Thursday, January 5, 2012

Reflections of St. Augustine on the Birth of The Christ

As I walk down the streets of New York City, I see discarded Christmas trees on the curbs, signaling the fact that for most of the world, Christmas is over.  The supervisor in my apartment building took down all the Christmas decorations on January 3, making it quite clear that Christmas 2011 was history.

But Christmas is not over in the Catholic Church.  Walk into any Catholic Church, and you will see a manger.  The readings of the Mass are still very much focused on the birth of the Christ Child.  And certainly the Traditional Breviary is still centered on the Birth of our Lord.  There is a magnificent reading today from St. Augustine (you can never go wrong with him).  This reading could only be written by a Catholic and understood in its entirety with the Catholic mind.  It contrasts the sinfulness of man with the glory of God, and how Christ gave up his glory in heaven to take on the form of lowly man in order to bring man to God.  It also emphasizes Mary's virginity and more importantly, her perpetual virginity - "ever sealed".  A truly beautiful reading.

The Lesson is taken from a Sermon by St. Augustine the Bishop

Our Lord Jesus Christ, dearest brethren, who in eternity is the Creator of all things, was as at this time born of a mother and became our Saviour. It was as at this time that he willed to be born for us in earthly time, so as to lead us to the Father's eternity. God is made man, that man may be made as God. That man may eat the bread of Angels, the Lord of Angels was as on this day made man. 

Now is fulfilled that prophecy : Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness : let the earth open, and bring forth a Saviour. He who made all things is therefore himself made, that those who are lost may be found. It is even as man is made to testify of himself in the Psalms : Before I was humbled, I went wrong. Man sinned and became guilty. God is born man, that the guilty may be delivered. Man fell, but God descended. Man fell miserably, God descended mercifully. Man fell by pride, God descended with grace.

R. The Maiden's heart was established in God, when the Angel declared unto her the mystery of God and she conceived : then did she receive in her pure womb him that is fairer than the children of men : * And she that is blessed for ever, brought forth for us God and man.
V. The mansion of the modest breast becometh a shrine where God shall rest : the pure and undefiled one within her womb conceived the Son.
R. And she that is blessed for ever, brought forth for us God and man.

O my brethren, what a miracle! what a wonder! The laws of nature are changed concerning man : God is born, a Virgin conceiveth without an husband ; the Word of God is wedded to one who knoweth no man ; she is at once Mother and Virgin. A Mother, yet ínviolate : a Virgin having a Son ; knowing no man, ever sealed, yet not unfruitful. For he alone was born without sin. He alone was born without human embrace, begotten not of the will of the flesh, but of the obedience of the mind.

R. Blessed and worshipful art thou, O Virgin Mary, from thee, still maiden undefiled, the Saviour came, a little Child : * He whose glory filled the heavens lay in a manger.
V. O Lord, I have heard the report concerning thee and am afraid ; I have considered thy wondrous works and am overcome with awe : O thou that dwellest between the two beasts.
R. He whose glory filled the heavens lay in a manger.
V. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.
R. He whose glory filled the heavens lay in a manger.

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