We continue with the series on Prefaces of the Roman Missal by Canon Alan Griffiths. This week we look at Preface I of the Nativity of the Lord.
If we weren’t so used to it, this Preface might surprise us, since Christmas imagery is absent. No baby, no manger, no angel choirs, no shepherds. This text goes to the heart of Christmas, because it is about the Incarnation, the event that founds all the imagery of Christmas and Epiphany. It’s like the three Mass Propers for Christmas Day; it is not the Night or Dawn Masses but the Day Mass that is the most important, and for the same reason. For the Day Mass announces the whole rationale of Christmas: The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).
This ancient Preface is found in the Papal mass books of the ninth century, but it has echoes in earlier texts, particularly those associated with St. Gregory the Great (CE540-604). Here is one, from Gregory’s ‘Moralia:’ Because the world was not able to see the invisible One who had created it, it beheld the man whom it acknowledged also as God.
A related text is found in the so-called ‘Rotulus of Ravenna,’ a 6th century collection of texts for the Divine Office, which appears now in the Ambrosian Missal as an Advent Preface: Your eternal Word adorned the face of heaven with splendour and, with the glory of the Incarnation, he filled the Virgin’s womb and made it fruitful, so that a new light in radiance might shine upon all, and that from Mary, Virgin and Mother, salvation might spring forth for the whole human race.
The Preface takes its main theme from John 1:4-9: In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness … the true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world.
The light enables believers to see, in the visible Son of Man, the person of God. Moreover, that ‘seeing’ is a vision of not merely of intellect but of love, which ‘enraptures’ or makes us to be caught up through him in love of things invisible.
A text of St. Paul serves as a good reflection point on this Preface: It is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6).