Sunday, November 27, 2016


Image result for First Christmas Crib

I notice that the Church of England Lectionary acknowledges three different sets of Readings for Christmas but does not explain why these are offered.  Some may not know the rich tradition that lies behind the choice of these readings (, but the reason why they are given  is quite simple.  They are appropriate to the three occasions when Mass is offered; occasions which, in turn, mark three distinct foci for the second greatest Feast of our Faith.  Rather than depending on personal preference (‘Any of the following sets of readings may be used on Christmas Night and on Christmas Day') these readings direct our attention to the progression whereby the mystery of the Incarnation was revealed.  So, for those who might be interested, the traditional Masses of the Incarnation with their appropriate readings are:

(Mid)Night          –           of the Angels (‘Set I’:  Isaiah 9.1-6; Titus 2.11-14; Luke 2.1-14)
Dawn                   –           of the Shepherds (‘Set II’:  Isaiah 62.6-12; Titus 3.4-7; Luke 2: 15-20)
Day                      –           of the Divine Word (‘Set III’: Isaiah 52.7-10; Hebrews 1.1-6; John 1.1-14)

I also notice that the liturgy for the Blessing of the Christmas Crib has been placed at the beginning, rather than the end, of Midnight Mass.  This seems a pity as it divorces the act from the presence of Christ in the Eucharist.  The Crib, of course, dates from 1223 when St. Francis first erected one for the people of Greccio in central Italy.  He wanted to present the reality of the Incarnation and so placed a bambino on the altar as Mass was celebrated.  It is recorded that, at the words of Institution, the bambino cried and Francis embraced it with tender devotion.  So the custom grew of the bambino being on the altar in front of the corporal during Mass and then processing it to the Crib at the end of the celebration.  This makes a clear connection with the Eucharistic Prayer and the presence of Christ beneath the outward forms of Bread and Wine and underlines the truth that Verbum caro factum est - the Word has become Flesh.   Once the Crib has been blessed with (with Holy Water and censed) it is customary to genuflect to the Bambino, just as one does to the Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, whenever passing until the end of Christmas Day.

Finally, I was introduced to the reading of the GREAT PROCLAMATION when I first attended Midnight Mass at Hilfield Friary.  This was performed immediately before singing the first carol (always ‘Once in Royal David’s City’) and I have, in turn, introduced in to many of the parishes in which I have been privileged to offer this Mass:

The Ancient and Great Proclamation
of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ
In the five thousand, one hundred and ninety-ninth year from the creation of the world,
when God made out of nothing the heavens and the earth;
in the two thousand, nine hundred and fifty-seventh year from the flood;
in the two thousand and fifteenth year from the birth of Abraham;
in the one thousand five hundred and tenth year
from Moses and the exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt;
in the one thousand and thirty-second year from the anointing of David as king;
in the sixty-fifth week of years according to the prophecy of Daniel;
in the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad;
in the seven hundred and fifty-second year from the foundation of the city of Rome;
in the forty-second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus, the whole earth being at peace:
the eternal God and Son of the eternal Father
willing to consecrate the world by his coming to us in mercy and grace,
having been conceived by the Holy Spirit,
and nine months having passed since his conception,
is born in Bethlehem in Judea of the Virgin Mary


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