At Vespers

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Gesù 12 anni.JPG

This painting of the adolescent Jesus is in the chapel of the Casa San Francesco in Carsoli (Aquila), Italy. I preached this evening at Pontifical Vespers in Tulsa's Cathedral of the Holy Family:

The Finding of Jesus in the Temple

On this the patronal feast of our Cathedral of the Holy Family, the Church gives us a liturgy that -- for all its richness -- is somewhat confusing: this because the liturgy of the Church is not chronological but theological. Three days after Christmas, while we are still enraptured by the Infant Jesus in the manger, the first antiphon this evening led us to the Temple in Jerusalem where, Mary and Joseph, aggrieved, relieved, and, I should think, a little vexed, find the twelve-year old Jesus "sitting among the teachers, listening to them, and asking them questions."(Lk 2:46).

The Listening Word

The second antiphon antiphon showed us the twelve-year old Jesus returning to Nazareth with His Virgin Mother and with Saint Joseph, there to live subject to them, that is, in obedience. Pope John Paul II once defined obedience as "the listening that changes life." At Nazareth the Word humbles Himself to the point of listening -- of listening with such openness and receptivity, that He, the Unchanging Word of the Father, learns and changes and grows. Remaining truly God, He became truly Man, coming among us not as one having every human accomplishment, but as one bound and ready to learn those things that a boy learns from his mother, from his father, from his grandparents, his playmates, and his schoolmasters.

Saint Bernard puts it this way:

You see, then, that Christ in His one Person has two natures, one eternal, the other beginning in time. According to one He knows all things eternally; according to the other there are many things He first experienced in course of time.

Loved in Human Form

The third antiphon allowed us to catch a glimpse of the adolescent Jesus growing into manhood, increasing in wisdom and in stature, and in favour with God and man. Divine Wisdom, the Second Person of the Adorable Trinity, the Word made flesh, learns the wisdom of men, principally from his foster father Saint Joseph. The Immensity of God, having become a tiny child grows through boyhood and adolescence into manhood, growing in stature. The Son, loved by the Father from all eternity in the fiery embrace of the Holy Spirit, becomes lovable and loved in human form.

Contemplating Jesus

The Magnificat Antiphon returns to Luke 2:40, a passage that occurs after the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. It is almost identical to the third antiphon. It is as if the Church, fascinated by the mystery of God become a little baby, of the baby become a small boy, the boy an adolescent, and the adolescent a young man, cannot take her eyes, all the while from His Face, shining with the Wisdom and Beauty of His Divinity.

Christ Emptied Himself

Finally, a word about the Short Reading we heard: Philippians 2:6-7. This particular passage is one that the Church sings over and over again during the last days of Holy Week, in the shadow of the Cross. It is, in a way, curious that we should be given that same text this evening. "Christ Jesus, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men, and was found in human form" (Ph 2:6-7).

The Son, without leaving His eternal intimacy with the Father, descends nonetheless to cloister Himself for nine months in the Virgin's womb. His entrance into her womb is already oriented to the Cross, for He comes into the world as Priest, ready to offer Himself in Sacrifice. When He comes forth from her womb at Bethlehem, it is to pursue His ascent to the Cross, and His return to the Father, as the Bridegroom of His Church and the Head of His Mystical Body.

He Emptied Himself

In order that this immense circle of salvation might be realized in space and in time, He laid aside the immensity, the splendour, the weight of His glory, and, as Saint Paul says, "nothinged" Himself. Without ceasing to be God from God, Light from Light, and true God from true God, He poured Himself out into the form of a servant, the form of a child, the form of one from whom, on the day of His Passion, men would screen their faces.

From the Eucharist to the Trinity

This mysterious outpouring of the Divine Immensity into a form that is frail and vulnerable and small is, in some way, prolonged for our sakes, in the Most Holy Eucharist. There we see the God who would draw us after Him to the Father, in the Holy Spirit, become a no-thing in the eyes of the world, a mere round piece of bread. And yet this is our faith: that all that He is has replaced all that bread was, and that He, being there for us and with us, desires with a great desire to draw us to Himself and through Himself into the Divine Family of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.


The extraordinary form's introit for this feast was the the first I ever chanted and also memorized. I believe it is one of the most beautiful and its absence in the new liturgy is truly a great loss.

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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