Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, Clergy, Religious and Faithful of the Diocese of Limore:
We English-speaking Catholics may well claim a proprietorial interest in the name of the approaching feast of Christmas. It is derived from the Old English Cristesmæsse, Christ’s Mass. Christmas is the culmination of an older Advent preparation which began in many parts of Europe on Martinmas, the feast or Martin’s Mass of the famous Christian soldier-saint, St Martin of Tours, 11th November.
For us very distinctly Christmas is the day of Christ’s Mass. Those of us for whom the Mass is the heartbeat of our week or our day will be joined again by those who still want to express a belonging by keeping in touch each year, reaching out as did those in the gospel who wanted to grasp from behind the hem of the Lord’s garment. They are Catholics, they belong, we welcome them, and we want them to return home permanently and sacramentally.
Many of us will kneel again at the images in the Christmas Crib and contemplate the wonder of the Father’s love in sending us His Son as our Saviour and Lord, and Our Lady’s beautiful part in it all.
But the full reality those images merely reflect is right there on the altar of Christ’s Mass. As long ago as the fourth century St John Chrysostom told his people in Constantinople, “We may see our Master wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger . . . but the table of this altar takes the place of the manger. And surely the Master’s body will be lying on this altar.” Him we receive truly, but with an effect dependent upon the readiness of hearts purified from sin by repentance and it’s sacrament.
Let the gift of faith planted in us and so abundantly nourished by God’s grace enable us this Christmas to penetrate more deeply this marvellous truth of the Eucharist, so that its practical effect of good works in our lives can be more powerfully nourished.
The comfort and plenty of our typical Australian Christmas encourages deeds of generosity towards those for whom Christmas may be far from happy, or even a time of desperation. The boat people rescued from the pounding seas on Christmas Island will, thank God, know human and Christian generosity that will make this Christmas memorable for them, relieving a little of the burden they bear.
Prayer is the great bond joining us at Christmas in families and in the Church across distances and countries. The political and religious conflicts in Sudan and the Ivory Coast should engage our prayer. But particularly I ask Catholics all over the Diocese to pray for the Church in China.
For a long time now the Chinese government has made efforts to separate the Church from Catholic unity centred with the rest of the world on the person of the Holy Father in Rome, and set up a local ‘Patriotic Church’ under government control. Earlier this month participation in a conference organised by this national body was forced on the bishops faithful to Rome. Some attended, many went into hiding. A bishop recognised by the Pope had imposed on him the presidency of the government-sponsored Patriotic Association, to the dismay and suffering of faithful Chinese Catholics.
This Christmas please pray at Mass and remember in your daily prayers the Church in China in such conflict and sorrow in the grave violation of the human rights of its bishops, clergy and faithful, particularly their freedom of religion and conscience.
I thank so many good people across the Diocese for the prayers and many kindnesses with which you have supported your priests and myself over this past year.
With my prayers and every blessing in your families and homes this Christmas.
Yours devotedly in Christ,
+ Geoffrey Jarrett
Bishop of Lismore.