Christmas Eve Mass 2013

Author: Pope Francis

Christmas Eve Mass 2013

Pope Francis

The mystery of walking and seeing

The poor, sick, marginalized and persecuted were the focus of Pope Francis' homily at his first Christmas Mass, celebrated on 24 December [2013] in St Peter's Basilica. He addressed words of hope and encouragement to them throughout the course of the celebration, which began at 9:30 pm. The rosary was recited in preparation for the Mass, and the deacon sang the Kalenda — the solemn proclamation of the Saviour's birth. The Basilica's bells rang out as the Gloria was intoned. The Pope wished to for the first time place the statue of the Child Jesus before the Altar of the Confessio. At the end of the Mass he carried the statue in procession down the aisle, and placed it in the Nativity crib in the Basilica. Accompanying him were ten children between the ages of five and ten from the Philippines, Lebanon, the Congo, Argentiana and Italy. Thirty-two cardinals wer present, including Cardinal Dean Angelo Sodano; 40 archbishops and bishops, among them were Archbishop Parolin, Secretary of State, and Archbishop Krajewski, the Vatican Almoner. About 300 priests concelebrated the Mass and distributed Holy Communion to the many faithful who could not find place in the Basilica but who were following the Liturgy on giant screens in St Peter's Square. Among those present were Msgr Xuereb, Msgr Pedacchio Leániz, as well as Archbishop Gänswein, Prefect of the Pontifical Household. Accompanyting the diplomatic corps were Archbishop Becciu, Substitute Secretary of State; Archbishop Mamberti, Secretary for Relations with States; Msgr Jose Bettencourt, Head of Protocol. The following is the English text of the Holy Father's homily which was delivered in Italian.

1. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Is 9:1).

This prophecy of Isaiah never ceases to touch us, especially when we hear it proclaimed in the liturgy of Christmas Night. This is not simply an emotional or sentimental matter. It moves us because it states the deep reality of what we are: a people who walk, and all around us — and within us as well — there is darkness and light. In this night, as the spirit of darkness enfolds the world, there takes place anew the event which always amazes and surprises us: the people who walk see a great light. A light which makes us reflect on this mystery: the mystery of walking and seeing.

Walking. This verb makes us reflect on the course of history, that long journey which is the history of salvation, starting with Abraham, our father in faith, whom the Lord called one day to set out, to go forth from his country towards the land which he would show him. From that time on, our identity as believers has been that of a people making its pilgrim way towards the promised land. This history has always been accompanied by the Lord! He is ever faithful to his covenant and to his promises. Because he is faithful,“God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all” (1 Jn 1:5). Yet on the part of the people there are times of both light and darkness, fidelity and infidelity, obedience, and rebellion; times of being a pilgrim people and times of being a people adrift.

In our personal history too, there are both bright and dark moments, lights and shadows. If we love God and our brothers and sisters, we walk in the light; but if our heart is closed, if we are dominated by pride, deceit, self-seeking, then darkness falls within us and around us. “Whoever hates his brother — writes the Apostle John — is in the darkness; he walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go, because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1 Jn 2:11). A people who walk, but as a pilgim people who do not want to go astray.

2. On this night, like a burst of brilliant light, there rings out the proclamation of the Apostle: “God's grace has been revealed, and it has made salvation possible for the whole human race” (Tit 2:11).

The grace which was revealed in our world is Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, true man and true God. He has entered our history; he has shared our journey. He came to free us from darkness and to grant us light. In him was revealed the grace, the mercy, and the tender love of the Father: Jesus is Love incarnate. He is not simply a teacher of wisdom, he is not an ideal for which we strive while knowing that we are hopelessly distant from it. He is the meaning of life and history, who has pitched his tent in our midst.

3. The shepherds were the first to see this “tent”, to receive the news of Jesus’ birth. They were the first because they were among the last, the outcast. And they were the first because they were awake, keeping watch in the night, guarding their flocks. The pilrim is bound by duty to keep watch and the shepherds did just that. Together with them, let us pause before the Child, let us pause in silence. Together with them, let us thank the Lord for having given Jesus to us, and with them let us raise from the depths of our hearts the praises of his fidelity: We bless you, Lord God most high, who lowered yourself for our sake. You are immense, and you made yourself small; you are rich and you made yourself poor; you are all-powerful and you made yourself vulnerable.

On this night let us share the joy of the Gospel: God loves us, he so loves us that he gave us his Son to be our brother, to be light in our darkness. To us the Lord repeats: “Do not be afraid!” (Lk 2:10). As the angels said to the shepherds: “Do not be afraid!”. And I also repeat to all of you: Do not be afraid! Our Father is patient, he loves us, he gives us Jesus to guide us on the way which leads to the promised land. Jesus is the light who brightens the darkness. He is mercy: our Father always forgives us. He is our peace. Amen.

L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
3 January 2014, page 9

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