After a service of carols at 11.30pm, the Cathedral’s Master of Music Daniel Justin had sung a Proclamation of the Birth of Christ, which was followed by a period of reflective silence. At midnight Bishop Peter and the clergy processed then down the nave to the altar steps as the congregation sang Adeste Fideles.
During the penultimate verse of the carol, the Bishop uncovered a statue of the infant Jesus. Fr Alan Hodgson, the Dean, held it aloft for everyone to see, and processed with it to the crib, where Bishop Peter placed it in the manger. After blessing the crib, he then returned to the sanctuary for the Liturgy of the Word.
The Bishop opened his homily by reminding the congregation how the Diocese was blessed by being spiritually twinned with the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem and how the Nazareth of England at Walsingham was an umbilical link to the Holy Family, no more so than at Christmas.
He then recalled the journey of the Holy Family to Bethlehem for the census, which led him to think of his own episcopal ordination, when journalists had sought his commentary on the results of the most recent UK census, when less than half of the population identified as Christians.
“Many who are celebrating Christmas with us,” he said, “are not actually celebrating the Incarnation of the Divine Word of God…. Many members of our own families, many in our local communities, many across our nation and beyond are as confined by ignorance and captured by fear as were the first shepherds…
“If we are to be effective evangelisers, we must first calm the fears of the world and address the ignorance of the multitude regarding the essential and integral relationship between faith and reason.”
Bishop Peter then recalled his childhood performance in a nativity play when he had played Joseph, “with blond curls, believe it or not”. Although his family was terrified that he would only whisper his lines, he proclaimed in a loud voice: “My name is Joseph, and this is my wife, Mary.” The family rose to their feet and applauded before being brought under control by the teachers.
“When our beloved and treasured children perform in their nativity plays,” he said, “we need them and their parents to know exactly what is being depicted…. If the people that walk in darkness are to see a great light, if those who live in the land of deep shadow are to be set free from all oppression, then they will need to hear from our lips that new song of hope….
“On this glorious night we begin the long and challenging task of recognising that this child is the one who will, the only one who can, break the yoke, the bar, the rod of injustice.
“This child is the one who will take from our hands the instruments of warfare, the one who will bestow the dominion of peace upon us all, across the face of the earth.
“This is the child born to us, this is the child given to us. This is the Wonderful Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Prince of Peace – He is Christ the Lord. Amen.”
Pictured above is Bishop Peter placing the statue of the infant Jesus in the crib.
You can see a Flickr Gallery of the Midnight Mass by clicking on the link or the picture below.