Sunday, December 27, 2015

Fr. Perrone on the Crib, the Cross, and the Altar (Nativity, Passion, and Mass)

Father Eduard Perrone, "A Pastor's Descant" [temporary link] (Assumption Grotto News, December 27, 2015):
The two liturgical calendars in use in our parish for both the new and old forms of the liturgy yield diverse celebrations for this Sunday after Christmas. So instead of ‘taking sides’ in my reflections here, I want to consider something that’s often crossed my mind but which I have not written about before–at least, so I believe, memory being among those elusive, ‘passing things’ of life. It’s the relation of Christmas to the Passion, sometimes referred to as Crib and Cross, that I want to examine. It seems that the entire Christmas story is but a preparation for a greater understanding the of Christ’s redemption. Interpreting Christmas through the sufferings of Christ can lend a dimension of depth and maturity for our minds to the Nativity story. It is about this that I wish to write.

There are many points of convergence in the two events, the beginning and the (presumed) end of our Lord’s earthly life. In both our Lord was naked, a condition that means much more than the want of clothes. It signifies that He permitted Himself to be exposed to cold, to be scorned, to be without material comforts, and to be, in effect, unattached to anything. In both crib and cross He had the sole clothing of the swaddling bands (which were a kind of bondage) or the loin cloth (the nails serving effectively to restrict His free movements). The lesson to be got for us from this is to see in Christ a model for us to renounce our desire for lawless freedom from restriction, and to place ourselves voluntarily under the gentle yoke of His commandments.

The onlookers in each are similar. Holy Mary is present in both scenes as a mother–of Christ, or of Saint John. Virgin and Child is the familiar representation of the Mother with Her Infant Son on Her lap, and of the Pietá, the Mother of Sorrows holding the dead body of Christ, also on Her lap. Around the crib, besides Mary and Joseph, were dumb, uncomprehending beasts, the ox and ass. Around the cross, besides Mary and John, were the mocking Jews and soldiers–bystanders ignorant of the Reality before them. At both events nature gave witness to the prodigies taking place: angelic choirs in the sky and the great luminous Star at the nativity; or the darkened sun and the earthquake upon Christ’s death. In both, wood (of the manger and of the cross) held the precious body of Christ: the one wood being a receptacle for the nourishment of animals, the other an instrument of suffering and death: both ‘woods’ thus signify the Holy Eucharist either as spiritual food or bloody sacrifice. Other smaller points: Christ in both is evidently King: the magi bear Him regal gifts; the cross’s inscription bear witness to His identity, the King of the Jews. Both locations were not His home place: Bethlehem (made a necessity by the census) and Golgotha (a contemptible place outside the city). Herod who sought the death of Christ in vain was succeeded by the ultimately successful Pilate.

I write only a few of the many possible points of similarity between the crib and the cross to make you think of some of the ways you can draw a richer meaning from the circumstances of our Lord’s nativity than the mere recollection of the historical events presented to us in the scriptures. I believe that the Christmas story is in fact a divinely willed anticipation of the Passion, a case of what we call typology. Whenever we celebrate Holy Mass in the Christmas season, the two events of Bethlehem and Calvary are united by a new ritual act which makes relevant for us here and now the two events of times long ago. Christ is sacrificed in the Mass: the body taken from and born of Holy Mary is the same body immolated on the cross which is the body now offered to God in expiation for the sins we continue to commit. In what are now three events (crib, cross, altar) we have the redemptive purpose of Christ being fulfilled: in preparation (nativity), in consummation (Passion), in prolongation or application (Mass).

I must bring my reflections to an abrupt stop with a timely admonition: Do not forget that Friday is a holy day of obligation, and not just New Year’s Day. Masses are by anticipation Thursday at 4:00 and 11:00 p.m. and on the very day at 6:30, 9:30 and noon.

May God grant us a year of grace!

Fr. Perrone