Rorate Caeli

CHRISTMAS: Fontgombault Sermon for Christmas Midnight Mass

Midnight Mass

Sermon of the Right Reverend Dom Jean Pateau 
Abbot of Our Lady of Fontgombault
Fontgombault, December 25th, 2022

Natus est vobis hodie Salvator.

This day is born to you a Savior. (Lk 2:11)

Dear Brothers and Sisters, 

My dearly beloved Sons,

It is said that one of the chaplains of Elizabeth II, the late Queen of England called to God a few months ago, was once quite surprised when she told him that she hoped Christ would come back on earth during her lifetime. Nonplussed, he asked, “Why?” The Queen’s answer was immediate, revealing the depth of her spiritual life, and the outcome of a thinking process where all the elements had been carefully weighed up: “For I would like so much to lay down my crown at His feet.”

As, after chanting the genealogy of Our Lord Jesus Christ taken from St. Matthew’s gospel, we have just laid the Child Jesus down into the crib, as the overflowing mercy coming down from Heaven is once again poured out over mankind in the gift of the Emmanuel, God with us, are we ready to go to the crib, there to encounter the Lord? How shall we go there? Shall we lay down there our crowns? And which crowns?

The introit of tonight’s Mass is taken from Psalm 2, and begins with a question:

Why have the Gentiles raged, and the people devised vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the princes met together, against the Lord, and against his Christ. 


A look cast on today’s news, on our earth, our country, and sometimes also, unfortunately, on our communities, our families, on some members of the Church, reveals so much hatred, so much anger dwelling in hearts.

Today, we have to acknowledge that the kings of the earth are not united... not even against the Lord. The Psalm continues:

He that dwelleth in heaven shall laugh at them: and the Lord shall deride them. Then shall He speak to them in His anger, and trouble them in His rage. “I myself have anointed My king on Sion My holy mountain.” [...] “Ask of me, and I will give Thee the Gentiles for Thy inheritance, and the utmost parts of the earth for Thy possession.” 


In the middle of a world that doesn’t tolerate to have any god, except those it gives to itself, and to which it enjoys being enslaved, what shall we expect from the Lord’s visit?

What shall we do before Christ, the one and only true King of the universe, if not lay down at His feet our crowns? Crowns of glory, crowns of misery, crowns we are usually so proud of, crowns also which so often accuse us.

The Preface of Christmas attests that we shall not be disappointed:

For by the mystery of the Word made flesh, the light of Thy glory hath shone anew upon the eyes of our mind: so that while we acknowledge Him as God seen by men, we may be drawn by Him to the love of things unseen.


Such is indeed God’s plan.

What a contrast between Emperor Augustus, displacing all the populations of his empire to make a census of them, therefore sat- isfying vanity, curiosity, and thirst for power; and the King of heaven, who displaces Himself, and makes Himself a tiny child, so as to come and save those He wants to make His own children and ravish into His love. Yesterday, we heard in the Christmas martyrology the reminder of this divine plan: “Toto orbe in pace composito Jesus Christus... mundum volens adventu suo piissimo con- secrare... — The world being at peace, Jesus Christ... wishing to sanctify the world by His all-merciful coming...”

Whereas wars are tearing apart nations and families, many people won’t be able to share truly in the joy of Christmas. As to the Lord, He won’t fail to visit them, for He wishes to consecrate their suffering. He calls us to collaborate in His work, to become peace-makers, light-makers. He knows the true price of lives, which He will someday redeem with His own blood.

Bethlehem means in Hebrew “the house of bread.” There, God makes Himself flesh to give us His flesh. In His birth, as well as during the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday, Jesus makes Himself a food. From this presence, a new ray of light shines on souls, a special grace enlightens hearts. The Christian already feeds on the food of eternity, the bread of heaven. In Bethlehem, the bread of angels has turned into the bread of men: Panis angelorum fit panis hominum.

Therefore, all are invited to come to the crib... even though few will answer this call. The shepherds, silent watchmen in the night, wardens of their flocks, will be among them. To be silent watchmen and wardens of God’s gifts, such are indeed the condi- tions to encounter the Lord in the crib, Who comes unexpected in the very middle of the night, and to share the good news of His message with the world.

In a letter to a Solesmes monk, dated July 16th, 1877, Madame Cécile Bruyère evoked dispositions we may make ours today:

Patience, prudence, the adroitness produced by a clever charity, and above all silence, will do all things. I had never understood better the importance of the media nocte, “the middle of the night”. God comes in the darkness of present life, and in the silence. Such a formula remains for us a profound lesson. Truly, people talk too much, and maybe this is the only evil. One talks to say good things, one talks to speak ill of others, one talks to talk, to guide, to console, to remedy. From this, there results a dreadful cacophony made with the best of instruments, for no one is willing to drop their tune. I beseech you, a little more of “Mary kept all these words in her heart” (Lk 2:51). 

Within a few moments, and in a better way than in the crib where we have laid down His figurine, Christ will be present among us with His body and blood. May we receive Him as well as Mary received Him.

During the audience of June 13th, 1979, Pope John Paul II quoted a Polish poet, Adam Mickiewicz:

I speak to Thee, who reignest in heaven 
and at the same time art a guest in the house of my spirit...
I speak to Thee! Words fail me for Thee;
Thy thought listens to every thought of mine;
Thou reignest far away and servest close at hand,
King in heaven and in my heart on the cross... 

Let us therefore enter at last the crib. Let us lay down the heavy crown of the sons of this world, to receive from the hand of the Divine Child the light crown of the sons of God. Holy and happy Christmas to all!