Dear people of Prince Edward Island,
There is a beauty to the Mass on Christmas Eve that entices the imagination and stirs precious memories. The message of Christmas is often approached in terms of truth and goodness. But beauty tiptoes its way through the Christmas Eve Mass as well. Beauty attracts readily and powerfully even more than truth or righteousness. Beauty is everywhere in creation, in art, in music, and in people.
The opening prayer describes “this sacred night” as the radiant splendor and beauty of Christ. The Gospel proclamation then tells the story of the Nativity. The charming imagery of the story fires the imagination of children and fills them with wonder and awe. For adults the details are intriguing – princes and paupers, angelic proclamations in the night sky, a brilliant star rising, lowly shepherds, exotic visitors from the East, a young couple leaving their homeland only to find no room in the inn, — all centering around the birth of a baby. The Church’s atmosphere enhances the telling of the story with symbols, colorful sights, aroma as well as song. An adult sense of peace and good will on earth requires rather deliberate thought about the meaning of this beautiful story and the joyful mood of its celebration.
In every church the Nativity scene appears with the same statues and decorations which we have be seeing for years, but take a look at the faces of children who see it for the first time. This is when we readily declare what is beautiful to be adorable.
The environment in a poor church building reflects the beauty of that first impoverished manger; the magnificent stain glass, towering pillars and vaults of a Basilica reflect the glory of the New Jerusalem. With prayerful reflection we can discover beauty in every kind of church. And the music. The beauty of songs such as O Holy Night and Silent Night merges the art of great composers with the earnest longing of the voices and hearts of people who put meaning into these beautiful hymns.
One author has written, “When we fall in love with his beauty, we are well on the way to accepting his truth and imitating his goodness.” Gerard O’Collins, Tablet 21/28 Dec. 2002.
Celebrating the Incarnation on Christmas Eve attracts because it is a beautiful experience – the same stunning stories in the most ordinary circumstances, a baby, bread, wine and song so that the shock wave of Bethlehem continues to reverberate around the world for 2019 years.
Christmas Eve worship does provide an experience of beauty, but experience is not enough. What does the experience of beauty mean? We need to pause, ponder, and pray over the meaning of such a beautiful experience. Pondering the meaning of beauty enriches our appreciation of the depths of the human heart and soul. The sheer simplicity of beauty may elude our appreciation of its meaning. There are, after all, many other counter attractions.
The birth of the Christ marks a Divine entrance into human history which one author calls a fingerprint of God and then he adds,
“God’s finger prints are everywhere. Nothing has ever been written by theologians about God’s beautiful presence that hasn’t already been better traced in the calligraphy of a frosty morning. Nothing has ever been preached by saints about divine intimacy that hasn’t been better sung by the summer wind in roadside trees. And nothing has ever been created by artists about incarnate love that has been more poignantly revealed in the sleepy eyes of a new baby.” Daniel O’Leary, Tablet 20/27 Dec. 2008
The experience of Beauty leads to mystery if we ponder the experience and let it speak whispers of a divine presence in our hearts.
I extend to all Prince Edward Islanders a Christmas filled with beauty, awe, wonder, joy and peace.
Bishop of Charlottetown