This, of course, is rather fitting as these concrete historical events represent “the beginning of our Redemption through grace to the supernatural life.” (Commentary taken from Baronius Press 1962 Roman Missal)
Christmas is far more than just the celebration of a distant event, however.
As such, this is also a fitting time to ponder the way in which Our Lord presently reigns over all things; in fact, our consideration of Christmas and its true meaning would be incomplete without reflecting upon the Social Kingship of Christ.
The propers for Holy Mass on Christmas Day serve to call our attention to the blessed reality that the birth of Jesus Christ represents not only the coming of a Savior, but also the entrance into the world of a King; indeed, the King whose reign is everlasting.
Let’s take a look at some of them.
There are three distinct Masses for Christmas Day – at Midnight, Dawn, and Daytime.
At Midnight Mass, the Gradual reads:
With Thee is the principality in the day of Thy strength: in the brightness of the Saints, from the womb before the day star I begot Thee. The Lord said to my Lord: Sit Thou at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool. Alleluia, alleluia. (Ps. 2. 7). The Lord hath said to Me: Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee. Alleluia.
This Psalm is among those that are considered to be the “Royal Psalms” in that their themes are concerned with matters of kingship. In this case, the references to Our Lord’s reign are fairly obvious.
In all three of the synoptic Gospels, we find Jesus calling the attention of the Scribes and Pharisees to this particular Psalm:
And the Pharisees being gathered together, Jesus asked them, Saying: What think you of Christ? Whose son is he? They say to him: David’s. He saith to them: How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying: The Lord said to my Lord: Sit on my right hand, until I make thy enemies thy footstool? If David then call him Lord, how is he his son? And no man was able to answer him a word: neither durst any man from that day forth ask him any more questions. (Matthew 22:41-46) [see also Mark 12 and Luke 20]
Jesus was pointing to a text that these “learned” men knew very well to be Messianic prophecy.
They rightly expected the coming of one who would truly reign, and yet they could not comprehend that the King they awaited would not only be their Savior, but their very Lord!
At Dawn Mass, the Introit reads:
A light shall shine upon us this day: for the Lord is born to us: and He shall be called Wonderful, God, the Prince of Peace, the Father of the world to come: of whose reign there shall be no end. (Isa. 9:2,6) The Lord hath reigned, He is clothed with beauty: the Lord is clothed with strength, and hath girded Himself. (Ps. 92:1)
For Daytime Mass, the Introit is very similar:
A child is born to us and a Son is given to us whose government is upon His shoulder and His name shall be called, the Angel of great counsel. (Isa. 9:6) Sing ye to the Lord a new canticle: because He hath done wonderful things. (Ps. 97:1)
Jewish tradition has always looked upon God as King. To this day, the Jews repeat the refrain Avinu Malkeinu (Our Father, Our King) throughout what they consider the holiest days of their liturgical year.
As our brief examination of the Roman Missal already makes clear, the Old Testament contains many references to God’s Kingship. Psalm 92:1-2 is yet another example, and its text forms the Offertory for Dawn Mass at Christmas:
God hath established the world, which shall not be moved: Thy throne, O God, is prepared from of old: Thou art from everlasting.
That having been said, it would be an oversight to imagine that our Christmastide reflection on the Lord’s Kingship is like that of the Jews. In other words, if we go no further than simply pondering anew His reign over our hearts, minds and souls, we are inadvertently submitting that nothing has truly changed.
Christmas, however, should call our attention to the fact that something with respect to the Lord’s Kingship truly is new.
As the refrain of the familiar carol goes:
Hark! The herald-angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”
Indeed, God has always been Avinu Malkeinu; He has always reigned over the hearts of His own, but in Jesus Christ, Emanuel, the King is truly here present!
In the Old Testament, one discovers that God is not only King of all creation; He is, in a particular way, King of Israel, even though they often turned away from Him:
But seeing that Naas, king of the children of Ammon, was come against you, you said to me: Nay, but a king shall reign over us: whereas the Lord your God was your king. (1 Kings 12:12)
Not only does Christmas call to mind the newness of “God with us” in Christ, it should also move us to rejoice in the newness of His reign: For to Christ, “as man in the strict and proper sense” (cf Quas Primas) has all kingly authority in heaven and on earth been given. (cf Matthew 20:18)
Consider as well that the particular reign of God as King of Israel was ever intended to serve as preparation for His coming in Christ “in the fullness of time.”
Thou art my servant Israel … Behold, I have given thee to be the light of the Gentiles, that thou mayst be my salvation even to the farthest part of the earth. (cf Isa. 49: 3,6)
At Christmastime, we celebrate (as the Introit reminds us) A light shall shine upon us this day, and revealed in this light “even to the farthest part of the earth” is Christ Jesus, born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Lord who reigns not only over Israel, but over all nations!
The carol continues, “Joyful all ye nations rise!”
At the coming of Christ, all the nations of the world are called to rise up to greet Him, repeating the refrain of the Angels, “Glory to the newborn King!” – He of whom Pope Pius XI wrote in Quas Primas:
Thus the empire of our Redeemer embraces all men. To use the words of Our immortal predecessor, Pope Leo XIII: “His empire includes not only Catholic nations, not only baptized persons who, though of right belonging to the Church, have been led astray by error, or have been cut off from her by schism, but also all those who are outside the Christian faith; so that truly the whole of mankind is subject to the power of Jesus Christ.” (Enc. Annum Sacrum, May 25, 1899) Nor is there any difference in this matter between the individual and the family or the State; for all men, whether collectively or individually, are under the dominion of Christ. In him is the salvation of the individual, in him is the salvation of society. “Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given to men whereby we must be saved.” (Acts iv) He is the author of happiness and true prosperity for every man and for every nation.
And so it is at Christmastime that every man and every nation should be moved to ponder and give thanks for the Social Kingship of Our Lord Jesus Christ!