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Father Muench Says...

The Christmas Spirit in this Year of Faith

December 12, 2012

By Father William Muench
NCC columnist

I am thinking today of Christmas Spirit – especially Christmas Spirit in this Year of Faith. 

This Year of Faith was called by Pope Benedict to encourage all Catholics to strengthen their faith in a new and more wonderful way so as to make their lives more faith-filled and alive in the Lord.

In this way, our lives will be a witness of the joy and happiness of faith in the Lord for all people to see, a joy that comes as we renew our faith in the Birth of Our Savior thus bringing peace and joy to all those that we meet.

In order that we may find this Christmas Spirit the Church gives us the gift of Advent. 

Advent – a time of prayer, especially at Mass –gives us the opportunity to remove ourselves from the busyness of other Christmas preparation so that we can find a spiritual preparation for Christmas.

Now, I love the decorating and the Christmas cards – and even the shopping – but it is good to escape from all that for a time to prepare our hearts and souls for Christmas.

Advent  in the Year of Faith – actually every year – is a time of real renewal, a renewal of faith in the Mystery of the Incarnation .

Jesus, the Son of God – God among us – became one of us, a human like us all. He lived as we do, died as we must and showed us the way the new life in the Resurrection.

For us, the best way to achieve that Christmas Spirit is in the Blessed Eucharist - the Holy Mass – our principal prayer.  The Mass has a profound influence on the life of all the baptized.  One of the important messages of the Second Vatican Council was a call to all people for a greater participation of all in the Mass. All of us, clergy and laity, are joined together to participate in the spirit and sacrifice of the Mass.  The Council calls for a unity of all as one people, the People of God.  In this way, we will find a new and stronger faith united in the strength of our faith as the People of God.

We discover that unity best in our Eucharistic celebration – in the Mass.  Actually, long before the Council, Pope Pius X was concerned that the Mass was becoming a private devotion so he spoke out to encourage a more active participation in the celebration of the Eucharist by the laity.  He is also well known for encouraging more frequent reception of Holy Communion by lay people.  And also he changed the age for the reception of First Communion from 15 years of age to seven.

In many ways, these efforts were to bring back to the Mass qualities that were part of the liturgy in the early days of the Church.

In that same spirit, the Second Vatican Council also worked to lead the baptized to a fuller participation in the Mass, the Paschal Mystery of Christ.  The Council wrote that the action of the liturgy is the action of the whole Church. 

The Council continued to encourage active participation by the laity as their inherent right by reason of their baptism.  In this way, the Council called for a renewed appreciation of the dignity of all the baptized faithful as members of the People of God through their more active participation in the liturgy of the Mass. 

Participation was an important focus of the Council especially in the document on the liturgy. The interesting thing about the changes that the Council initiated is that they reached back to the early days of the Church, bringing back many rites that were lost over the centuries. These rites returned to the laity their active participation and the Mass united all together in a new and better way.

Much of what the Council considered began with the words of St. Peter in his First Letter : “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people.” (1Peter 2:9) So, all of us are united in a most unique way in the priesthood of the baptized – celebrating together the sacrifice of Jesus at the table of the Lord.

The Council writes this: “In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy, this full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else, for it is the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit.”

So even now the Church must continue to do all that it can to unite us – clergy and people – in the active participation of  the celebration of the Mass.  We must continue to think about this challenge in the coming weeks.

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