Some ask why I chant what is called the “Christmas Proclamation” before the start of Christmas Masses or as part of the homily. The core of the text I use comes from what is called the Roman Martyrology, a compilation of all the officially recognized saints, listing them on the day of the year on which their feast is celebrated. On December 25th, given the significance of that date, the Roman Martyrology includes not just the names of saints and martyrs for that date, but this special tribute to “The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ.” In that proclamation there is a mixture of biblical and secular historical markers, culminating in the birth of Jesus Christ. It is a way to celebrate the Christian understanding that in Jesus all of human history and all of salvation history comes to its pinnacle. The newest editions of the Roman Missal have included that Proclamation in the appendix called "Various Chants for the Order of Mass" with the note that it is most appropriate for either December 24th's Liturgy of the Hours or prior to the Night Mass for Christmas.
A number of years ago, the Jesuit priest Fr. Peter Schinelier, recognized that in today’ world, if we want to capture the same idea, we now need to include not just biblical and secular historical markers but evolutionary markers as well. From the moment I saw his adaptation (published in the December 20, 2008 America journal) I thought: “What a wonderful adaptation!” In turn I slightly modified Fr. Schinelier’s version and have used the one below every Christmas since then. I find it a powerful way to emphasize that though God’s grace is at times unfathomable, there is always a directionality to that grace, pointing toward Jesus the Christ, fruit of evolutionary history, fruit of human history, and fruit of salvation history.
The 25th Day of December:
· From the creation of our known universe, when in the beginning God created the heavens, 13.8 billion years;
· From the formation of our sun, 5 billion years;
· From the formation of the planet, when God brought forth the earth, 4.6 billion years;
· From the origin of life on Earth, when God saw that it was good to bring forth the first living cells, 3.8 billion years;
· From the first plants and vegetation, when God brought forth life on the dry land, 400 million years;
· From the age of the dinosaurs and first tiny mammals, when God chose our genetic heritage, 230 million years;
· From the time of the earliest human species, through whom God would form man and woman in his own image, 2.6 million years;
· From the time of homo sapiens and our common genetic ancestors, 200,000 years;
· From the use of language and development of human culture, 80,000 years;
· From the time of the first villages and cities and widespread use of agriculture, 10,000 years;
· When century upon century had passed since the Almighty set his rainbow in the clouds after the Great Flood at the time of Noah as a sign of covenant and peace;
· More than 18 centuries after God chose a lineage for his people through our ancestors in faith, Abraham and Sarah and their offspring;
· In the thirteenth century since the people of Israel were led by Moses in the Exodus out of Egypt by the hand and power of God;
· Eleven hundred years from the time of Ruth and the Judges, when God protected the people in the land;
· Around one thousand years from the anointing of David as king, when God chose the house from which the Savior was to be born;
· In the 194th of the ancient Olympiads,
· In the year 752 since the foundation of the city of Rome and 750 years from the time of the prophets Amos, Hosea, and Isaiah;
· In the 42nd year of the reign of Caesar Octavian Augustus, the whole world being at peace,
eternal Son of God and Word of the eternal Father,
desiring to consecrate the world by his most loving presence,
was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and when nine months had passed since his conception, was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem of Judah and became man.
The Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.
So my concluding Christmas thought is this: If we believe that Jesus of Nazareth, the vulnerable child of Bethlehem, holds for us the meaning of all evolutionary, human and salvation history--that there is a directionality to God's grace--then we who are the recipients of that grace are invited to live our lives without fear, even sacrificing our lives, for the good of that history, knowing that God will never abandon us nor let our lives be in vain.
A blessed Christmas to all.