Until the recent revision of the Liturgy of the Hours, it was a recommended practice, when the Divine Office was recited in public, to read, during the morning hour of Prime, that great official calendar of saints and feasts of the Western Church, the Roman Martyrology.
No other feast, not even Easter, was more solemnly proclaimed than that of Christ’s birth. The dates given in this entry, composed in the 16th century, are no longer considered historically correct or verifiable. Nevertheless, the announcement still retains a thrilling reverence.
“In the 5199th year of the creation of the world, from the time when God in the beginning made out of nothing the heavens and the earth; the 2957th year after the flood; the 2015th year from the birth of Abraham; the 1510th year from Moses and the going-out of the people of Israel from Egypt; the 1032nd year from the anointing of David king; in the 65th week according to the prophecy of Daniel; in the 194th olympiad; the 752nd year from the foundation of the city of Rome; the 42nd year of the rule of Octavian Augustus, all the earth being at peace, in the sixth age of the world: Jesus Christ, the eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, willing to consecrate the world by His most merciful coming, being conceived by the Holy Ghost and nine months having passed since His conception, was born in Bethlehem of Juda of the Virgin Mary, being made man.
THE BIRTHDAY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST ACCORDING TO THE FLESH.”
Commenting on this wonderful feastday, Butler’s Lives of the Saints continues with the following reflections.
“Christ’s life is the gospel reduced to practice. He instructs us at His very birth, beginning first to practice, then to preach. The manger was His first pulpit, and from it He teaches us the cure of our spiritual maladies. He came among us to seek our miseries, our poverty, our humiliation, to repair the dishonor our pride had offered to the Godhead, and to apply a remedy to our souls. And He chose a poor mother, a little town, a stable. He who adorns the world and clothes the lilies of the field beyond the majesty of Solomon is wrapped in clouts and laid in a manger. This He chose to be the very sign of His identity. `This shall be a sign to you’, said the angel to the shepherds. `You shall find the child wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger.’ It is a powerful instruction.
‘The grace of God our Saviour hath appeared to all men, instructing us’, says the Apostle,`all men, the rich and the poor, the great and the small, all who desire to share His grace and His kingdom, instructing us in the first place in humility.’ What is the whole mystery of the Incarnation but the most astonishing humbling of the Deity? To expiate our pride the eternal Son of God divests Himself of His glory and takes the form of man in his every circumstance save sin. Who would not think that the whole creation would be overwhelmed with the glory of His presence and tremble before Him? But nothing of this was seen. `He came not’, says St. John Chrysostom, `so as to shake the world at the presence of majesty; not in thunder and lightning as on Sinai; but He came quietly, no man knowing it. “`
May this spirit of quiet and peace, which is always ours because we know that in Christ, God is ever with us, calm our hearts this Christmas tide, and the hearts of all mankind.
–Father Robert F. McNamara