Jesus' birth

Question: Several years ago, a priest said in a sermon that Easter is a more important holy day than Christmas. This rather upset my young daughter, 8 at the time, who said that Jesus could not rise unless he had been born. Even several years later she will mention this and express irritation at the priest’s claim. Is there something I should say to her, or just leave this matter to the realm of opinion?

Name, location withheld

Answer: The first and foundational dogma of the Christian faith is that Jesus is risen from the dead. St. Paul says, “And if Christ has not been raised, then empty [too] is our preaching, empty, too your faith. Then we are also false witnesses to God, because we testified against God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is in vain; you are still in your sins” (1 Cor 15:14-17).

Now Easter proclaims and celebrates this fact; thus Easter is the most important feast of the Church’s year.

While it is true that Christmas celebrates Christ’s birth, without which there would be no resurrection, it does not follow that the day of one’s birth is the most significant thing about him or her.

For example, few people know or remember the birthday of Thomas Edison. What they remember is that Edison was an inventor who invented things like the lightbulb. Birth is common to all people, and to the degree that we remember or know their birthday, it is because they did something memorable.

Jesus rose from the dead, fulfilling his many promises to do so. As such, his authority and identity as Lord and God is confirmed and every other truth taught by him is also thereby confirmed. His human birth confirms his identity as a man, something common to the prophets, rabbis, leaders and all others. His resurrection confirms that he is Lord.

Like what you’re reading? Subscribe now in print or digital.

You might also explain to your daughter that Christmas is actually a “late” feast on the Church’s calendar. There is little evidence that Christmas was widely celebrated in the Church before the 5th century. Epiphany is older and the first feast of the Christmas cycle to be observed. Further, two of the Gospels contain no infancy narrative at all.

Lastly, and to be clear, the Incarnation is certainly an essential doctrine. But if that be the case, the feast of the Incarnation (March 25) should really be your daughter’s focus. For based on the logic that nothing else happens if Jesus doesn’t exist, Christ’s human nature begins on March 25, not December 25.

Blood of Christ

Question: A friend says that Martin Luther was the first to use wine at Mass. I think it was used from the beginning. Which is correct?

Orlando Santangelo, via email

Answer: Wine has always been used in the liturgy. At every Mass bread is consecrated to become the body of Christ, and wine, to become the blood of Christ. What has changed is the degree to which the chalice is commonly offered to all the faithful.

Spillage and other practical problems limited this over the centuries. The Church has insisted as well that the whole Christ is received in the host alone and to offer the chalice to the faithful, while good and a fuller sign, is not strictly necessary. Only the priest is required to receive from the chalice.

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to msgrpope@osv.com.