Christmas morning Mass-Archbishop B. O’Brien

Homily by Archbishop Brendan M. O’Brien

Christmas Day 2018

The birth of Jesus, as described in Luke’s Gospel, is one of the best-known stories in the bible.  We depict it in our Nativity scenes and on Christmas cards, and we  celebrate it in the hymns we sing.  Even young children know its details:  the census, the swaddling clothes, the manger, the shepherds, and the angels’ song.

There is something in the account of Jesus’s birth that  is very human and tugs at the heart.  It is the fact that there was no room for him; that Mary and Joseph were displaced from their hometown.  This part of the Christmas story we have a feel for; we can imagine and identify with the hardships and with the joy of giving birth to a child even under these circumstances.

What is more difficult for us to grasp is who this child is and how and why the Son of God from all eternity has become one of us.  This is not easy to comprehend because it is beyond our experience.  But to simply see this passage as a heart warming story of the birth of a child is to miss the immensity of what has taken place.  It is only when we remember who this child is, that the full meaning of what has taken place emerges.

The Gospel for the Mass on Christmas Day does not recount the scene in Bethlehem.  Rather, it tries to help us to interpret it and see the deeper meaning of that story.  The feast of Christmas commemorates that point in time when the Son of God from all eternity entered our world to share in our human condition.  This is expressed so well in our gospel passage this morning where it  says, “The Word was the light that enlightens all men, and he was coming into the world.”

When we want to express this momentous happening, we naturally reach into the language of the Bible, the Old Testament.  Our first reading describes a messenger running swiftly over the mountains bearing a message of peace and salvation.  In this scene, the people have been desolate for so long, waiting for a ray of hope, and now it has come.  God comforts and redeems the people dwelling within the ruins of Jerusalem.  As Christians, we see this victory described by the prophet Isaiah as a way of expressing our own joy at the coming of God among us in the person of Jesus, the Word made flesh.

But our Christmas celebration is not just a remembrance of a great event in the past, no matter how momentous it is. There is something very present about our celebration of Christmas.  Christ did not only take flesh in Mary’s womb; he became flesh in order to join himself to our life, with all its sorrows and joys.  So what began at Bethlehem is not yet complete.  The “physical” incarnation took place that night in Bethlehem when the Christ child was born.  But the “mystical” coming of Christ to each of us, into our lives, is still a work in progress.  And part of the reason is that, for this to happen, we have to have the spiritual senses, the eyes and ears, that can see and hear what God is really offering us.

As we heard in the gospel passage:  “The Word was the light that enlightens all men; and he was coming into the world that had its being through him, and the world did not know him…. But to all who did accept him he gave power to become children of God.”  That is why Christmas can really be a grace-filled moment, when we delve into the meaning of our lives and what our Christian faith has to offer us.

Ever since the first Christmas, Christ seeks a response from us;  God has become human not just to be with us, but so that we might share in the divine life.  This is what we prayed in the Opening Prayer of today’s Mass: “Grant, we pray, that we may share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled him to share in our humanity.”

With the Word of God made flesh, a new “era” has begun.  God is with us; God is close to us in the person of Jesus, the human face of the Father.  But the story of salvation is quite an unfinished one.  There is still oppression.  People carry many burdens – some spiritual, some psychological, some material.

The light shines in the darkness, but each generation must come in contact with the light.  This requires light-carrying people who, by their commitment to Christ, will communicate Christ’s light and love.  This is how the work of salvation moves forward through the minds and hearts and hands of those who have accepted God’s gift of Himself to them.

So, as you can see, Christmas is not just recalling a birthday, a long ago event from the Bible.  At Christmas, we celebrate God’s goodness and generosity on the one hand, and, on the other, the choice we are being invited to make:  to respond in love to Christ and to one another.

On my own behalf and on behalf of the Rector of the Cathedral, Father Shawn Hughes, the Associate Pastor, Father Paul Mawalla, Deacon Blaine Barclay, and all the priests and lay people who serve here, I want to wish you a Blessed Christmas.

I hope that our celebration of this feast today is an occasion to enter into conversation with God, that it is an opportunity for God to touch your life with his healing presence, which will encourage you to do the same, to carry the light of Christ’s love to others.


A blessed Christmas to you all.


The Chief medical Health Officer of Kingston has ordered that Masks must be worn at all places we gather indoors. That includes us here at the cathedral. We can’t supply everyone with a mask so please come with one. We would have a limited supply available for a loonie at the entrance of the cathedral.
Please read and observe the six key principles outlined below.

1) The key principle is that we come to Mass to worship God. Out of justice and exercising the virtue of religion we must give God what is God’s due. That quite simply is worship, adoration and praise. Thus, the absolute essentials of Mass will be included so that the Sacramental praise of God will take place and we will be exposed to one another for as brief a time as possible.

2) The second key principle is that the health and safety of parishioners, staff and clergy here at St. Mary’s are essential and require our utmost concern and attention. Therefore, the dispensation from the obligation to come to Sunday Mass by Archbishop Mulhall continues to be in effect. Those who are sick, elderly or have other critical health concerns should not come at this time. However, that is left to your discretion. Should you make the choice to come, knowing the risks, you are most welcome.

3) The underlying principle of all of our restrictions in isolating, physically distancing, wearing masks etc. is the common good as we live out the Lord’s commission to “love one another.” We are to care for each other and at this time we are called to be as prudent and careful as we can to protect the health of everyone else and ourselves.
4) The principle for the next few weeks will be brevity. The received scientific wisdom is that the virus spreads within groups who spend a prolonged period of time together. Therefore, we will be reducing the Mass to the bare essentials.
5) Singing is considered more dangerous than speaking so you are asked to please not sing at all throughout the Mass. I will not be singing either.
6) If you have any sickness, are elderly or have a critical illness you should remain at home. The dispensation from the obligation to come to Mass continues through this time of 30% capacity. Of course, if you choose to come you will not be turned away. We will continue to live- stream the Masses until we are back to a more normal arrangement.

The Chief medical Health Officer has ordered that Masks must be worn at all places we gather indoors. That includes us here at the cathedral. We can’t supply everyone with a mask so please come with one. We would have a limited supply available for a loonie at the entrance of the cathedral.
We will pray a shorter Penitential Rite.
The Gloria will be said not sung. There is to be no singing by the congregation during the Mass. Only by a cantor or as we have today a physically distanced choir in the choir loft…3 metres apart.
We will only have one reading followed by the Psalm
The second reading will be omitted.
The choir will sing the Alleluia on Sundays. During the week it will be omitted. Please do not join in.
The Gospel.
A very brief (3-4 minute) homily will follow.
The Creed will not be prayed.
There will be no petitions. Please prepare your own petitions and offer them in your heart during the Mass.
There will be no procession of the gifts.
There will be no regular collections at this time in the Masses. It will happen later. Ushers will be at the doors to receive your offering as you leave.
The Eucharistic Prayer will be prayed. This is the Most Important Part of the Mass.
The Our Father
Sign of Peace. This is a time when we won’t shake hands. Please do not wave to each other or give the two finger sign of peace. Neither of these reflect what is the intention here…You are recognizing the presence of God in the other person and praying they know God’s peace. The most appropriate gesture is a slight bow or nod of the head to the other person. You have seen me do this at the sign of peace to all of you at every Sunday Liturgy.
Please be seated.
Then the ushers will direct you to the place where you will receive Holy Communion. Please do not leave your pew until an usher has indicated you should do so.
Another usher will be close to the Communion Station to receive your Sunday Offering.
When it is your turn to receive Holy Communion. You will stand 6 feet away on the red line. The person distributing Holy Communion will say “The Body of Christ”. You will say “Amen”. Then move forward within arms length and receive the Host. Once you have received go straight out the nearest exit and make your Thanksgiving on your way home.
Aisles 1 & 5 will come forward to receive Holy Communion and leave by the side doors.
Aisles 2, 3 & 4 will go to the back to receive Holy Communion.
Aisle 2 will exit by the exit closest to the rectory.
Aisle 3 will exit out the centre door which you came in
Aisle 4 will exit out the door by the washrooms.
You are strongly encouraged to receive Holy Communion in the hand. Receiving on the tongue endangers the person giving Holy Communion and yourself, the person receiving Holy Communion. If you wish to insist on receiving on the tongue please wait until the very end as the person giving Holy Communion should sanitize their hands after each communicant. The usher will pass you by and will come back to you after everyone else has received. Please don’t leave your pew until that has taken place.