By Karen Clifford
SOUTH BEND — It was a Mass that combined elements of the past and future into an afternoon of celebration, song, praise and reminiscence for all in attendance.
Bishop John M. D’Arcy celebrated his 25th and final Christmas vigil Mass at St. Matthew Cathedral as bishop of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend at 4 p.m.
Bishop D’Arcy said the Incarnation “shows God at his merciful best, condescending from the very center of the Trinity, sending his Son to live among us, transform us, and to make us children of God. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church it says that with the coming of John the Baptist, the forerunner, the predictor, finally the restoration of man to the likeness of God has begun.”
According to St. Matthew Rector Msgr. Michael Heintz, the 4 p.m. vigil is one of the best attended of the Christmas Masses at the cathedral. The number of families in attendance with small children contributed to the atmosphere of joy and innocence in the celebration of Christ’s Incarnation.
Four second graders were selected to carry the baby Jesus on a platform processing to the front of the church where Bishop D’Arcy placed Jesus in the manger. The children’s participation in the procession was a part of their preparation for their first Communion in May.
One of the second graders participating in the procession, Luke Krizman, shared his excitement about the Christmas vigil Mass: “This Mass is important to me because Christmas is about celebrating Jesus’ birthday. I go to Mass with my family and sing songs for Jesus, along with the children’s choir.”
In his homily Bishop D’Arcy spoke of making time for Christ in a technology-driven world. He joked that Blackberry cell phones are nick named “crackberries” because of their addictive nature. He reminded the congregation that Pope John Paul II said that “technology was for the dignity of the person not vice versa.”
The bishop then challenged the congregation to find Christ’s divinity in their lives by prayers, thanksgiving and giving witness to others. “One of the ways we witness is joy. If the Holy Trinity is within you, that is the source of peace and it gives you strength.”
Bishop D’Arcy spoke of a number of ways that we can keep the transformation of the Incarnation in our lives year round. “Maybe there is someone here who has been away from church. Christ is asking you to complete it. But he gives you free will.”
“Maybe someone is being called to be a priest or a religious to complete it not for themselves but for others. Maybe God is calling people in a difficult or trying marriage to forgive. Maybe young people are being called to turn away from a way of life that includes drugs and alcohol. He will strengthen us if we pray and through the sacraments,” Bishop D’Arcy emphasized.
“We are called upon to believe two things about Jesus Christ; that he is the Son of God and he is the Eternal Word and became man for our salvation. He came as a savior to die on the cross for us. Let us love him with our whole heart and look for ways to complete his mission in our souls and in our lives,” he concluded.
The children’s choir captured the purity of the occasion with their singing of Christmas carols. Julie Considine, who has been a music teacher at St. Matthew’s School for 27 years, also directs the children’s choir for this Mass every year.
“The church is filled with the families of children we teach and the choir loft is filled with our present students and older brothers and sisters who have chosen to sing with us,” says Considine. “The sense of excitement in the rehearsals and at the Mass itself is electrifying.”
Bishop D’Arcy returned to Fort Wayne to celebrated the midnight Mass and the Christmas day Mass, both televised live on WISE-TV, Channel 33.
At the midnight Mass, Bishop D’Arcy reflected on how difficult it is find time to reflect and ponder the words spoken to her, as Mary did, and to find contemplative time to think about “a fresh wonder at Christmas — the coming of God in the flesh, made man for our salvation.”
He said the moment of Christmas flies by with activities — mostly good such as preparing meals, greeting visitors, and “doing all these beautiful things that we do at Christmas — thinking of others and buying gifts,” he said.
He spoke again of the “omnipresent” technology, and how recently the Blackberries went blank across the hemisphere. “Maybe (it’s) God’s way to say we need more time to ponder,” Bishop D’Arcy noted, “and turn off the Blackberries.”
Bishop D’Arcy asked the faithful in the cathedral and watching on television to take a few moments to ponder: What does it mean — what was waited for all of the centuries; talked about by prophets; spoken about by John the Baptist who called all to repentance.
“It’s the coming of God becoming man, showing the condescension, mercy and love of God. Christmas shows us who he is. One who cares and loves and gives the ultimate gesture — becoming our brother — to offer himself for our salvation. God in the flesh.”
Citing the Magnificat prayer, a prayer which he said should be our prayer at Christmas, Bishop D’Arcy encouraged the faithful to “recount what God has done for us. We also recount what he’s has done in our individual lives. We recount the goodness of our parents who brought us to be baptized. We recount our holy marriage day. We recount the day we are made priests or bishops. We recount all the good people he gave us to set us for life. We recount his forgiveness for sins. (The Magnificat) is the perfect prayer. It brings us out of ourselves and focuses us on God.”
Near the conclusion of the homily, Bishop D’Arcy said, “We make our act of faith, in God becoming man — in every way man except sin — in every way God transforming us, purifying by his blood our sins. How could we not give thanks? How could we not change? How could we not complete the work of the Incarnation in our souls?
“This is the joy to which everyone is called,” he said. “We’re incomplete. But at Christmas he gives us the chance to complete his work in our souls.
“Love asks love,” he concluded. “Each one returns it in his or her own way. … The One asking us for the completion of the work of redemption in our souls is our God, who is also our Savior. Let us respond to him with all our hearts.”
Tim Johnson contributed to this article.
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