Dear Friends in Christ,
On every Sunday and most other Solemnities of the Year, the texts for Mass are the same for both the vigil and the day of the celebration. For the celebration of Christmas, however, the Church provides four different Masses, each with its own Scripture readings and proper prayers, and this is testimony to the richness of this great feast. The four Masses for Christmas are the Vigil, Mass during the Night, Mass at Dawn, and Mass during the Day, and you can read all of the different texts for these four Masses in the missalette. Most of us, of course, never hear the readings proclaimed for the Mass at Dawn; we are still tucked warmly in our beds at that hour. This is an unfortunate loss, however, because the readings appointed for that Mass are filled with tender grace. I hope you will all take time to read quietly and prayerfully the Gospel for the Mass at Dawn (Luke 2.15-20) and the second lesson, taken from St. Paul’s letter to Titus (Titus 3.4-7).
St. Titus, like St. Timothy, was a disciple of and assistant to St. Paul, and he was a Gentile Christian who traveled with Paul from Antioch to the Council of Apostles at Jerusalem and then accompanied Paul on his third missionary journey. Titus also served as the bearer of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, and in Corinth he took up a collection for the Christians in Jerusalem. At length, Titus became the founding Bishop of Crete and was charged by St. Paul to organize the Church on that island by appointing other bishops and priests. Much of Paul’s letter to Titus is a description of the qualities Titus should look for in candidates for the episcopate and presbyterate. Sts. Timothy and Titus are venerated together in the sacred liturgy on January 26th.
During the Mass at Dawn, these words from Paul’s letter to Titus are proclaimed, and they give voice to the heart of the Gospel: “Beloved, when the kindness and generous love of God our savior appeared, not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of his mercy, he saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he richly poured out on us through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.” Through our Baptism, by the gift of the Holy Spirit, we are justified and saved by the Lord Jesus as a free and unmerited gift. As we celebrate with joy the birth of our Savior, we give thanks for the merciful love of God which is our justification and righteousness. The Collect, or Opening Prayer, of the Mass at Dawn expresses this great mystery in these words:
Grant, we pray, almighty God, that as we are bathed in the new radiance of your incarnate Word, the light of faith which illumines our mind may also shine through in our deeds. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.