or less carried on with their normal lives till Jesus began his ministry some thirty years later. Even after Jesus’ resurrection, the apostles faced all sorts of dangers and doubts as they travelled to spread the Gospel. But with the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit, they persevered through the darkness, bringing God’s light in their own unique ways all over the world and throughout the ages, all the way to Singapore – which is pretty amazing too.
So maybe this year’s Christmas, more so than for previous years, serves as an important reminder that God’s light is among us, unknown to us until we open our hearts and minds to seek it. Even when we lose heart, John 1 reminds us that ‘the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it’. After all, even though I could only attend one Advent weekend mass this month, I have been blessed to have access to spiritual resources online, which helped me understand how the hope of the Advent season is just as relevant today. And once I am aware of the gentle warmth of God’s light, the second reading from Titus provides guidance on how I can try to keep it shining for others through my words and actions.
I know that after (or even during) the glow of the Christmas season, I will still feel as if God is absent amid my daily mundanities and difficulties, and I will still fail at bringing God’s love to others. But today’s timeless readings, as well as the Liturgy of the Hours prayers (which will hopefully become a habit), help me to remember that I can offer my humble attempts and prayers to God in the reassurance that He has His own plans for us, which He will faithfully carry out in His own way while holding on to our hands — just as He did for the people of Israel, just as He did for the apostles and saints throughout the centuries, and just as He will continue to do so for us in the year ahead.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Jaclyn Lam)
Prayer: Lord, renew us and bring us closer to you during this very unusual Christmas. Send us your Holy Spirit to help us recognise how you are always in our boat, and sustain us in faith to trust that you will save us, even if it is in ways we may not expect or understand. Thank you for not giving up on us even when we feel like giving up on you.
Thanksgiving: Thank you Father, for revealing your love, your grace and your healing through the dedication and perseverance of the Church, religious and laity all over the world.