January 4, 2023
Our experience of the Liturgy over the past week has been both puzzling and beautiful. We just finished the Christmas Octave, the eight-day elongation of Christmas day which calls for a Christmas Mass on each of the eight days. When visiting a holy site, however, it’s customary for pilgrims to celebrate the Mass for that site in order to better enter into the spirit of the place. This past weekend, for example, we celebrated an Easter Mass at the Holy Sepulcher, the great pilgrim church which houses the sites of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. Celebrating an Easter Mass and a Christmas Mass on two consecutive days was an odd experience which, predictably, prompted some lively discussions within our group.
On the one hand, it was startling to experience the Church’s two most important feasts—Christ’s birth and his death and resurrection—in such close proximity to each other. On one day we contemplated the mystery of the Incarnation while experiencing the traditions associated with it (Christmas trees, carols, etc.); and on the next day, we tried to imagine Easter eggs, palm branches, and spring weather as we celebrated Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection.
On the other hand, this sequence of liturgies was very appropriate. In his classic Life of Christ Fulton Sheen meditates on the relationship between the birth and death of Jesus, repeatedly emphasizing that Christ was born in order to die. The ultimate purpose of Christmas is the redemption won for us through the Passion, Death, and Resurrection which we celebrate during the Easter Triduum. Jesus came to accomplish a mission, our salvation; and if the different mysteries of our faith shed light on different aspects of that mission, then Christmas reveals that Jesus came to be like us in our humanity. Easter reveals an even deeper dimension of this mystery—Jesus’ desire to share in our sufferings in order to free us from sin and death. Easter clarifies the meaning of Christmas. From this perspective, our celebration of an Easter Mass during the Christmas Octave enhanced our experience of season.
Yes, the odd sequencing of liturgies was a little discombobulating at first. Ultimately, though, it proved to be yet another unexpected grace of this pilgrimage that helped all of us appreciate the mystery of the Incarnation a little more deeply.
By: Matthew Cooke
Diocese of Wichita, KS