National Chaplains Christmas Message 2020
Recently a parishioner wrote to me to say that after the first lockdown and upon their arrival back at public Mass they felt rather uncomfortable and were underwhelmed by the experience. For them Mass wasn’t the same and things they were accustomed to were changed or gone. But the guidelines given to us from the diocese and from the government, that we must follow to the letter of the law, have in fact made our churches, amongst the safest environments to be gathered in during the present pandemic. Nothing essential has been taken out of the liturgy other than singing, prayers of intercession, presentation of the gifts and of course, exchanging the sign of peace; everything else is still very much the norm. And of course, at the very centre of the Mass is Jesus, who’s coming as a small baby boy we once more eagerly await this Christmas.
The observation expressed by the parishioner caused me to think of how uncomfortable and underwhelming was the actual Birth of Jesus. Sometimes we can get ourselves bogged down with the non-essential “fripperies “of life and indeed those of liturgy too and perhaps it may be of help for us, especially during this world pandemic, to remember, that for those first Advent people who longed with such great anticipation for the coming of the Messiah, the Christ, the actual birth of Jesus, was uncomfortable and even in worldly standards, quite underwhelming too. No trumpets or fireworks not even a welcome word from the innkeeper. A child born in a cold smelly stable surrounded by animals, wasn't, I'm sure how Mary or Joseph had envisaged it would be, nor those awaiting the coming of the Messiah either.
Those first visitors to the scene of sheer and utter squalor were probably not those expected either, unwashed and unkempt shepherds in from the fields, down and outs of their day forced to live outside the city walls because they were unwelcomed in the city. And yet amidst all this ordinariness and poverty, extraordinariness came into the world. And Mass sometimes is as simple as that, a lot of uneventful ordinariness with the extraordinary presence of Jesus at its heart, who silently and with minimal fuss, simply comes to us in our weakness. Sometimes, and rightly so, the reality is uncomfortable, but the birth, life, and death of Jesus, we experience every time we attend Mass, can never be described as underwhelming. As John Betjeman famously wrote in his poem simply called “Christmas”: “And is it true? For if it is, no loving fingers tying strings around those tissued fripperies, the sweet and silly Christmas things, bath salts and inexpensive scent and hideous tie so kindly meant, no love that in a family dwells, no carolling in frosty air, nor all the steeple-shaking bells can with this single truth compare - That God was man in Palestine and lives today in Bread and Wine”. I'm sure if we continue to focus on what is important and not the “fripperies” we may lament, his quiet voice within, will continue to guide us ever closer to himself.
On behalf of the Catholic Police Guild of England & Wales, I wish you all a very Blessed Christmas and Peaceful New year.
Fr. Barry Lomax, The National Chaplain. December 2020.