FIRST PART OF THE LITURGICAL YEAR: THE CHRISTMAS CYCLE (MYSTERY OF THE INCARNATION). [i]
II. CHRISTMASTIDE (from the Vigil of the Nativity [December 24] through the Baptism of Our Lord [January 13]).
During the Season of Advent we longed for the coming of Christ. In Christmastide we experience the joy of His coming into the world. The Church is full of the Mystery of the Incarnation of Christ. Jesus as God, begotten of the substance of the Father before all the ages and born of the substance of His Mother in the world, is given to us. ‘And His Name shall be called the Angel of Great Counsel.’
By the union of our souls with Jesus born to human life, we are born to the divine life. ‘As many as receive Him He gave them power to be made Sons of God.’ (St. John)
In the birth of Jesus we learn to know God as His Father: ‘All things are delivered to Me by My Father. And no one knoweth the Father but the Son and he whom it shall please the Son to reveal Him.’ (St. Matthew)
During Christmastide, the liturgy shows us the Messias as the Son of God, clothed with humanity, glorified by the humble surprised shepherds, and adored by the Magi from the East. Let us fall down before the Child and bless God, for the birth of Jesus is the beginning of our Redemption through grace to the supernatural life.
Christmas is the only day of the year which keeps the custom of celebrating its Feast at midnight. At this hour we call to mind that Mary in her spotless virginity gave to the world its Saviour. In the midst of the darkness, the Light was born. Therefore the Church celebrates Christmas on December 25, the time of the year when the days begin to lengthen. The custom of having three Masses originated in Jerusalem. A Mass was said in Bethlehem at a very early hour in the morning. Later a second Mass was celebrated in the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem. About midday a third Mass was celebrated. Each of the three Masses has its identifying characteristics. The Midnight Mass celebrates the birth of Jesus, the Mass at dawn commemorates the adoration of the shepherds, the daytime Mass celebrates the eternal generation of the Word and the dignity of the Son of God.
Whereas Advent is the season of the ‘absence of Jesus,’ Christmastide is a season of great joy in our possession of the Saviour. Eight days after Christmas the Church celebrates the Circumcision of Jesus. On January 6, she commemorates the adoration of Jesus by the Magi (Epiphany), and Christmastide closes eight days later.
[i] Remarks are abstracted from The Daily Missal and Liturgical Manual, from Editio Typica of the Roman Missal and Breviary, 1962
(Baronius Press Limited, London, 2004, in conjunction with the Fraternal Society of St. Peter, www.baroniuspress.com)