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Christ as Light in the Darkness

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The following was a college essay written by Ben Duphiney. It has been edited and approved by Christopher Centrella. If you have a Theology essay that you would like published that received a grade of an A- or higher, please be sure to contact us.

Out of pure love, God breathed forth his spirit and created something out of nothing. Man was created in the image and likeness of God. Man was like God, yet fell into temptation; he pridefully desired to be greater than God. Rather than abandoning his creation, God promised to send a savior to save mankind from himself and the clutches of sin, death, and evil. The Incarnation is God’s promise fulfilled, and the Church remembers this momentous event each year during the liturgical season of Christmas. It is during this season where members of the Church enter into the great mystery of God becoming man. Members recall and celebrate Christ as a light who shines in the darkness of the fallen world. The liturgical theology of Christmas illustrates the Incarnation with images and symbols of light and haste, hopefully awaiting the dawn. Through these images, members are inspired to enter more deeply––on a personal level––with Christ as the light of the world.

Christmas Mass Celebrates with the Creation of the World

The four Masses of Christmas respect the creation of the world by cooperating with the light on earth. Even creation rejoices in waiting for the coming of Christ as a human being; God was veiled in human flesh. The first vigil Mass begins after the sun sets, while the sky may be illuminated in the west. There is a joyful anticipation of the night, but more importantly a greater anticipation of the sunrise. The Mass during the night––which is commonly known as Midnight Mass––happens during the darkest period of the night; the sun has set about six hours ago, and the sun will rise in the following five hours, or so. Despite the Mass being celebrated during the darkest hour of the night, it is usually loud with families who embrace the tradition of attending Midnight Mass. During the darkest hour, the church echoes with beloved songs and familiar faces, some not seen since the previous Christmas or Easter Mass. The Mass that takes place at dawn embraces the sunrise, facing the east with hope because the Lord has come and fulfilled his promise. During the daytime Mass, the sun is out, shining over all creation. The world has risen and Christmas has arrived; Christ is indeed among his people and his entire creation, illuminating all and expelling darkness. The anticipation of the Incarnation––which prefigures the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ––is remembered each day by creation itself. The created world rejoices that God entered into flesh to be united to his creation. In this union, Christ restores humanity and purchases the rewards of salvation.

The Word of the Lord

In celebration with God’s creation, his word is proclaimed at all Christmas Masses. The entrance antiphon for the vigil Mass anticipates the coming of Christ: Today you will know that the Lord will come, and he will save us, and in the morning you will see his glory.[1] Furthermore, the first reading is in the future tense: For Zion’s sake I will not be silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet…so shall your God rejoice in you.[2] It uses imagery of a bridegroom rejoicing after anticipation of his bride; similarly, the members of the Church must wait in anticipation for Christ the bridegroom. The responsorial psalm is in the future tense as well: For ever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.[3] While the second reading is from the book of Acts, it demonstrates that Christ is the new David, who is welcomed by John the Baptist; John proclaimed: Behold, one is coming after me; I am not worthy to unfasten the sandals of his feet.[4] The Gospel acclamation reminds members that Christ will reign forever: Tomorrow the wickedness of the earth will be destroyed: the Savior of the world will reign over us. All of these readings and responses lead up to the genealogy of Jesus and his birth, according to the Gospel of Matthew (1:1-25). The list of names may seem arbitrary, but this is another anticipatory element to the coming of Christ. After the genealogy is reviewed, Christ is born to the final line of David: Joseph and Mary.

As night envelopes the earth, the Collect for the Mass during the night reads: O God, you have made this most sacred night radiant with the splendor of true light. The image of light continues in the first reading: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.[5] It is during the darkest moments that the greatest light shines, and the responsorial psalm proclaims: Today is born our Savior Christ the Lord.[6] Furthermore, the second reading and Alleluia speak of a savior: we await…the appearance of the glory of our great God and savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us;[7]I proclaim to you good news of great joy: today a Savior is born for us, Christ the Lord.[8] Both readings and the Alleluia lead to the Gospel of Luke, which portrays Jesus Christ as a savior for all people: For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.[9] The eternal light that shines is a savior, and will save man from darkness, bringing all to the eternal light. Once the light is fully shining––as it will be during the daytime Mass––the Gospel of John speaks of Jesus as “the light [which] shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”[10]

Remembrance and Anticipation of the Cross

The darkness of the world cannot exist with Christ as the light of the world; it is through the Incarnation that God saves man from the darkness. The Christmas liturgy, especially the vigil and night Mass, help illustrate Christ as a savior to the members of the Church. The image of light itself is extremely biblical, and so is darkness. The people in Israel wandered in “a land of thick darkness”[14] for many years, until they “have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness, on them light has shined.”[15] God has fulfilled his promise because Jesus said “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”[16] Christ is this light of the world and members of the Church celebrate this through the liturgy. In fact, it is the only way to properly celebrate Christmas. The secular world has forgotten about the Incarnation and Christmas has withered into a materialistic circus. If the Incarnation––and more importantly the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ––is forgotten, then the true meaning of Christmas is forgotten. The liturgy allows and enables individuals, as one body, to remember that Christ came down from heaven as a baby to redeem the world. It also allows for the anticipation of the Passion of Christ during the celebration of the Mass, especially during the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The liturgy is the means by which the people of Christ may properly celebrate the season of Christmas, the season of the Incarnation. Christmas Mass is not a sterile event; it is a lively celebration by which individuals, families, religious, priests, and even creation itself can actively participate because each member of creation shines with Christ––the light of the world.

Bibliography

All readings taken from the USCCB: https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/122520.cfm

All scripture is from NRSV.

Other readings from the mass (i.e. prefaces, Eucharistic prayers, etc.) taken from Fr. Benini’s PDF given from class.


[1] c.f. Exodus 16:6-7

[2] Isaiah 62:1-5

[3] Psalm 89:4-5, 16-17, 27, 29

[4] Acts 13:16-17, 22-25

[5] Isaiah 9:1-6

[6] Psalm 96: 1-2, 2-3, 11-12, 13.

[7] Titus 2:11-14

[8] Luke 2:10-11

[9] Luke 2:1-14

[10] John 1:1-18

[11] c.f. Luke 2:12; the Gospel for the Night Mass

[12] Prayer After Communion; Vigil Mass

[13] Written by Mark Lowry, 1984

[14] Jerimiah 2:31

[15] Isaiah 9:2

[16] John 8:12

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