"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christ's Mass

By way of indirect response to being greeted by some (presumably nominal) Catholics with "Happy Holidays," I have taken to emulating some of my fellow Catholic bloggers and media types by referring to today's feast as "Christ's Mass." Since the very term Christmas is short for that, I make no apologies for it. Thus: Merry Christ's Mass to all, and to all a good night!

In the meantime, of course, I have a thought to offer about it— the feast, not the night; eminently forgettable, the evening of Christmas Day is almost always forgotten. Be assured, however, that some of my thoughts remained unpublished. Even I permit myself to be an occasional instrument of divine mercy.

The thought in question is that most people in our culture do not know, because they do not care, what Christmas is about. Most, to be sure, will concede that Jesus is the reason for the season. That is just to acknowledge historical fact if nothing else. Going further, devout women used to wax sentimental about the Baby Jesus, and the clergy still explain that the Incarnation of God as a helpless infant tells us something we need to know about how God works among us. And then there are the blessed few who still go caroling and really mean it. But for the most part, even believers experience Christmas, and the seemingly endless buildup to it, as obligatory social and commercial overload. Beyond the absurd, tedious challenges to public displays of Christmas piety, the best evidence that it's getting worse is how, every year, holiday music seems to take over the airwaves a bit earlier. We are reminded that we must party, if anyone cares to party with us; that we must buy gifts, if anyone really cares about getting them from us; that we must at least try put on our best faces, especially with family, no matter how we may feel. It's all like nothing so much a temp job we had better do right lest we lose face. Thus, what began as a celebration of divine humility, and joy amid darkness, is becoming more and more part of the pretentious striving that marks so much of the secular world.

Let it not be said that I am a Scrooge without money. When it's done even halfway close to how it should be, I love Midnight Mass because we therein offer our best to God. I love crèches when they're understated not kitschy. And I heartily approve of food and gift baskets for poor families. Such things remind us of the reason for the season. They do not, as so much of the secular "holiday season" does, work against it. Some people manage not to confuse the former with the latter, but it's getting harder and harder to make the difference clear to the young. The joyful reception of divine grace is being steadily obscured, in our cultural memory, by tendencies that grace is meant to liberate us from. Humbug, I say.
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