The Daily Christmas in Our Souls.
The Seventh Day of Christmas; and, the Commemoration of Saint Sylvester I, Pope & Confessor.*
Lessons from the feria, according to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• I John 2: 18-21.
• Psalm 96: 1-2, 11-13.
• John 1: 1-18.
First & third lessons from the Second Mass of Christmas, Gradual from the Third Mass, according to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Titus 3: 4, 7.
• Psalm 97: 3-4, 2.
• Luke 2: 15-20.
8:59 AM 12/31/2018 — As the Octave of Christmas comes to an end we commemorate Pope Saint Sylvester, and his importance to the growth of the early Church cannot be overestimated. Some of you here today may have been present when this Church of Saint Jane de Chantal was dedicated after it had been expanded, and then later when it’s altar was solemnly consecrated. Those ceremonies were created by Pope Saint Sylvester I. Before him, Christians gathered mostly in private homes, and sometimes in underground cemeteries called catacombs to offer the Holy Sacrifice and to pray, although buildings set aside exclusively for Christian worship were not unknown, particularly in the Christian East; but, when Pope Sylvester baptized the Emperor Constantine, all of that changed, and ceremonies were needed to bless and consecrate the magnificent basilicas the Emperor was now building for the use of the Empire’s new state religion. The Lateran Palace in Rome was Constantine’s home before it was the pope’s, and the Church of Saint John Lateran—which is officially called the Church of the Most Holy Savior—was built by Constantine on the very spot where Pope Saint Sylvester baptized him. The commemoration of this holy and extremely important pope is preserved on this day because it is on this day he died in the year 335.**
Today's Gospel lesson is very familiar: it's the prologue to the Gospel of Saint John which served as the Gospel lesson for the third Mass of Christmas; and, in the extraordinary form, it's read at the end of every Mass, which is why it's called the “Last Gospel.” It's had such an important role in the liturgy of the Church because it is the quintessential statement of Divine Revelation about the incarnation and the Divinity of Christ; and, it all boils down to one verse: verse fourteen: καὶ ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο καὶ ἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν, καὶ ἐθεασάμεθα τὴν δόξαν αὐτοῦ, δόξαν ὡς μονογενοῦς παρὰ πατρός, πλήρης χάριτος καὶ ἀληθείας (1: 14). We have here a boiler-plate translation which is not wrong: “And the word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory of the Father's only-begotten Son, full of grace and truth (1: 14 NABRE/RM3). Msgr, Knox's translation is almost the same;*** but, there is not one translation of the Bible into English which translates it word for word.
The only one that comes close is a version you may remember called the Jerusalem Bible, which is out of favor now because of it's frequent use of the name “Yahweh” throughout the Old Testament, which the Holy See has told us may no longer be used because it violates the Jewish prohibition against pronouncing the name of God.† It doesn't give a word for word translation of verse fourteen in the text, but it does give it in a footnote: καὶ ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο καὶ ἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν; the literal translation is, “And the word was made flesh and pitched his tent among us.” And a lot of people make the mistake of thinking Saint John used that language simply because so many of the peoples of the Middle East were nomads who lived in tents, so when they translate it into English they leave out the reference to a tent; but, that’s not what he means at all.
After Moses received the tablets of the Law on Mount Sinai, but before the Jews had settled in Jerusalem and built the first temple, they carried around with them, in their wanderings through the desert, a great tent called the Tabernacle, which housed the Ark of the Covenant. God dwelt in the Tabernacle, and Moses would speak to Him there. Clearly, John's use of the word σκήνοω—to pitch one's tent—is a clear statement that Jesus is the incarnation of God upon earth; and, His presence in the Tabernacle, where the Tablets of the Law were once kept, indicates that Jesus now replaces the old covenant of the Law of Moses with a new covenant, which is Himself.
In the mystery of the incarnation, our Blessed Lord pitched His tent among His people, which is what we celebrate every Christmas; but, in the Blessed Eucharist, He pitches His tent within each of us individually. In this sense, every act of receiving Holy Communion becomes a miniature Christmas in our souls as Jesus comes to dwell within us.
Tomorrow is the Octave Day of Christmas, traditionally dedicated to the Mother of God, in Whose womb our Blessed Lord dwelt for nine months. Let us ask Her to teach us how we may best carry our Lord within us, and show Him to everyone we meet this day.
* In both the ordinary and extraordinary forms of the Roman Rite, a memorial or third class feast occuring during the Octave of Christmas becomes a commemoration. In the ordinary form, only the Collect of the saint is taken, with everything else taken from the Octave feria; or, the commemoration may be omitted entirely. In the extraordiary form, the Collect, Secret and Postcommunion of the saint immediately follow those of the Octave feria, so there are two of each.
** The following are the middle three lessons from Matins in the extraordinary form, not for today, but from the Feast of the Dedication of the Basilicas of Ss. Peter and Paul:
The rites observed by the Roman Church in consecrating churches and altars were instituted by the blessed Pope Sylvester. For although from apostolic times churches were dedicated to God, and called by some 'oratories,' by others 'churches;' and in them the Christian people assembled on the first day of the week, and there they would pray, hear the Word of God, and receive the Holy Eucharist; yet hitherto they were never so solemnly consecrated, nor was an altar erected in them, anointed with Chrism, to represent and signify Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who is our Altar, our Victim, and our Priest.
But when the Emperor Constantine had received health of body and soul by the Sacrament of Baptism, he promulgated a law to the whole world, allowing the Christians to build churches; and he encouraged them in this work by his own example as well as by this edict. Thus, in his Lateran palace he dedicated a Church to Our Savior; and founded the adjoining Baptistery in honor of St. John the Baptist, on the very spot where he himself had been baptized by St. Sylvester and cleansed from the leprosy of infidelity. The Pontiff consecrated it on the fifth of the Ides of November (November 9); and we celebrate the memory thereof on this same day, whereon for the first time a church was publicly dedicated in Rome, and there appeared before the eyes of the Roman people an image of Our Savior depicted on the wall.
Although later on, when consecrating the altar of the Prince of the Apostles, Blessed Sylvester decreed that thenceforward all altars should be built of stone; yet the altar of the Lateran Basilica was of wood. This, however, is not surprising. For from the time of St. Peter down to Pope Sylvester, persecution prevented the Pontiffs from having any fixed abode; so that they offered the Holy Sacrifice either in crypts or cemeteries, or in the houses of the faithful, as necessity compelled them, upon the said wooden altar, which was hollow like a chest. When peace was granted to the Church, Saint Sylvester placed this altar in the first church, the Lateran; and in honor of the Prince of the Apostles, who is said to have offered the Holy Sacrifice upon it, and of the other Pontiffs who had used it up to that time, he decreed that no one should celebrate Mass upon it except the Roman Pontiff. This church, having been injured and half ruined in consequence of fires, hostile invasions, and earthquakes, was several times repaired by the care of the Popes. After a new restoration Pope Benedict XIII, a Dominican, solemnly consecrated it, on the 28th of April in the year 1726, and ordered the commemoration thereof to be celebrated on this present day. The great works undertaken by Pius IX have been happily completed by Leo XIII – that is, the principal apse, which was threatening to fall because of age, has been very much enlarged; the ancient mosaic, already partially restored at different times, has been reconstructed on the old model, and transferred to the new apse, which is beautifully and richly decorated; the roof and woodwork of the transepts have been renewed and ornamented. Moreover, a sacristy and a house for the Canons have been added, as well as portico connecting these buildings with Constantine's Baptistery. The whole work was completed in 1884.
*** "And the Word was made flesh, and came to dwell among us; and we had sight of his glory, glory such as belongs to the Father’s only-begotten Son, full of grace and truth."
† The original version of the Jerusalem Bible, published in 1966, gets a bad rap, due primarily to the misconception that it is nothing more than an English translation of a French Bible; nothing is further from the truth. While the project began in France and was motivated by a French Bible of the same name, the English language version is its own translation, made directly from the original languages, and done by some of the best English speaking Classical language scholars in the world, including J. R. R. Tolkien (the translation of the Book of Job is completely his). The misconception about it may stem from the fact that the English language version gives weight to the interpretation of certain passages as found in the French version, and reproduces some of that version’s footnotes.
The French version was updated in 1973, and the English language version followed with a revision published in 1985 under the title The New Jerusalem Bible; it was not an improvement. The Jerusalem Bible project seems to have ended at that point.