CHRISTMAS IN LITURGY
" Whom saw ye, O shepherds ? speak ; tell us who hath appeared
on the earth. We saw the new-born Child, and angels singing praise unto the
Lord. Speak, what saw ye ? and tell us or the birth of Christ. We saw the new-born Child, and angels singing praise unto the
It is the wonder of the Incarnation, the marvel of the spotless Birth, the song of the Angels, the coming down from heaven of true peace, the daybreak of redemption and everlasting joy, the glory of the Only-begotten, now beheld by men—the supernatural side, in fact, of the festival, that the Church sets forth in her radiant words ; there is little thought of the purely human side, the pathos of Bethlehem.
It was customary at certain places, in mediaeval times, to lay on the altar three veils, and remove one at each nocturn of Christmas Matins. The first was black, and symbolised the time of darkness before the Mosaic Law ; the second white, typifying, it would seem, the faith of those who lived under that Law of partial revelation ; the third red, showing the love of Christ's bride, the Church, in the time of grace flowing from the Incarnation.5
A stately ceremony took place in England in the Middle Ages at the end of Christmas Matins—the chanting of St. Matthew's genealogy of Christ. The deacon, in his dalmatic, with acolytes carrying tapers, with thurifer and cross-bearer, all in albs and tunicies, went in procession to the pulpit or the rood-loft, to sing this portion of the Gospel. If the bishop were present, he it was who chanted it, and a rich candlestick was held to light him.* Then followed the chanting of the " Te Deum." 6 The ceremony does not appear in the ordinary Roman books, but it is still performed by the Benedictines, as one may read in the striking account of the monastic Christmas given by Huysmans in " L'Oblat." 7
* Anthony Beck, Bishop of Durham, bequeathed to his cathedral a Christmas candlestick of silver-gilt, on the base of which was an image of St. Mary with her Son lying in the crib.