Dear Parishioners, +JMJ
Do you remember the famous Prologue of the Gospel of St. John (chapter 1:1-18)? We read it during the Mass at nighttime for Christmas.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him,
and without him nothing came to be…
And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us,
and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.
Over the last couple of months I’ve been impressed with how important this Prologue has been in the liturgies of the Church over the centuries. It speaks about what we celebrate at Christmas: the Eternal Word becomes flesh. God joins Himself permanently to us, by means of what’s called the “hypostatic union” – a fancy phrase that really simply means the uniting of the humanity and divinity of Jesus Christ. That’s what we celebrate at Christmas. The Incarnation is an act of love on God’s part: wanting to be one with us, and wanting to take on flesh that could suffer and sacrifice to free us from sin. (So the Incarnation is also an anticipation of the victory of Calvary.) In addition, the Incarnation is a great act of humility on the part of the Son of God, the second Person of the Holy Trinity. The Son of God left the glory of heaven for the difficulties of our human condition on earth. Given the love, the anticipated victory, and the humility of the Incarnation, the Prologue of St. John shows up in several places in the Church’s liturgy, as if to claim the love, the victory and the humility for the situation to which that liturgy applies.
So, at the end of Masses before Vatican II, the priest always ended the ceremony by reciting the Prologue of St. John’s Gospel. Holy Mass – especially at the words of consecration – absolutely depends on the fact that the Incarnation happened. The Body and Blood of Jesus can happen on the altar only because Jesus was first born in a manger 2000 years ago. The miracle of transubstantiation can only happen because the Son of God took on human flesh in Bethlehem. Just as there is love, anticipated victory and humility in the first Christmas so long ago, so at each Mass there is also amazing love, the victory of Calvary applied to space and time today, and the beautiful humility of God coming among us again when mere bread and wine are changed into the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus.
Another time the Church lays claim to the Incarnation by means of the Prologue of St. John is in the rite of exorcism. Both the extaordinatory and ordinary forms of this rite suggest the Prologue be read over a victim of possession. By doing so, the Church is laying claim to love, the victory, and the humility of the Incarnation. The Incarnation enabled the suffering of Calvary, by which the devil was conquered. And the humility of the Son of God leaving behind the glory of heaven for our fallen condition on earth absolutely confounds the devil.
A third occasion in the liturgy occurs when a priest has to pray over a child who is not old enough to receive the Sacrament of the Sick. So, the Roman Ritual leads the priest to pray the Prologue of St. John’s Gospel at the end of the ceremony. In that situation – praying over a small child who does not even have the use of reason yet – certainly makes a claim on the humility of Christ, evident in the Prologue of St. John. The Son of God humbled himself by coming as a baby in a manger; and here we are treating a humble child who does not even have the use of reason. And the situation certainly makes a claim on the love of God who wants to be so close to us that he sent His Son, His Word, in the flesh.
May you realize all of God’s love, humility and victory in your life more fully this Christmas season and in the coming New Year!
Have a blessed Christmas season!
In cordibus Iesu et Mariae,