Christmas Midnight Mass
MASS CELEBRATED BY ARCHBISHOP DENIS HART AT SAINT PATRICK’S CATHEDRAL, MELBOURNE, AT MIDNIGHT ON CHRISTMAS EVE 2008.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Welcome to this special celebration of Christmas at Saint Patrick’s. Tonight we come to the crib as we offer the Mass and encounter Jesus as our Lord. In simplicity and humility we kneel before him. In wonder we realise that God is close to every human being.
While at a Catholic Mass it is only possible for Catholics who are properly prepared to receive Holy Communion out of reverence for the Sacrament, we are especially united with those not of the Catholic faith with whom we share this time of prayer, reflection and wonder.
Tonight especially our prayers are for those we love; for the sick, those who suffer from war, loneliness, hunger and anxiety.
In joy and humility let us call to mind our sins and ask the Lord to be near to our life and through our words and deeds to draw near to those with whom we share.
“On those who live in a land of deep shadow a light is shone, for there is a child born for us, a Son given to us.”
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
On this night we ponder Mary preparing for the birth of Jesus with love beyond all telling, giving birth and laying him in a manger because there was no room at the inn. In the seeming paradox of poverty and simplicity God has fulfilled his promise: “You shall bear a Son and you shall call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High.” (Luke 1:31)
This moment had been expected for centuries and yet how differently did it unfold; when God would take care of us, step outside his distance, our world would be saved and God would make all things new.
We notice that there is no room at the inn. Mankind has been waiting for God for so long and yet when he comes, in simplicity and love, we have no room for him.
The challenge this Christmas is to see truthfully that we are so preoccupied with our self, our own life and our own deeds that we do not find time for others, for our neighbour, for the poor, for God. The richer we become, the more we fill up our space with self.
Yet it is in the touching love of a baby, born in the simplest circumstance, surrounded by love of which any parent would be envious, that God comes to us waiting for us to say ‘yes’. The words in Saint John’s Gospel: “He came to his own and his own did not receive him”, (John 1:11) remind us that God never forces the human heart, but invites us to re-examine our lives.
We are in the midst of a serious economic downturn. Many people in our community this Christmas will celebrate the coming of Christ without the certainty of employment and of material prosperity, which most Australians take for granted. Their need provides a challenging invitation to us to divest ourselves of our preoccupation with riches and self and search out those in our community who are burdened and rejected.
Last Christmas Pope Benedict referred to some of the cribs from the late Middle Ages which are depicted as a castle in ruins to show that what went before has to give way to the fullness of Christ. Saint Gregory of Nyssa says, in commenting on the words of Saint John: “He pitched his tent among us.” (John 1:14) God took on poverty, weakness and suffering so that we who are torn and disfigured by sin can realise that God is drawing near to us precisely in paradox to give us the means to rediscover our lives and to direct them to him.
As we kneel at the crib and wonder at the simplicity of God’s coming, we might ask ourselves whether we have the simple faith to acknowledge God’s presence and give our lives to him, even at the great cost of leaving aside those things to which we are most attached.
God comes simply and reminds us that, as there was no room at the inn, we too are invited to make room for him in our hearts and to discover an authentic existence founded on truth and goodness with hope for the future because thereby we will recognise the abilities of ourselves and of others and we will then place ourselves at the disposal of God and of others, searching for ways to walk with them as God walks in simplicity and love with us.
Heaven does not belong to the geography of space, but the geography of the heart, and the heart of God during this holy night comes down to a stable. The humility of God is in heaven and if we touch this humility, then we touch heaven. Then our earth will be made new.
May Christ live in our hearts humbly, radiantly, and then our world will be transformed.
+ Denis J. Hart,
Archbishop of Melbourne.