Cardinal Wuerl blesses the nativity scene during the Christmas Eve Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington. (CS PHOTO BY JACLYN LIPPELMANN)
Cardinal Wuerl blesses the nativity scene during the Christmas Eve Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington. (CS PHOTO BY JACLYN LIPPELMANN)

throughout the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, and with voices of the chorus soaring across the newly dedicated Trinity Dome at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on Christmas Day, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, celebrated Christmas 2017.

At St. Matthew’s on Christmas Eve, after the cardinal blessed the crèche (manger scene) to open the Mass, his homily harkened to the theme of the Archdiocese of Washington’s Advent message, “Find the Perfect Gift”: “This is the time of the year when our thoughts necessarily turn to gifts. But what about the perfect gift? … [F]inding the perfect gift depends so much on what it is we need, want or desire,” Cardinal Wuerl said. “What the Church brings to Christmas is the enduring vision of faith.”  It “offers us an opportunity to renew our faith. Ever since the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago, the Gospel keeps calling us to remember who he is, what he does for us, and why he really is the perfect gift.” 

Christmas trees and decorations, enjoying other Christmas traditions are all important if they remind us each year the story of who Jesus is, Cardinal Wuerl noted.  “Christmas reminds us of Christ’s world of compassion, kindness, peace and love. Jesus’ kingdom come among us truly is a perfect gift.  But we become gifts to others when we try to live the words of the Gospel. What a joy our kindness, compassion and love can be to our family, our friends, all those around us.”

Cardinal Wuerl concluded his homily:  “This is the time when we are asked to renew our faith in who Jesus is and what he offers us. On the first Christmas Day, God came among us in the person of Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God-with-us. No one in human history has so changed human life as has the infant Son of Mary who was also the Son of God. Once we have come to recognize and believe that Jesus is God-with-us, we can begin to lay hold of the perfect gift. And when we live our faith, its effects in our life become a gift to others.” 

On Christmas Day Cardinal Wuerl celebrated the Noon Mass (broadcast and livestreamed on the Eternal Word Television Network) at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, which was recently completed with the installation of the dramatic mosaic in its Trinity Dome: “At the heart of this dome, at the core of our Catholic faith, is the Holy Trinity,” Cardinal Wuerl said.  “Here is revealed the love of the Father manifested in the Son, Jesus Christ, and poured out into our hearts in the power and grace of the Holy Spirit. … But how do we get from the glory of the Holy Trinity so wonderfully expressed in the great dome of this basilica, down to you and me? That is why we need to look at the other part of the dome. Mary, the immaculately conceived Mother of God, is the second focus of this great mosaic masterpiece. It is Mary who brings God to us in a way that we can recognize him.” 

And here, Cardinal Wuerl pointed to the Basilica’s Nativity scene.  “We can cry out and sing with full voice and heart, ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ because our encounter with the living Christ is not just the magnificent mosaic in the dome or the lovely and touching nativity scene of the crèche, but with the real, true, living presence of Christ in the Eucharist on the altar.”

Cardinal Wuerl concluded, “Brothers and sisters, just as the Son of God, the Word of God, depicted in this mosaic as part of the Holy Trinity, really and truly came among us through the Blessed Virgin Mary as one of us, so too does that same divine person come to us to be with us today on the altar in the transformation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of our Savior.”  

“In this season in which heaven and earth touch, may you, your families, may the Church throughout the world and all people of good will  experience the joy of God who has come among us in Jesus Christ,” the cardinal said.

Following Mass at the basilica, Cardinal Wuerl stopped in to visit the guests who were in attendance at the shrine’s Christmas dinner. In an annual tradition, volunteers serve a free Christmas meal to those who are alone or are in need as well as deliver additional meals to families throughout the region, serving more than 2,000 people.