December 14, 2016

The Three Feasts of the Nativity

Nativity, Giotto, Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, c. 1316.

When we celebrate Christmas we are commemorating the three nativities of Our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the reason for the three Masses celebrated on this day. The first is the eternal begetting of God the Son from all eternity within the mystery of the Blessed Trinity by the Father, “You are My Son. Today I have begotten You.” This first nativity was before the seven days of Creation, when everything was darkness. This is why the first Mass is at midnight to recall the darkness that prevailed during that first eternal birth of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity.

The second nativity, or birth of the Second Person of the Trinity is commemorated on Christmas day when He became man, born of the Virgin Mary, in Bethlehem. For the world, the darkness was beginning to be dispelled. This is why the second Mass is celebrated at dawn when the dawn is beginning to dispel the darkness.

The third nativity of Christ is when He is born in our souls, through His in-dwelling, when man, through grace, becomes enlightened. Thus the third Mass is celebrated during the day when the sun is bright. For man is truly enlightened when he has Christ in his soul.

The first nativity reminds us of the Spirit of poverty, the Spirit that tells us that all the things God created is His, to be used for His glory and not for man’s enjoyment. Even man was to use himself for the glory of God. This represents the six days of creation. If Adam, being the head of creation, had observed the spirit of poverty and used all of creation for the glory of God, then he would have entered into the Sabbath, God’s rest… i.e. eternal happiness. But Adam messed up everything. And the consequence: the whole of mankind could not enter God’s rest.

The second nativity reminds us of the Spirit of chastity. That Spirit reminds us to give up all physical comforts, pleasure and conveniences. And Christ in the manger is a clear example of this. It is a continuous reminder that true happiness can only be found in God and that we are on earth to seek God. All the rest will come with that find. True rest can only be found in God.

The third nativity reminds us of the Spirit of obedience. It is only when we can say, “Not my will but Your will be done,” can Christ be born in our souls. The apostolic commission at the end of St. Matthew’s Gospel reiterates this, reminding us of the role of the Church and the men of the Church: “… teach all My commands and how to observe them.”

Christmas reminds us of one lesson. Christ was born to die. For us the message is clear. We are born to die to oneself. And to die to oneself means reaching a point in our lives when we no longer do our own will but the will of the Father in heaven. This is to lose one’s life in order to find it. If we have learned the lessons of the first nativity, if we have learned the lesson of the second nativity, our reward is the third nativity, when Christ is born in our souls….indeed our eternal Christmas. This is truly a Merry Christmas.

Father Odon de Castro, Bo. San Isidro, Magalang, Pampanga, Philippines

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