The Solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ: Christmas Vigil – Childrens Mass

In a town called Nazareth in Galilee, a long time ago, Mary lived with her parents, Joachim and Ann. Mary was only a young girl, maybe 14 years old. She came from a quiet little area of the world, and just looking at them, you’d have to say nothing about her family was very special. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, because that was when people got married in those days, but she wasn’t married yet.

She was busy doing her chores one day, when she was surprised by the appearance of an angel named Gabriel. As you can imagine, the appearing of an angel can be a little frightening, but Gabriel reassured her and told her that the Lord was with her. He told her not to be afraid, because God wanted her to be the mother of his Son Jesus. Jesus would become great and would rule over the kingdom of Israel forever. Mary was confused how she could have a baby, because she was not married, but the angel reassured her that all things are possible with God. She was amazed, but she had faith, and said to the angel, “Let it happen as you have said.”

Mary sang a hymn proclaiming how great God was, and went in haste to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who was also going to have a baby, even though she was very old. When she got there, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leapt for joy, and Elizabeth said, “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” Mary helped Elizabeth for three months and returned home.

Mary was engaged to a man named Joseph, and when he heard that Mary was pregnant, he was upset. He was going to break off the engagement, but he heard from the angel too. He came to be with her and took her into the city of David for the census, so that they could be counted. On the way, Mary gave birth to her baby, and had Jesus in a manger where the animals stayed. Many people came to visit Mary and Joseph and Jesus, and gave the baby gifts and said wonderful things about him, things Mary would never forget. She kept all of this very close to her in her heart.

Mary and Joseph raised Jesus and watched him become a strong, healthy, and smart young man. One time, when the family went to Jerusalem for a visit to the holy temple, Mary and Joseph lost track of Jesus. They were on the way home when they discovered Jesus wasn’t with them or any of their friends or family. Returning to Jerusalem, Mary and Joseph found Jesus in the temple, talking about their faith, with all of the rabbis and teachers. He was only twelve years old!

Eventually Joseph died, and Mary stayed near Jesus. She watched him start his ministry, the whole reason God had sent him to earth in the first place. He called his disciples and taught all the people. He cured the sick and fed many hungry people. He worked many miracles and always talked about how good God was, and how much God loved people, and how they should all turn back to God and turn away from the bad things they had been doing. Mary watched as he did all these wonderful things, and she saw how faithful he was to God’s work.

But Mary also began to see that Jesus wasn’t making everybody happy. She saw that when he cured people on the Sabbath day, the day of rest, the leaders of the temple became angry. She saw that when Jesus told them to take care of the poor and the hungry and the homeless instead of worrying about what day it was, the religious leaders wanted to kill him. Mary watched as eventually they did take hold of Jesus, carried him off for a trial before Pilate the governor, and nailed him to the cross.

At the foot of the cross, Mary stood sorrowful, knowing what a wonderful gift she and the whole world had been given in Jesus. But Jesus took care of Mary even then, and entrusted her to the care of his friend John. After Jesus died on the cross, Mary along with some of the other women in the group were the first ones to see that Jesus rose from the dead! Mary stayed with the other disciples and prayed with them that the whole world would come to know the message of Jesus. Her sorrow turned to joy as she watched the community grow and live the things Jesus had taught them.

Those disciples were the ones who passed the faith on to us. Because of the courage of the disciples and especially of Mary, we today can believe in Jesus and receive the gift of everlasting life from him. Because of the faith of Mary, we can live forever with God and never have to be afraid of death or be mastered by sin. All of this happened because Mary said, “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word.”

It is good for us to hear Mary’s story, because she lived her life following Jesus. We’re supposed to do that too. Mary got to see Jesus face-to-face, even hold him in her arms. We might not be able to do that, but Jesus is close to all of us as long as we let him in. Just like they made a place for Jesus to be born in a manger, we need to make a manger for Jesus in our own hearts so that he can be born in us and always be with us.

It’s very important that we all hear that just as God sent an angel to Mary, he sends angels to us all the time. Those angels tell us, too, that we should not be afraid because God loves us and cares for us and wants to do great things with us, just like he did with Mary. All he needs for us to do is to say, “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word.”

The Most Holy Name of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Today’s readings

Today we celebrate a new-ish feast of Mary on the American version of the Church Calendar. The feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary began in Spain in 1513 and in 1671 was extended to all of Spain and the Kingdom of Naples. In 1683, King John Sobieski, of Poland, brought an army to the outskirts of Vienna to stop the advance of Muslim armies loyal to Mohammed IV in Constantinople. After Sobieski entrusted himself to the Blessed Virgin Mary, he and his soldiers thoroughly defeated the Muslims. Pope Innocent XI subsequently extended this feast to the entire Church.

And so we reverence Mary’s Most Holy Name, as we do the Most Holy Name of Jesus. That’s why a humble bow of the head at the mention of their names is a pious practice.

Like Saint Paul in today’s first reading, the Blessed Virgin Mary’s whole life was about preaching the goodness of our God, as she saw it developed so clearly in the life of her Son. Everything she said and did always led to Jesus, because Jesus is the Incarnation of God’s love. Mary’s message was and is that we are called to partner with Jesus to make the Kingdom of God known in our own time and place.

The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Today’s readings

In a town called Nazareth in Galilee, a long time ago, Mary lived with her parents, Joachim and Ann. Mary was only a young girl, maybe 14 years old. She came from a quiet little area of the world, and just looking at them, you’d have to say nothing about her family was very special. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, because that was when people got married in those days, but she wasn’t married yet.

She was busy doing her chores one day, when she was surprised by the appearance of an angel named Gabriel. She was frightened, but Gabriel reassured her and told her that the Lord was with her. He told her not to be afraid, because God wanted her to be the mother of his Son Jesus. Jesus would become great and would rule over the kingdom of Israel forever. Mary was confused how she could have a baby, because she was not married, but the angel reassured her that all things are possible with God. She was amazed, but she had faith, and said to the angel, “Let it happen as you have said.”

Mary sang a hymn proclaiming how great God was, and went in haste to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who was also going to have a baby, even though she was old. When she got there, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leapt for joy, and Elizabeth said, “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” Mary helped Elizabeth for three months and returned home.

Joseph, the man Mary was engaged to, heard from the angel too. He came to be with her and took her into the city of David for the census, so that they could be counted. On the way, Mary gave birth to her baby, and had Jesus in a manger where the animals stayed. Many people came to visit Mary and Joseph and Jesus, and gave the baby gifts and said wonderful things about him, things Mary would never forget. She kept all of this very close to her in her heart.

Mary and Joseph raised Jesus and watched him become a strong, healthy, and smart young man. One time, when the family went to Jerusalem for a visit to the holy temple, Jesus got lost. They were on the way home when they discovered Jesus wasn’t with them or any of their friends or family. Returning to Jerusalem, Mary and Joseph found Jesus in the temple, talking about their faith, with all of the rabbis and teachers. He was only twelve years old!

Eventually Joseph died, and Mary stayed near Jesus. She watched him start his ministry, the whole reason God had sent him to earth in the first place. He called his disciples and taught all the people. He cured the sick and fed many hungry people. He worked many miracles and always talked about how good God was, and how much God loved people, and how they should all turn back to God and turn away from the bad things they had been doing. Mary watched as he did all these wonderful things, and she saw how faithful he was to God’s work.

But Mary also began to see that Jesus wasn’t making everybody happy. She saw that when he cured people on the day of rest, the leaders of the temple became angry. She saw that when Jesus told them to take care of the poor and the hungry and the homeless instead of worrying about what day it was, the religious leaders wanted to kill him. Mary watched as eventually they did take hold of Jesus, carried him off for a trial before Pilate the governor, and nailed him to the cross.

At the foot of the cross, Mary stood sorrowful, knowing what a wonderful gift she and the whole world had been given in Jesus. But Jesus took care of Mary even then, and entrusted her to the care of his friend John. After Jesus died on the cross, Mary along with some of the other women in the group were the first ones to see that Jesus rose from the dead! Mary stayed with the other disciples and prayed with them that the whole world would come to know the message of Jesus. Her sorrow turned to joy as she watched the community grow and live the things Jesus had taught them.

Those disciples were the ones who passed the faith on to us. Because of the courage of the disciples and especially of Mary, we today can believe in Jesus and receive the gift of everlasting life from him. Because of the faith of Mary, we can live forever with God and never have to be afraid of death or be mastered by sin. All of this happened because Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant! Let it happen as you have said.”

It is good for us to hear this story about Mary just as we are beginning our new school year. As we listen to this story, we can see that faith changes everything. When we have faith that God will save us, we can grow as disciples of Jesus.

We can grow as disciples by coming to Mass ready to hear the Word of the Lord and ready to pray and, for those of you who are old enough, ready to receive the body of Christ. We can grow by remembering that even though there may be some hard times ahead of us in the new school year, God will take care of them and make this year a time of wonder. We can grow by refusing to be caught up in the things that can drag us down and by helping others.

It’s very important that we all hear that just as God sent an angel to Mary, he sends angels to us all the time. Those angels tell us, too, that we should not be afraid because God loves us and cares for us and wants to do great things with us, just like he did with Mary. All he needs for us to do is to say, “I am the Lord’s servant! Let it happen as you have said.”

The Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God

The Church gives us this wonderful feast of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, on this, the octave day of Christmas.  In a very real way, the Church still celebrates this day as Christmas day – that’s one of the wonderful things about being Catholic.  We don’t have to cast off Christmas with the wrapping paper; we don’t toss the trees out on the curb on December the 26th; we get to celebrate for many days.  But to celebrate the eighth day of Christmas as the feast of Mary, the Holy Mother of God is a wonderful and appropriate thing to do.  We all know that Mary’s faith made possible our own lives of faith and even more wonderfully made possible the salvation of the whole world and everyone ever to live in it.  She was the one, chosen by God, to see the Gospel come to life before her very eyes.  She held our God in her faithful and loving hands, treasuring each moment in her heart.

So Mary’s faith is a model for us.  We often do not know where God is leading us, but in faith we are called to say “yes” to his plan for us anyway.  How willing are we to do that?  We are often called upon to take a leap of faith, make a fiat, and cooperate with God’s work in our lives and in the world.  Just like Mary, we have no way of knowing where that might lead us; just like Mary, that might lead to heartache and sorrow; but just like Mary, it may lead to redemption beyond belief, beyond anything we can imagine.

And so, yes, Mary is the Mother of God.  And let me tell you, this was a doctrine that came at great price.  People fought over whether a human woman could ever be the mother of God.  How would that even be possible?  But the alternative, really, would be to insinuate that Jesus was not God, because we clearly know that Mary was his mother.  So to say that Mary was not the Mother of God is to say in a very real and theologically dangerous way that Jesus was not God, and we know that’s just wrong.  Jesus was fully human but also fully divine, his human and divine natures intertwined in his person without any separation or division or elevation of one nature at the expense of another.  And so, as theologians teach us, Mary is the Mother of God the Word according to his human nature.  She didn’t give birth to his divine nature; that was begotten by God.  She is not the mother of the First or Third Persons of God; she is the mother of the Second Person, God the Word.  Sister Sarah made us memorize all this in seminary, and every once in a while, when I’m feeling particularly theologically courageous, I reflect on this doctrine and marvel at its beauty.

So, Mary is the Mother of God, but Mary is also the Mother of the Church, leading its members to her son Jesus and to faith in God.  She is mother of priests, caring for us in a special way and interceding for the faithful work of our calling.  She is the mother of mothers, interceding for them and showing them how to nurture faith in their children.  She is the mother of the faithful, showing us how to cooperate fully with God’s plan.  She is mother of Scripture scholars and those who just love the Scriptures, having seen the Word unfold before her and treasuring it in her heart.  She is the mother of disciples, having been the first of the disciples and the most dedicated of them all.  She is the Mother of God, and our mother, and we cannot sing our Christmas carols without singing her praises too.  We honor her faith and example today, and we ask for her intercession for our lives, for our families, for our Church and our world.

Pray for us, o holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Blessed Pope Pius IX instituted the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary on December 8, 1854, when he proclaimed as truth the dogma that our Lady was conceived free from the stain of original sin.  This had been a traditional belief since about the eighth century, and had been celebrated as a feast first in the East, and later in the West.

This feast celebrates the belief that God loved the world so much that he sent his only Son to be our Savior, and gave to him a human mother who was chosen before the world began to be holy and blameless in his sight.  This feast is a sign for us of the nearness of our salvation; that the plan God had for us before the world ever took shape was finally coming to fruition.  How appropriate it is, then, that we celebrate the Immaculate Conception during Advent, when we recount the unfolding of salvation through the Incarnation of Christ.

The readings chosen for this day paint the picture.  In the reading from Genesis, we have the story of the fall.  The man and the woman had eaten of the fruit of the tree that God had forbidden them to eat.  Because of this, they were ashamed and covered over their nakedness.  God noticed that, and asked about it.  He found they had discovered the forbidden tree because otherwise they would not have the idea that their natural state was shameful.

Thus begins the pattern of sin and deliverance that cycles all through the scriptures.  God extends a way to salvation to his people, the people reject it and go their own way.  God forgives, and extends a new way to salvation.  Thank God he never gets tired of pursuing humankind and offering salvation, or we would be in dire straits.  It all comes to perfection in the event we celebrate today.  Salvation was always God’s plan for us and he won’t rest until that plan comes to perfection.  That is why St. Paul tells the Ephesians, and us, today: “He chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him.   In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ…”

And so, in these Advent days, we await the unfolding of the plan for salvation that began at the very dawn of the world in all its wonder.  God always intended to provide an incredible way for his people to return to them, and that was by taking flesh and walking among us as a man.  He began this by preparing for his birth through the Immaculate Virgin Mary – never stained by sin, because the one who conquered sin and death had already delivered her from sin.  He was then ready to be born into our midst and to take on our form.  With Mary’s fiat in today’s Gospel, God enters our world in the most intimate way possible, by becoming vulnerable, taking our flesh as one like us.  Mary’s lived faith – possible because of her Immaculate Conception – makes possible our own lives of faith and our journeys to God.  

Our celebration today has special meaning for us.  Because Mary was conceived without sin, we can see that sin was never intended to rule us.  Because God selected Mary from the beginning, we can see that we were chosen before we were ever in our mother’s womb.  Because Mary received salvific grace from the moment of her conception, we can catch a glimpse of what is to come for all of us one day.  Mary’s deliverance from sin and death was made possible by the death and resurrection of her Son Jesus, who deeply desires that we all be delivered in that way too.

Pray for us, O holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.  Amen.

The Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Today’s Gospel can be a confusing one, perhaps even a little difficult to hear.  It’s very disconcerting to see Jesus as being callous to his mother and not receiving her when she came to visit.  But our gut – or rather our faith – tells us that Jesus and Mary had a relationship that transcended that kind of thing.  It wasn’t that Jesus didn’t care about Mary; it’s just that he knew he really didn’t have to worry about her.  She had been filled with grace from the moment of her conception, and would never be without the benefit of that grace.

Theirs was a relationship in which Jesus instinctively knew that his mother was okay and he needed to attend more to the people he ministered.  And it is for that reason we celebrate Mary’s presentation today.  As with Mary’s birth, we don’t really know anything official about Mary’s presentation in the temple.  An unhistorical account tells us that her parents, Anna and Joachim, offered Mary to God in the Temple when she was three years old.  This was to carry out a promise made to God when Anna was still childless.

Though it cannot be proven historically, Mary’s presentation has an important theological purpose.  It continues the impact of the feasts of the Immaculate Conception and of the birth of Mary.  It emphasizes that the holiness conferred on Mary from the beginning of her life on earth continued through her early childhood and beyond.  We celebrate Mary, full of grace from the moment of her conception and all throughout her life.

We pray the words of Mary in the Responsorial Psalm today: “The Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.”  Mary was always aware of the amazing grace that sustained her throughout her own very difficult life-long mission.  We are graced like that too, and we celebrate that grace with Mary today.

Pray for us, O holy Mother of God; that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Today’s readings

The tradition of the Assumption of Mary dates back to the very earliest days of the Church, all the way back to the days of the apostles.  The Council of Chalcedon in 451 tells us that, after Mary’s death, the apostles opened the tomb, finding it empty, and concluded that she had been taken bodily into heaven.  The tradition was spoken about by the various fathers of the Church, and in the eighth century, St. John Damascene wrote, “Although the body was duly buried, it did not remain in the state of death, neither was it dissolved by decay… You were transferred to your heavenly home, O Lady, Queen and Mother of God in truth.”   The current celebration of Mary’s Assumption has taken place since 1950, when Pope Pius XII proclaimed the dogma of the Assumption of Mary in his encyclical, Munificentissimus Deus, saying: “The Immaculate Mother of God, the ever-virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heaven.”

And so we have gathered here this evening to celebrate the life of Mary, Mother of God, the first of the disciples of Jesus her son.  What is important for us to see in this feast is that it proclaims with all the joy the Church can muster that what happened to Mary can and will happen for us who believe.  We too have the promise of eternal life in heaven, where death and sin and pain will no longer have power over us. Because Christ caught his Blessed Mother back up into his life in heaven, we know that we too can be caught up with his life in heaven.  On that great day, death, the last enemy, will be completely destroyed, as St. Paul tells us today.

Mary’s life wasn’t always easy, but Mary’s life was redeemed.  That is good news for us who have difficult lives or find it hard to live our faith.  There are those among us too who have unplanned pregnancies.  There are those among us whose children go in directions that put them in danger.  There are those among us who have to watch a child die.  But because Mary suffered these sorrows too, and yet was exalted, we can hope for the day when that which she was given and which we have been promised will surely be ours.

Mary’s life was a prophecy for us.  Like Mary, we are called to a specific vocation to do God’s work in the world.  We are called to make sacrifices so that God’s work can be accomplished in us and through us.  We can be joyful because God is at work in us.  We are called to humility that lets God’s love for others shine through our lives.  We are called to lives of faith that translate into action on behalf of others, a faith that leads God’s people to salvation.  And one day, we hope to share in the glory that Mary has already received in the kingdom of God.

Pray for us, O holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Good Friday of the Passion of the Lord

Today’s readings

How quickly things have changed among Jesus’ followers.  His disciples – even the chosen Twelve – have pretty much deserted him.  They’ve either fled in fear, or else they have betrayed him, or denied that they knew him.  But some women who were among his devoted followers have braved the implications for them and have arrived with him at the foot of the cross.  The Beloved Disciple – probably John – has come too.  And, of course, his mother.

Think for a moment how much grief has to be in the heart of Mary.  Joseph seems to be out of the picture now; we assume he has died.  Jesus is all she has left in the world, her promised one.  She certainly knows that his hour is at hand, we know that she continues to trust in God, but the pain of these moments has to be almost too much to bear.  And so Jesus speaks to her from the cross: “Woman, behold your son.”  And to John, “Behold your mother.”  Jesus knows that for those who were closest to him in life, they will have need of support, of community, after his death.  Grief cannot be borne alone.  But not only that, community is essential to the continuation of Jesus’ mission.  So that relationship, forged at the foot of the cross, became the basis for discipleship for both Mary and John that would be instrumental in leading the fledgling Church into the ages ahead.

Still greater, though, is that we see in Mary an icon of the Church.  We grieve too, but we for our sins.  As we look up at the cross, we see – with horrifying clarity – the effect of our sins.  We know why Jesus had to come to this hour.  As Isaiah says, “he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins.”  No one sentenced Jesus to die on that cross as much as we did, and do, in our daily sins of commission and omission, in our harsh words, in our unkind and impure thoughts, in our lack of loving and in the neglect of our mission.  And yet, as John clearly points out in his Gospel, he went to the cross willingly, taking all that brokenness with him.

Like Mary, we the Church wait at the foot of the cross, not abandoning our Jesus who did not abandon us to our sins.  We, like Mary, receive at the cross our relationships, purified for our salvation, strengthened for the mission: beholding our mothers and sons and daughters and fathers, because we never get to the resurrection alone.  We’re not supposed to go it alone in this life.  Even in his most painful and dying moments, our Jesus gives us gifts that help us to arrive at the fullness of salvation.

The Blessed Virgin Mary, the Holy Mother of God

Today’s readings

One of the ways that I think we come to know about ourselves and our families, is the shared memories and stories that our parents and senior members of our families share with us over time.  I always enjoyed hearing stories from my grandparents about Mom and Dad, and my aunts and uncles, when they were growing up.  Now, we get to hear stories about me and my sisters.  Those are sometimes a little harder to enjoy!

I wonder if Jesus felt the same way about the stories about him that Mary must have told.  Luke tells us of all the amazing things that were observed and said about Jesus, even in his infancy, and all these things are what Mary kept and reflected on in her heart.  I think it’s fair to say that she may not have understood all of them at the time, or at least she didn’t know where they were leading, although she certainly knew that her son was someone very special, the Son of God.  And so she keeps all these things and reflects on them in her heart.  She is the first, really, to receive the Gospel – observing it, as it were, while it was happening and unfolding.  And so she is the model for all of us hearers of the Word; we too catch little phrases or episodes that we later reflect on in our hearts.  When we first hear them, it might well be that we don’t understand them.  But we know that we can later reflect on them in our hearts, and the Holy Spirit will reveal their meaning.

The Church gives us this wonderful feast of Mary on this, the octave day of Christmas.  In a very real way, the Church still celebrates this day as Christmas Day – that’s one of the wonderful things about being Catholic.  We get to celebrate this glorious event for many days.  But to celebrate the eighth day of Christmas as the feast of Mary, the Holy Mother of God is a wonderful and appropriate thing to do.  We all know that we are indebted to Mary’s faith, a faith which made possible the salvation of the whole world and everyone ever to live in it.

More than that, Mary’s faith is a model for us.  Much like Mary, we often do not know where God is leading us, but in faith we are called to say “yes” anyway.  How willing are we to do that?  We are often called upon to take a leap of faith, make a fiat, and cooperate with God’s saving plan for us and for others.  Just like Mary, we have no way of knowing where that might lead us; just like Mary, that might lead to heartache and sorrow; but just like Mary, it will lead to redemption beyond belief, beyond anything we can imagine.

And so, yes, Mary is the Mother of God.  And let me tell you, this was a doctrine that came without its price.  People fought over whether a human woman could ever be the mother of God.  How would that be possible?  But the alternative, really, would be to say that Jesus was not God, because we clearly know that Mary was his mother.  So to say that Mary was not the Mother of God is to say in a very precarious way that Jesus was not God, and we know just as surely that that would be incorrect.  Jesus was fully human but also fully divine, his human and divine natures intertwined in his person without any separation or division or degradation of one nature at the expense of another.  And so, as theologians teach us, Mary is the Mother of God the Word according to his human nature.  Every once in a while, when I’m feeling particularly theologically courageous, I reflect on that statement and marvel at its beauty.

So, Mary is the Mother of God, but Mary is also the Mother of the Church, leading its members to her Son Jesus and to faith in God.  She is mother of priests, caring for us in a special way and interceding for the faithful completion of our mission.  She is the mother of mothers, interceding for them and showing them how to nurture faith in their children.  She is the mother of the faithful, showing us how to cooperate fully with God’s plan.  She is mother of scripture scholars and those who just love the scriptures, having seen the Word unfold before her and treasuring it in her heart.  She is the mother of disciples, having been the first of the disciples and the most dedicated of them all.  She is the Mother of God, and our mother, and we cannot sing our Christmas carols without singing her praises too.  We honor her faith and example today, and we ask for her intercession for our lives, for our families, for our Church and our world.

Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

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