LITURGY MATTERS: The cradle and the cross

It is only a few more more sleeps to Christmas day, the first day of the Christmas season. Yes, Christmas is a season, so you need to pace yourselves!

As another extraordinary year draws to a close and we enter these last days of Advent I have been thinking that the last two years have been something of a master class in pacing ourselves and a prolonged Advent experience of waiting with purpose and hope.

I approach Christmas with a much deeper experience and appreciation of the truth that the cradle and the cross are all part of the one mystery of God’s love and are woven together in the very human joys and struggles of our lives.

What do you think of the image accompanying this reflection? I thank my friend and colleague Bernadette Gibson for putting it before me. I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind and heart since.

Today I read a reflection that included the following:

Those who witnessed and were involved in or around the incarnation were all adults. Only Christ was small. Christmas, therefore, requires the adult world not to gaze on children re-enacting the Nativity, but rather to re-discover the stories of Christ’s birth as speaking from and to adult experience.   

Irrespective of how I am, or what joys and sorrows I bring to our liturgical celebration of Christmas, every year the word that echoes through me is ‘Today’. The liturgy is full of references to ‘today’ or ‘this day’ and other similar phrases. I hear its clearest and most beautiful proclamation in the Responsorial Psalm for midnight Mass:

Today is born a saviour, Christ the Lord.

The Christmas liturgy spells it out for us with repeated and deafening clarity. We remember the birth of Christ not as some long past, beautiful story but as an event that continues today in and through us. The invitation is not to watch but to participate. Today a saviour is born, love is born, in us. The incarnation continues in and through us. It takes the whole Christmas Season and indeed the whole liturgical year for me to join myself in this mystery and endeavour to live it every day.

Our joys and sorrows, our achievements and struggles matter. They are the stuff where love is born and where we learn the dying, rising pattern of the cross. They are sacred. They deserve our attention. Some deserve celebration. Some, anointing and tender care as we wait patiently for healing and the hint of new life.  

As we wait these last few days to celebrate Christmas, I wish to say ‘Thank you’ to all who have given birth to love through liturgical ministry. Thank you to all those who gather for liturgy. Thank you to liturgical ministers who prepare, preside, proclaim, preach, make music, process, serve, welcome … Thank you to those who ask questions and participate in formation, who dare to engage in the ongoing process of conversion summed up in the image of ‘unlearning – learning – re-learning’ that Richard Lennan put before us.

I am conscious too that many approach Christmas with heavy and broken hearts: because someone has died and is missing from your table; because of sickness; because COVID has brought unemployment and lost hopes and dreams; because relationships are broken or dead; because of feelings of diminishment and insecurity; because of any number of losses and challenges.    

Probably, all of us come to this Christmas with a very human mix of feelings from weariness to hope. We come also in faith knowing God is with us in all our joys and struggles, in our thanksgiving and our longings …

May the love of God be born in you, in the sacred messy stuff of your life, that you may bring the love of God to birth for others, each and every day.  

Today is born a saviour, Christ the Lord.

And it is you who is giving birth!

You might like to listen to A Weary Couple by Tony Alonso.



Image: Photo by Steve Hruza on Unsplash

Quote: Wild Goose Worship. Cloth for the Cradle. The Wild Goose Worship Group. Glasgo, Scotland, 1997.

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Louise Gannon rsj Image
Louise Gannon rsj

Louise Gannon rsj is the Diocesan Manager of Worship and Prayer.